• Books
  • The “new bliss” of storytelling

    No matter what kind of business writing you do, Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez will help you quickly improve it.

    They give the following structure for talks and presentations, which would also work well for articles:

    1. What Is

    2. What Could Be

    3. New Bliss

    This also provides a user friendly way to create a hero’s journey story (they call it a Venture Scape).

    There are numerous case studies throughout. My favorites are MLK Jr, charity: water, Chick-fil-a, Steve Jobs, Nike and Duarte. It depicts the Venture Scapes for all these people and businesses.

    I plan on keeping this within arm’s reach of my computer and I suspect you will too if you do any kind of writing.

     

     

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  • Books
  • “You can’t tell people anything, you’ve go to show ’em.” Plus other storytelling lessons from Bruce Springsteen

    If you want to improve your storytelling, or simply enjoy good stories and like Bruce Springsteen, then I highly recommend Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

    This isn’t ghostwritten and the stories often have a lyrical feel.

    He says his album “The Ghost of Tom Joad” marked the beginning of the second half of his career. It wrestled with the question what is the work for us to do in our short time here.
    This is the storytelling lesson:
    The precision of the storytelling in these types of songs is very important. The correct detail can speak volumes about who your character is, while the wrong one can shred the credibility of your story. When you get the music and lyrics right, your voice disappears into the voices you’ve chosen to write about. Basically, with these songs, I find the characters and listen to them. That always leads to a series of questions about their behavior. What would they do? What would they never do? You need to locate the rhythm of their speech and the nature of their expressions. But all the telling detail in the world doesn’t matter if the song lacks an emotional center. There’s something you have to pull out of yourself from the com you feel with the man or woman you’re writing about. By pulling these elements together as well as you can, you shed light on their lives and honor their experiences.
    In 1995 he gave solo acoustic concerts in support of this album, which gave him new storytelling insights:
    The nakedness and tightrope drama of solo performance is a nervous revelation. It’s one man, one guitar, and “you,” the audience. What’s drawn forth is the emotional nucleus of your song. What’s revealed is the naked bones of your relationship to one another and the music. If your song was written well, it will stand in its skeleton form…I found new subtleties in my vocals, developed a high falsetto and learned to use my guitar for everything from a drum to a feedback-screeching canvas of sound. By the end of that first night, I felt I’d discovered something not as physical but as powerful as what I did the with E Street Band that spoke to my audience in a new tongue.
    And this:
    Most of my writing is emotionally autobiographical. I’ve learned you’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience. That’s where the proof is. That’s how they know you’re not kidding. (p. 267)
    What is the equivalent of a solo performance in your business or career? How can you speak to your audience in a new tongue? As Bruce says, “c
  • Books
  • Why boredom is the cure for boring email copy

     

    It sounds counter-intuitive, but if your email copy and stories are boring, and you have a lack of ideas, it means it’s time for you to seek out boredom.

    To come up with ideas I always have to step away from the computer and disengage my mind by going for a walk, running an errand, taking a shower, sweeping the floor, or some other task that doesn’t require much in the way of thought. In doing so I come home full of things to write about.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this Albert Einstein quote:

    Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

    Of course I’d love to think that if Einstein was alive today he would instead say social media diverts the mind too much, not reading. I love books and often feel restless if I go too long without reading. I have made a decision, however, to read fewer books and reread my favorite books. To ensure that I read fewer books I am trying an experiment where I don’t read any library books and instead buy the books I want to read. Then I will either resell them or put them in a local Free Little Library if I don’t want to keep the book. This forces me to be more deliberate in what I read and retain more of what I read. It also makes it easier for me to seek out boredom if I don’t have a huge stack of books by my bed.

    Cal Newport advocates taking a break from focus rather than from distraction. This means you have scheduled blocks of offline and online time.He also is an advocate of batching (doing deep work in scheduled blocks of time). I highly recommend you read the chapter called Embrace Boredom in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

    Remember, when all else fails, get bored.

     

     

     

     

  • Books
  • The comic strip approach to email copywriting

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    Creating comic strips resembles email copywriting in certain ways. If you write email copy you can learn a lot from your favorite cartoonists.

    For starters, like a cartoonist, you must create on a daily basis and work under deadline pressure if you write for clients.

    Sometimes a comic strip is a single gag and other times there is a running story line for several strips. With email copy it’s best to mix it up in this way too (although usually without gags, alas).

    Therefore I’m always drawn to interviews with and articles about cartoonists.

    I recently discovered a 37 page interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, in the book Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue. You can probably find it at your local library.

    It’s one of the only interviews with Watterson, who is something of a recluse. He ended the strip 20 years ago yet it endures in popularity even though he doesn’t do a thing to promote it. I read it in one sitting and savored every word.

    Here is something he said in the interview that resonates:

    Richard Thompson…said he likes to work with small things he notices and his example was “gravel in the street.” That might be a little too small, but I agree with him. Daily minutiae are not actually trivial. It’s a wonderful thing to draw your attention to tiny little moments and small episodes. There can be something simple, grounded, and true when you observe those generally unnoticed small things. I tend to like that scale. Whenever I go to a computer-animated movie, I think, “Oh, please, not another quest.” You know, must we always journey to discover ourselves, find home, and save Christmas?

    I love the unpretentiousness of cartoons. If you sat down and wrote a two hundred page book called My Big Thoughts on Life, no one would read it. But if you stick those same thoughts in a comic strip and wrap them in a little joke that takes five seconds to read, now you’re talking to millions. Any writer would kill for that kind of audience. What a gift.

    Indeed. Those daily details and small episodes are critical components of email copy. The “journey story,” not so much, that is for the about page or sales page. The “gravel in the street” components of the journey story are appropriate for the email copy, however.

    My current favorite comic strip is Bloom County, which Berkeley Breathed resurrected on Facebook in 2015. Without the deadline pressure of a newspaper his creativity is free to flourish once again. He publishes 3-4 strips per week and it’s well worth following his Facebook page for these gems.

    Scott Adams of Dilbert is my other favorite. I’ve listened to his podcast interview with Tim Ferriss a couple of times and it’s one I know I’ll continue to revisit. He gives writing tips and explains his philosophy of humor, among many other things.

    I also like Frazz and Pearls Before Swine. Even Garfield can get a smile out of me sometimes even though that strip isn’t as good as it was back in the 1980s. Garfield Minus Garfield is more fun.

    If you read comics, what are your favorites?
    _____
    If you don’t like Calvin & Hobbes, then you won’t care for lesson #18 in my A Year of Email Copywriting Course. And lesson 12 will be especially soporific because I analyze the storytelling structure of comics and apply it to copywriting. Oh well. Can’t please everybody.

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