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 The “I should know everything I need to know in 30 seconds” thing is now at least 20 years out of date.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

English for psychopaths


corporate dynamicThis isn’t the BBC. It should be, but you’re luckier than you think. Welcome to our English for Psychopaths program, now available in tetanus form.

The English language has many uses, not least of which is as a food. It can be spread on almost any topic, or even used in monologues for sexual gratification.

As a food, English can be used as a generative source of energy for action, snivelling, opinions, and even actual thought, in some rare but apparently unavoidable cases.

In recent times it has been reluctantly noticed that there may be other uses for this language. It has also been noted that many groups seem to lack adequate forms of expression, particularly those who are supposedly reduced to practicing management science, becoming thought leaders, or entering politics, as their sole form of interaction with language and other people.

Ad hoc Threat-Hamster coverThat may not be the case. It’s quite possible that some people are latent managers, undiagnosed thought leaders, or have mutated from human beings in to politicians. It may be that these alleged people have been unfairly singled out from the mass of humanity for simply following evolution’s little practical jokes a bit too far.

The following program explains the English language, its uses, and why so many people who speak English have no idea what they’re talking about and are so happy about it. It also, reassuringly vaguely, demonstrates the fact that those whose native language is English have no idea how to use the language for any purpose whatsoever.

We hope this introductory information will be of use to you in your commendably desperate attempts to avoid relevance of any kind. Remember that you have the right to choose to have no relevance whatsoever to anything, and your understanding of the English language will sail majestically in accordance with your noble aspirations.

A few basic concepts regarding the origins of English, before we start:

England: A place where Attenboroughs swarm in herds.

The Queen of England: The nice lady who kindly rented us the English language.

Britain: A geographically enforced irony of associations with the Scots, Welsh, and Irish to which the English are hopelessly addicted.

The English people: An assortment of cultures, history, dialects, perversions, and Catford, comprised of 70 million people selflessly determined to avoid each other at all costs.

Europe: An unsubstantiated rumour which persists throughout history and which the English would rather ignore, but from which many words have been swiped and conscientiously distorted, mispronounced and misspelled.

France: Yes. We’re sorry about that. It just seems to be there. Perhaps it will go away.

Mimbly_Tales_Cover_for_Kindle(1) 300PPIWe move on, erratically if sadistically, to basic English. Each word is given in a social context. Linguistics experts believe that this is a true social dynamic, based on the ability to inflict others with information, however useless or idiotically expressed.

This observation, ironically, has led to another – There usually is more than one actual meaning in any statement when speaking English, for however little reason. This is based on the “Unstated Theory”, the belief that only a tiny percentage of actual meaning is deliberately conveyed by talking to anyone about anything. Accidentally useful information may ooze out of a statement, but it’s certainly not a conscious process.

Basic English phrases

The following is a useful collection of common English phrases with colloquial meanings and variations according to conversational context. We’ve chosen a few in context with England itself, to add local reference points, but mainly because it’s much more annoying that way.

Words in bold are actual statements, with their meanings below:


  • Your parents weren’t thinking, were they?
  • Darwin really was an optimist, wasn’t he?

(This word may also be pronounced as though giving birth to a Mack truck, as required by law in certain social environments.)

Terrible weather.

  • I’m really a mass murderer, killing people with small talk, and selling subscriptions.
  • I have a bet with the coroner whether you can form sentences.

I went down the off-license.

  • My relationship with buildings is ambiguous.
  • I went to visit my liver.

I want to drink your blood

  • You look like a teabag, what if I just add some boiling water…?
  • I’m too cheap to buy a beer.

I’m a house brick

  • I am now an autonomous structure, hoping to attract others.
  • I earn a living being inserted in to the heads of other citizens to block drafts.

They’re an interesting couple

  • I’m an entomologist with time on my hands
  • We ran out of agar plates, and there they were!

The bus is coming

  • Our journey to the underworld has begun!
  • …And why shouldn’t vehicles have orgasms?

I’m going to …. (location)

  • I feel the need to reproduce and mate with retail outlets.
  • I was going to go mad, but it’s far too crowded these days.

Yes, I’m a plumber

  • You probably don’t recognize me without my orchestra and choir.
  • My god, you’re observant.

It made Britain what she is today

  • …And someone will scoop it up, eventually. (This expression is generally accepted to refer to any form of mediocrity, however self-important.)

Welcome to Britain!

  • We really needed another vacuous bastard, we were running out.
  • We’re motivated sellers.
  • Take it home and try it on.

“For psychopaths” …

My books, oddly, are about endless different realities. No wonder they don't sell.

My books, oddly, are about endless different realities. No wonder they don’t sell.

Let’s not be too lazy about the word “psychopath” at this point. The definition of a psychopath is “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour.”, according to Google. They’d know.

The obvious problem with this definition is that it refers to everybody, in some form. If this ridiculous pseudo-society doesn’t fit the bill as a chronic mental disorder, what does? Yet just about everyone pretends it actually exists, and, bizarrely, has a reason to exist, and behaves accordingly. It’s almost as if they expect this “society” to do something, or mean something.

“Abnormal or violent behavior”, in turn, could also describe the whole of human history, even the interesting bits. A species so obviously determined to be as idiotic as possible as often as possible hardly needs to qualify its terminology specifically “for psychopaths”.

Therefore, English is now the international language of psychopaths, by psychopaths, for psychopaths, to facilitate communications in abnormal behaviour. It’s for everyone. It now facilitates more fraud, crime, wars, ineptitude and insanity than any language before it.

So there.

Paul Wallis note: You’ll be pleased to know that there is also now a cure for the English language – My books. Read a few of these murderous tomes and revel in the total lack of frames of reference, syntax, logic, and useful information of any kind.

Simply buying a few of these books with real money will qualify you for all sorts of pensions, government grants, and other compensations and benefits from terrified professionals in many different academic disciplines. It will also qualify you for heartfelt disbelief from your friends and total strangers alike.

The cure was quite simple Invent new words and new contexts. Ultimately, that will turn any language, however useful or facile, in to a sort of self-pitying mush. According to Word, my books contain something like 300 completely unprovoked new words.

Yes, if you’re trying to escape from the English language, just read me and it’ll never bother you again.

…Now all I have to do is figure out why I charged myself $200 for adding those last few paragraphs….











I’d like to see something loathsome in a shop assistant, please


Wasp2The life or death nature of syntax is well known to most professional writers. The problem seems to be that they don’t apply this level of priority to their readers. I was myself almost guilty of this terrible mistake.

Having written the simple sentence, “I’d like to see something loathsome in a shop assistant, please,” it simply never occurred to me that there could be any risk to others. While I acknowledge full responsibility for any inadequate expression, it really didn’t even cross my mind that such a basic sentence could be misconstrued.

The situation was rather unnerving. Consider a perfectly normal reader of mine, (as though there was any other kind) walking into a shop and making this rather innocuous request.

This is the scenario:

Reader: I’d like to see something loathsome in a shop assistant, please

Floor manager: Certainly, Your Reptilian Majesty. (Gets shop assistant) Will this suffice?

Wanderlaugh_Cover_for_Kindle 300PPIReader: Do you have anything a bit more downmarket?

Floor manager: Yes, we do, Pleasantly Decorous Sage of Devastation. I’ll have it scraped up and presented for you immediately. (Does.)

Reader: Hm. Is that real decay?

Floor manager: Indeed it is, your Gracious Addition to Unprovoked Etymology.

Reader: Not really sure…. Nice cultural necrosis, I must say, but not all that loathsome…

Floor manager: O, do excuse me, Most Noble Warthog Defiling Person of Infinite Renown. Could it be that I have misinterpreted your syntax and blundered uncaring into the heedless realm of mere literalism?

Reader: Yes.

Floor manager: Do please amuse yourself with this complimentary super model while I scamper industriously to fulfill your requirements.

Reader: OK.

Floor manager: (returning breathlessly after evidently much effort) This, I fancy, is a more accurate representation of your Earthly needs with a sufficiently loathsome shop assistant, O Unspeakably Elegant Carrot Fancier?

(Produces shop assistant with various insertions including tabloid newspapers, celebrities and other amenities impaled therein)

Reader: That’s better.

Floor manager: Thank you most humbly, Mighty Diner among the Facetious. If only I had surmised your subtle yet heinous objective….

He’s still talking, a month later. The point is that I missed that interpretation. No idea how. Worse, the shop assistant might have survived the misinterpretation, and gone on to host chat shows and infest things.

The moral? Always ensure that your form of expression precludes the survival of anything.

LOGO with Sydney Media Jam edit 300PPI