Tag Archives: work

Give it up girl: Writerly advice on creative control

It’s always interesting when my worlds collide as a writer and actor.

A while ago I auditioned for an independent film that, really, sounded like a fantastic project. The story concept was novel and sharp, the characters were relatable but not cliche, and a surfeit of zombie killing was inevitable. I was thrilled.

I went to the audition, submitted my headshot and information, and was handed sides to go over for the read. But the script I was given wasn’t full of zombie-killing awesomeness. It was a scene from “Pretty Woman”. I was confused… and slightly nauseated. When I asked the casting assistant what was up, she gave me a loaded look and shrugged.

Actor hat on. I dug in, read, and felt pretty good about it. The next day the director called me and said I was being considered for the female lead, and would I meet him for a second read. I said yes of course, and asked if he wanted to send me sides to prepare. He said no, because he trusted no one with his script, not even his sister, and that I’d be required to sign an NDA to even look at the script in person. Long story short, you won’t be seeing me killing zombies any time in the near future. Sad, but true.

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Here’s the thing. As a writer, your words go out into the world, where you can’t protect them. They run around and party with bad words, misspelled words, and words that make no sense. You can’t shield them from corruption or abuse. Hollywood knows this, Silicon Valley knows this, hell, TMZ knows this. Yes you have implicit copyright, but creative control is hard to wrangle when you’re blasting buckets of text into the internets. I’d hazard to guess it’s pretty much impossible. Just like photography… (and if you know me you know why I say this), the copy/paste option can create a lot of conversation in a model’s life. At some point, you just have to stop thinking about it. It’s out there. Deal.

Writing is an art, and like many artistic endeavors, it’s highly collaborative. Yes you can create art alone… I’m not saying you can’t or that it doesn’t happen. When I start a project it’s usually when I’m alone. Most artists I personally know do start working on their own. But it can get lonely sometimes, and you can get a little bit of what scuba divers call “rapture of the deep”. You lose perspective on a piece and forget which way is up. Aside from perspective, a lot of projects simply require collaboration. Directors use actors, assistants, makeup, hair, and wardrobe people, DPs, grips. Painters use models, other painters, muses. And even the solo, curmudgeon-y writer has editors, publishing house readers, proofreaders, and yes… even a boss sometimes. We have to trust each other and work together, knowing that the end result might not match precisely what is in our minds’ eyes, but that together, for all of us, the vision should be something we’re all pretty happy with.

A willingness to share is risky, no doubt, but in the end, it’s part of why you’re making art in the first place. To share.

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Filed under Arts and Letters, Writers on Writing

Punctuation… A Tragic Love Story

Oh Punctuation, how you baffle us! Your vexing ways make us say the silliest things. Sometimes coy, often confusing… you leave us sitting in from of our monitors with knitted brows, wondering what in the hell we did wrong.

Unpopular Punctuation: The Marks You Probably Avoid

Now in creative work, anything goes. Poems, short fiction… do what you like. This poem by J.P. Dancing Bear uses colons in an especially cool way. Punctuation is usually about timing… about when a reader receives an idea. “Not Persephone” uses colons to parse out moments of thought, but show how they all pull out from the first line. The effect is pretty and rather brilliant.

But in business writing the enterprise requires more thought. Proper and consistent use of punctuation affords strong, crisp writing. So for those of us who are not poets: Lisa Kusko has a super-popular blog for business writing. Her tips apply to just about anyone trying to hone their craft, or simply not sound ridiculous. Knowing what to use where and when helps, so check it out!

Unpopular Punctuation: The Marks You Probably Avoid.

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Filed under The English Department, Writers on Writing

Five Revision Tips for the Non-Writer

So you need to write better copy, right this minute? Here are five writer basics to pretty up your business writing today.

1) Just Say It

You don’t have to get fancy with diction to sound smart. A reader becomes suspicious of an idea or message if the word choice seems out of context, especially in product descriptions or sales correspondence. Use words you know. If it makes sense to up the lexical ante, let an editor or at least another set of eyes take a pass at it.

2) Stop Clearing Your Throat

Writing means rewriting. It means cutting out redundant sentences, excess phrases,and wordy descriptions. Industry letters don’t need to begin with “from the dawn of civilization” introductions. If your audience speaks your lingo, these kinds of openings will fatigue your reader. It’s okay (and welcome!) to just get to your point. Do you really need to say “due to the fact that” when “that” or “because” usually mean the same thing? And in most cases, double descriptors are usually unnecessary: people understand that ice is cold, night is dark, and clowns are scary.

Make no mistake... Bobo will cut you.

3) Less is Still More

Getting your message out is the easy part; social media outlets mean you can tweet, post, blog, and e-blast everyone, all the time, telling all how great your product is and why they must have it. Don’t.

Users fatigue quickly, and if the message even whiffs of self-serving, sales-y woo ha, you’ll lose credibility faster than you can say “woo ha”. Keep your message subdued, talk about the other benefits your company offers (charities, global partnerships, your employees’ stories, your vendors’ missions) to engage your readership in an oblique way. Bludgeoning people with offers and urgency is not marketing, it’s spamming.

4) Cross and Dot

Grammar and punctuation matter—there’s no getting around it. Readers will trip over Fake Proper Nouns You’ve Made Up & ampersands when you should use the word “and” instead. Tripping means readers lose interest and you lose credibility. Also: spell-check doesn’t catch everything; “too bee ore knot two bee” is perfectly spelled and completely nonsensical. If you’re sending an important piece of news out to press or to the masses online, have a proofreader take a gander.

5) George is Right

Number six on George Orwell’s “Five Rules for Effective Writing” reads: “Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.” Kind of a non-rule rule (probably why it’s named number six out of five), but you get the point. If it sounds ridiculous then don’t write it. Despite what old-school grammar guides say, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition. I’d never say “Please hand me something with which to write,” but “Please give me a pen to write with.” Really… it’s cool. So are contractions.

Bottom line: reading is about the reader, not the writer. Keeping audience comfort at the forefront of your message will always produce better writing.

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Filed under The English Department, Writers on Writing

Propane is Blowin’ Up

One of my clients, Propane Studio, had a major Mad Men moment over the weekend: they needed a script completed for a project. These guys are seriously on the edge of what’s going on in user-experience marketing… so they were having what my Dad likes to call a “high-class problem.” They needed a lot of writing done in a short period of time because they have clients banging down their doors. (That would be scary, actually. I hope that’s not literally true.) So Propane’s Creative Director, Neil, rang me up.

I had worked with Neil years before, doing some corporate acting on a campaign he was working on (yes, I’m an actor too… jazz hands!), but this time he had a business script that needed a bit of edit work. He also wanted some voice-over action for a storyboard… so I quickly became a one-stop shop: writer, editor, researcher, and voice-over artist. I was excited because I knew these guys did awesome work, but their project people are also super cool and organized (bonus!), so I have to say… I was fired up.

We worked Mad Men-style* and wrapped it up this weekend. The result? A clean script, complete with fresh content, and an accompanying audio storyboard for the developers to transform into user-friendly marketing wizardry. AND I still got to go camping on Saturday afternoon. That’s what my Dad would call “okie-friggin-dokie.”

* By Mad Men-style, I mean we worked really late and early morning to get this baby out to market. No in-office boozing or cringe-inducing comments were used in the creation of this project.

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Filed under Stellar Clients