17 reasons why non-writers need to understand writers


Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam

Non-writers are as much of a curse to writers as non-artists and non-musicians are to those arts. They know staggeringly little about the actual facts of writing, the need for continuity and are usually 20 years behind the market. (Sorry for the text layout on this blog. Formatting issue.)

To explain:

  1. Nobody can be forced to read, let alone made to want to read, anything at all, online or anywhere else.
  2. “Engagement” is the key to any kind of content. Modern writing isn’t based on style guides, auditing practices, focus groups or anything but interesting content.
  3. The modern audience actively searches for information. It is therefore fussy about what it reads. Ignore that fact at your peril. Fizzy, featherweight copy can be a major non-lead generator.
  4. The commercial audience isn’t clueless when it’s looking to buy products. Many customers are as knowledgeable as, or more knowledgeable than, the sales people they deal with.
  5. Customers can take or leave sales spiel. In practice, they’ll ignore 90% of what they see, and be fussy about the other 10%. They need hard values in sales form, not sales form disguised, badly, as information.
  6. The “I should know everything I need to know in 30 seconds” thing is now at least 20 years out of date. Less can be better, but more provides, well, more. Lack of information, not too surprisingly, looks like lack of information. Worse, it looks suspicious, like obvious questions are being left unaddressed.
  7. Grammar, schmammar. Making sense is more important than archaic usage. Bad grammar may be inexcusable in some cases, but it’s not like lawsuits will result unless you louse up your sales terms. Grammar is not written under oath, and unless the usage and syntax are actually suicidal, it’s not worth nitpicking.
  8. Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, AmazonPomposity is not an asset in business writing or copywriting. You can be as “corporate” as you like, and the readers will simply edit it out. It’s useless to them. They need applicable, relevant information, far more than mere presentation. Friendly/casual works far better than “we’d like to patronize you to death, right now this minute,” as copy.
  9. You can’t pass off “useless” as a synonym for “professional”, either. Filler is filler, however overloaded with standard phrases. (It also uses up space which could be made much more productive.)
  10. Garbage is garbage. “This exciting, innovative, money-making product” doesn’t mean a damn thing until you get down to cases. A lot of long form direct marketing stuff is guilty of this, and it’s a major turnoff for anyone who’s survived puberty.
  11. Portfolios matter to writers. If your portfolio is full of crap, prospective clients will think you’re full of crap, and you’ll be able to prove it to them with substandard materials.
  12. Non-writers have their own problems. They need to work with clients, sometimes at kindergarten level, but failing to understand what better quality writing can do simply devalues their product. Most competent writers can contribute both subject knowledge and value-based writing options. That usually doesn’t happen. (Just look at what’s trying to pass itself off as copywriting online for infinite numbers of examples.)
  13. Writers, like marketers and advertisers, target They write to actual people in context with subject matter. Non-writers may or may not know the markets or the people. In some cases, they don’t know the products too well, either, where most experienced writers make a point of understanding specific markets. If you’re writing B2B, you have to write to business values, not some damn obsolete image. C level readers don’t need pretty pictures. They want dollar values to their businesses.
  14. Depth of information matters to readers. “Whiter and brighter” isn’t the criteria for buying anything any more. Superior product, better value, clear user/buyer information, and anything along those lines, goes a lot further. (Remember customers do check out competitors. So should agencies. You can learn a lot.)
  15. “We’re not experts”. This cliché, invented in the 90s, has a lot to answer for. Says who? Is the assumption that because you’re a writer/agency, you know nothing about your client’s products? Does it sound plausible?
  16. “Writing like a lawyer”. I’ve been accused of this, and it was in relation to stock market-based materials in Canada. What I was worried about was market disclosure, providing information which may or may not be accurate. Not writing dubious/debatable materials which can be used to discredit a corporate client seemed to me to be a good idea, and still does. Caution is advisable when your client’s image is at stake.
  17. Conformity is death. Writing like everyone else is a great way of being totally ignored. Unique writing is as important as any unique selling point, when you’re trying to get a message across.

The bottom line: If you want relevant, reader-friendly material, acknowledge the role of the writer and allow appropriate input.

Good copy can’t write itself.


Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books

Why art and pomposity don’t mix


Wasp2I was looking at the term “outsider art” today with the natural cynicism of a person with two professional artists in the family. Apparently “outsider art” includes a large amount of ideas and content lifted from the art of the early and mid-20th century. To put it another way, just more recycling by people with no actual ideas, as usual.

The exact description of outsider art is “…a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, such as psychiatric hospital patients and children.”

Historically, as well as literally, outside the boundaries of official culture also invariably means decades out of date. Presumably, having been institutionalized, one may be considered “one of us” by that select group of cretins who’ve been holding back the creative arts for centuries.

The creative process coverInsider art, by contrast, usually has the warm spiritual glow of a supermarket and much higher prices. This is The Elite at work, and a sorry spectacle it usually is. I’ve actually seen quite good brush artists using rollers.

If art is expression, and new art is new expression, it may be safely assumed that being taught how to express is dangerous, probably fatal, to real creativity on any level. Apparently the mentally ill are more creative, or at least different, than those who aren’t, according to some theories.

The search for outsider art on Google produces a blaze of predictable stuff. If you’ve never actually used a brush, it seems eclectic. If you have, you can see a few issues with the levels of flow and spend quite a lot of time wondering if the artists even saw the flow of the paint. How paint behaves is a real journey of discovery, if you can be bothered to pay attention.

Subjects vary from a seeming fascination with the hideous to a fascination with acceptance. “It looks like…” has never been a recommendation for anything. How can there be an institutionalized way of expressing something individual, to start with? “Looks like” can’t be purely individual.

Meanwhile, a small but interesting gem emerged in this turgid search among the pompous and the pointless. This painting is credited by one site to Stephanie Louis, but it looks nothing like any of her other work.

Outsider artThe only site which has it is considered a risk by Firefox, so I won’t give the link, but check it out:

This is no trivial piece of work. If it was in gold leaf, it would be called ultra-rococo. If it had received any attention, it would be called great, even by the institutionalized morons. It’s no mere visual M&M, either. It’s a collage, with paint and considerable depth. It takes a while to really see it. If this person is mentally ill, most other painters are mentally dead. Forest floors, let alone artists, could take lessons from it.

… And how did I find it? By looking through the morass of outsider art, and finding the “mentally ill section” as though it was the canned soup section. It wasn’t on special, and there were no promos. Enough people liked it to put a total of about four pictures of it online, this one here being the fifth.

Job page 12How did art suddenly get so pompous? For a medium which developed on the walls of caves, this claim to superior status is pretty parlous, as well as annoying. I see no difference between the animals who talk about splashes of color and the infinitely patronizing “we” who define art by murdering it with descriptions.

A real institution would have encouraged the painter of this little yellow gem, and the idea would have blossomed in to a virtual garden of paintings. No such luck with the ideologically fossilized, of course.

This is the logic of artistic fossilization as applied to this painting:

The painter must have been mentally ill, because the painting technique is so different. We don’t teach people to paint like that. (Why not?)

Good, nice painters use the bloodsucking, bitchy global art racket to sell their paintings. (Thank god for eBay!)

No dogmatic, senile bastard has sponsored it, so it’s not insider art. (How awful.)

My questions –

Which would you rather hang on your wall, the little yellow painting or the sort of duly approved bit of mundane visual dung which is so inescapable in art galleries and museums? Which is more artistic and expressive?

Did ponderous, pretentious pomposity pay any role in your decision regarding what art you’d prefer to live with?

Did the “mental illness” angle enter in to your thinking?

Point made.

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