Category Archives: Writing

New Dictionary: F*cking Means Really. Seriously. Dammit.

Work f_cking hardHey, younger people, are you really all okay with f*cking as a synonym for really? Seriously. Do we need a new dictionary?

I caught a great post on Medium the other day: Jon Westenberg’s Why Copying the Habits of Successful People Won’t Make You Successful.

Toward the end, he comes up with a brilliant highlight point (the illustration here):

In reality, there’s only one habit that you can emulate that will get your somewhere. Just one. Work f*cking hard.

Great point, and well written. Is his wording better than “work hard” or “work really hard?” Not to me. Do you like it better?

Yesterday I found the Facebook page for “I fucking love science.” Seriously. That’s the page name. Can’t you just love science? On the other hand, 23 million likes for that page. Sigh.

I guess it’s my problem. The old meaning sticks to the sides of my head when people use it this new way. But it’s ugly. Not different at all to how I’m stuck with knowing the original meaning and derivation of the verb “sucks,” which came from—ugh.

And, for that matter, the original meaning of the word sh*t, which conjures up the wrong thing, for me, when people go with the trendy “get sh*t done” or last decade’s “get your sh*t together.”

But this is humans and the way we work. Words change meaning. Isn’t that groovy?

Blogging in “A Tornado Full of Shrieking Trolls.”

Do you care about writing? Do you do it often? Do you do it related to business?

Oh, wait, I’m sorry: I should call it content, as in content marketing. It’s not just writing, or blogging; it’s content creation. Or, in a delightful post on the oatmeal.com, simply Making Things.

There’s a lot there, on that one post. It scrolls a long way, panel after panel. Here is one of my favorites. I recognize this feeling. Do you?

That’s just two panels of more than a dozen. The piece goes on, getting even better as you scroll down. Near the bottom it gets to this …

… which is an interesting statement. In context it comes right below the next one here, which explains the  the proverbial “where he’s coming from:”

By the time I’d read this I wanted to know who the author is. The site doesn’t really say. I’ve been aware of The Oatmeal and posted excerpts before. He makes such earthshaking topics as 10 words you need to stop misspelling and how to use an apostrophe actually grab a reader and stick to your innards. Really good work. Great style, fun, but important.

The site doesn’t say, but I found it on Wikipedia. His name is Matthew Inman. He makes a lot of money, Wikipedia says. I’m glad. He deserves it.

Seductive Sales Copy: So Easy to Say, So Hard to Do

I just read How To Write Seductive Sales Copy Like Apple on Kissmetrics. Good stuff. See, I’m doing it. 

But, oh, yeah, it’s really hard. And it seems so easy when you look at it. Post author Henneke Duistermaat gives great examples, taken straight from Apple copy. Inspiring, but hard to do. 

For example: One big idea. Short, broken sentences. Stories. Analogies. 

Not for nothing: my post today on Up and Running is an ode to copywriting. 

Do You Know The Single Most Powerful Word in Business Writing?

Whether it’s email, Twitter, Facebook, or — going back to the ancient days — even business letters and proposals, the single most powerful word in business writing is “you.”you

Whatever else happens, if you start with “you” then you are on the right track.

You asked me …

You missed this …

You suggested …

You should know …

You’ll be surprised …

You … you … you … you…

I see this a lot in the new world of social media, but, for the record, it’s been true since we were writing letters and proposals with IBM Selectric typewriters. Know your target reader. Start with the reader, what they want, what interests them, and you’ll do better. That’s just as true today.

(Image: istockphoto.com)

Are Spelling and Grammar Obsolete?

Am I being too critical? Do you react like I do to blatant spelling errors? Do they spoil messages for you?

Glaring grammar and spelling errors distract me. Yesterday I received an email from somebody asking me to help him find an “inverstor” because he’s had “alot” of interest and he “truely” believes he could go “worlwide.”  I notice when somebody uses “then” for “than” or “your” for “you’re.” I notice apostrophe errors like adding an apostrophe for every plural noun. I notice common spelling errors like “seperate,” and “definately.” Those errors interfere with the message. I was less likely to answer than I would have been if the message had been corrected.

What bothers me is:

  1. I deal with some genuinely smart, very well educated people who make lots of these glaring spelling errors, even in messages that are important and well thought out. If I get caught on grammar and spelling, with these people, then I lose. They don’t.
  2. Pots and kettles: I’m shocked at how often I commit these same mistakes myself, breaking easy rules I know well, by  typing too damned fast and then not reading what I wrote. I see your mistakes much more easily than my own. Is that the same for everybody?
  3. Grammar and spelling bigotry: the word prejudice comes from pre judging, as in judging in advance, based on superficial factors. Am I not giving poor spellers or sloppy keyboarders a fair chance? Are spelling and grammar superficial?
  4. And now with social media, the opportunities for errors are so much bigger. What we post in social media is publishing it, where all can see. That raises the stakes. I’m so glad Twitter lets me delete and retype.

Some suggestions:

  1. Two great links: 10 words you need to stop misspelling, and how to use an apostrophe.
  2. I wish I had an email editor that underlines questionable words and phrases, like Word and Windows Live Writer do; at least there’s spellcheck in most email editors. Of course spellcheck doesn’t catch the then-than and your-you’re or there-their-they’re errors.
  3. My wife says angels fly because they take themselves lightly. I do try. But what if she called them “angles” instead of “angels?”
  4. At the very least, when you email me asking a favor, spell my name right.
  5. It’s hard to publish this post because I’m so afraid I might have a spelling or grammatical error in it.

You Can’t Eat Truth Either … But it Still Matters

As blogger, former full-time journalist, and long-term entrepreneur, I’m offended from all three sides by journalists complaining that bloggers don’t get paid on the Huffington Post.

I’m offended by the envy. The money Arianna Huffington and her investors made on the sale of Huffington Post to AOL was classic entrepreneurship, earned by taking risks. They risked their time, money, health, and reputations. They established a business, hired people, rented offices, bought computers, bought server space, and all that. So when they make something happen, they deserve the dollars.

I’m also offended by the distortion. Huffington Post does have journalists on staff, and they get paid as journalists. If you don’t get it, you should probably read this explanation from one of them. And Huffington Post also publishes posts from thousands of bloggers, me included, who post there voluntarily, as self expression, mostly opinion, with no expectation of being paid for it. They want an audience. The distortion on the poster (in the illustration here) makes me angry. “You can’t eat prestige” is pure sensationalism, complete distortion.

Is Twitter exploiting people who tweet? Is Facebook exploiting its users?

The house painter gets paid. The landscape painter doesn’t.

The passport photographer gets paid. The news photographer gets paid. The art photographer doesn’t.

The journalist gets paid. The reporter gets paid. The investigative journalist gets paid. The author of the letter to the editor doesn’t.

Some bloggers are journalists, and should be paid. Reporters for Mashable, Engadget, TechCrunch and Read/Write Web, to cite some well-known examples, are journalists, and they get paid. Guest posters aren’t journalists usually, and they don’t usually get paid.

Summary: entrepreneurship is big risk, and big money if you make something that succeeds. Journalism is work and there is expectation of pay. Some blogging is work with expectation of pay, and some is self expression, which is its own reward.

(Disclosure: I blog on the Huffington Post and my son is CTO. I was also a member of the Newspaper Guild as a professional journalist, on salary with United Press International, a correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News, and a freelancer.)

On Content, Do You Want Quality or Quantity?

Do you know the expression “from your lips to God’s ears?” It means “I hope God hears what you just said, because I want it to be true.”

I say let’s tell Carol Tice “from your keyboard to God’s eyes” for her Why Content is No Longer King post last week on her Make a Living Writing blog. I hope this is true. She says a pendulum has swung back again, so that it’s quality of content that matters, not quantity.

Carol reminds us there was an ugly trend a couple of years back. She called it “content-stuffing:”

Sites stuffed their pages with junk content — much of it almost unreadable, robot-generated SEO garbage — and were rewarded with better rankings in Google searches, and more traffic and sales.

Lots of bloggers went nuts, throwing up any old error-filled, half-baked, two-paragraph post, just to have a post every day of the week. Having boatloads of content was important!

I think we all saw how that was working. I particularly hated the fly-by-night blogs that would steal content and traffic by just copying stuff and filling it full of useful keywords, mucking things up for those of us who actually wanted useful content. Happily, according to Carol, that fell over its own weight:

Eventually, so many sites did the junk-content thing, website readers got hip to it and stopped visiting these sites. The sites quickly lost their credibility. Rankings for junk-post sites went down.

The days when blogs could be sloppy, half-thought-out pieces written in 10 minutes and still succeed are over.

And it gets better. Carol heralds “the new era” in which (drumroll please) …

Great content is king. That’s right – it’s not about quantity any more. It’s all about quality.

I so hope she’s right.

Tip: Mistakes Are More Fun Than Tips

Here’s a continuing trend: tips and what-not-to-do lists get better readership as lists of mistakes.  It’s not a new trend, it’s not a surprising one, but one worth remembering.

What reminds me this morning is a collection of posts by Geoffrey James on BNET:

Notice on these posts we get a double dose: Not just mistakes, but superlative mistakes, and in an “of all time” context. It’s an interesting approach. The lists include some I’d never heard of (I’d never heard of Six Sigma, listed as the #1 stupidest management fad of all time), some very general (“leadership” is listed as #2 dumbest management concept of all time), and several well reasoned takes on long-term thinking, well worth reading.  Geoffrey does a good job at standing back and poking holes on some overused phrases.

On the same theme, you might notice in my illustration here that the most popular item at BNET today is “Business Blunders of the Year.” There are some mixed reviews on that particular piece, by the way, perhaps because a slide-show format, nice for lists of five or 10 points, doesn’t hold up to lists of 75 (yes, that’s 75 business blunders).

Being contrarian really works.

Jonathan Fields’ Great Title Idea

This is so cool. I’m really jealous. As he finishes up his next book, Jonathan Fields turns to the web and his so-called tribe for help with the book title. In Help Me Choose The Title Of My Next Book, he put a poll onto his blog and promoted in there and in Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Why am I jealous? Because I didn’t think of something like this for any of my books. What a great idea.

Choosing a book title is hell. It’s really hard to do, critical to the content, and critical to sales and success. Could there possibly be a better way? Much as I complain about dumb polls and over-researched decisions, this is a great use of so-called crowd sourcing.

In my defense, it’s easier now than in 2008 when my most recent two were published. But Twitter had already started, and this blog was already here, and so was my other blog Up and Running, on entrepreneur.com. I could have done it. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful for how much help I got from Jere Calmes and the team at Entrepreneur Press, but still … damn!

Whatever the eventual title, I expect Jonathan’s upcoming book to be really good. When he interviewed me for it maybe a year ago, he was talking to a lot of people and asking some very important questions. He went into deep core issues about entrepreneurship and creativity, like dealing with fear, finding time for silence, and balancing needs and wants. That interview left me thinking about related issues long after.  I’m really looking forward to reading the book that comes out of that.

Business Words Losing Meaning

Sometimes words and phrases lose their meaning. They get so diluted by overuse that they end up meaning nothing at all. And that’s important to track when we use them in business.

I first noticed that phenomenon back in the early 1980s with the phrase “user friendly,” as in “user-friendly” software. That phrase was so attractive to users and advertisers that publishers swarmed all over it. Within a matter of a year or so, “user friendly” lost all meaning. Ironically, lots of software, then and now, is actually user hostile. But we in the industry had to look for different wording. That phrase was empty. We all laughed at “user friendly.”

And isn’t this awesome? When I was a kid, “awesome” was reserved for a very few things that truly inspired awe, like Yosemite Valley, the Grand Canyon, and the powers of God (or gods). Hurricanes and earthquakes were awesome. Awe was the active word. You could look it up.

I wonder how much we were all influenced by one particular sportscaster (Howard Cosell) who liked to call a really good play awesome. We had awesome tackles and awesome catches. Whether it was that in particular, or just evolution, awesome now means “good.” Or even “nice.” We have awesome sandwiches, awesome suggestions, and awesome t-shirts. 

Think about some of the business phrases we use all the time. How quickly we lose meaning. Nobody thinks inside the box anymore. There are no worst practices, not even intermediate or common practices, just best practices. And good luck with the basic math of giving 110% to anything you do. Even when the hold time is half an hour, the menu is nine levels deep, and the answers scarcer than user hostile software, we are still told, as we’re waiting, that customer satisfaction is that organization’s priority. It’s hard to image what customer service would look like if it weren’t a priority.

Take a look at your business messages. Are you using meaningless phrases?