Posts filed under ‘Writing/Editing’

Twitterature: A new twist on creative writing

By Sally Saville Hodge

I wish I had a nickel for every eye-roll I’ve encountered when mentioning Twitter as a social media channel.

I wish I had a dime for every person who’s ever told me they thought Twitter was stupid, without trying it first to get the context.

I wish I had a quarter for everyone who’s ever asked me what they’d Tweet about anyway, and how can anyone possibly write about anything meaningfully in 140 characters or less.

Well, no one’s getting rich off Twitter yet – least of all me. Even though an increasing number of businesses are apparently using it as a tool to build their images and contribute over the long haul to their revenue streams. Think Dell. Or Zappos. Or even small businesses without the big guys’ resources, like the coffeeshop CoffeeGroundz.

But one interesting way to look at Twitter goes beyond dollars and cents and considers its contribution to our culture as spawning a creative new literary form. Time magazine columnist James Poniewozik writes about it, and makes some relevant comparisons to how writers have, through the ages, “shaped their work to exploit technology.”

Now, there’s “Twitterature” that goes well beyond the Tweets and re-Tweets of celebrity doings, endless links to this or that article, and mindless meanderings about Average Joe or Jill’s day.

We have humor. Comedian Justin Halpern’s posts as @shitmydadsays have earned him such a following that it has led to a television show, to premier this fall. A recent sample: ”I don’t want your advice, you’re 27 fucking years old…Fine. I don’t want your advice, you’re 29 fucking years old.”

There’s satire. Consider @BPGlobalPR which has gained legions of followers since the disaster on the Gulf Coast. Its biting posts surely are giving BP’s real PR team fits. To wit: “Surprised ourselves by getting emotional on the coast today. Turns out the wind blew dispersant in our eyes.”

And satiric writing resources, even. Anyone who has ever referred to the venerable AP Stylebook for guidance will appreciate @FakeAPStylebook: “Spell it “ellipsis,” “ellipses,” “elipsis,” “ellipseseisis” – no one really knows or cares.”

I’m having trouble with the idea of a sitcom designed around a Twitter feed, no matter how good the posts. And for me, Twitterature will never replace the well-written book, newspaper or magazine or even blog article. But it does the job of providing entertainment in fast, bite-sized morsels. It’s pretty apropos for our lifestyles today.

June 15, 2010 at 8:12 pm 2 comments

A post with a point!

Sally Saville Hodge

Pet peeve No. 322: People who use exclamation points to excess!

(It’s funny how, the older you get, the more crotchety you get, and that list of pet peeves seems to get longer and longer.)

I started thinking about the insidious exclamation point upon reading Word Wise, a must-read blog on writing and style by Edelman PR’s Dan Santow. A recent post pokes gentle fun at Hamilton, Ohio for formally changing its name to Hamilton! Ohio (yes, really!), and uses the occasion as a (ahem) point of departure for when and how to use it to best effect.

While I’m not one to discourage the enthusiasm that this device implies, it’s typically a sign to me of an entry-level or not-very-creative writer, whether it’s being used in an article, press release, advertising copy or even e-mail.

Wait a minute.

In the spirit of total honesty, I have to admit that while I use the exclamation point sparingly in my “official” copy, I’ve recently found myself reading my e-mails before hitting the send button to remove an overabundance of the things. (*Mental slap on the side of the head: “Really, Sally, four sentences and all of them ending on this kind of upbeat note?”)

It’s all about using such devices for effect. The rules should still apply whether they’re being used in casual correspondence, like e-mails, or more formal writing, like reports. And, really, the rule here (as well as in utilizing dashes and ellipses, which I also abuse) is pretty simple: Don’t overuse or you lose the effect!

May 6, 2008 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

The dying art of good writing

Sally Saville Hodge

Just when I’m ready to sound the death knell for the craft of good writing, out comes a New York Times article saying “not so fast.”

The piece outlines results of a nationwide test that suggests one-third of U.S. eighth graders and a quarter of its high schoolers are “proficient” writers. Now, that doesn’t sound so hot to me, but the folks with the federal government’s school testing program said the overall results were heartening and counter other studies citing a decline in our society’s ability to write.

Maybe I’m just harder to please than your average bureaucrat.

Frankly, I’m with the National Commission on Writing, which back in 2003 issued a call to put “the neglected ‘R’” back as an emphasis into the school curriculum at all grade levels. Other studies have found that a large proportion of college professors believe high schoolers advance to college with limited writing skills. And businesses are concerned as well: Another survey suggested blue chip companies are spending billions in remedial writing training.

But to my way of thinking, writing “training” only goes so far. It does impart the rules, for example. You know. The “never start a sentence with an ‘and’” and “every sentence must have subject and verb” kinds of things. (Rules that really great writers break with panache.) It may help with ways to plot your outline as a means of organizing the chaos of your thinking. And it may provide those who really want to do better with good resources to guide them on their journey. (One that I recommend to all my staff as a must-read is a terrific blog called Word Wise.)

But you can’t train people to love good writing and how it comes about. You can’t train them to understand the nuances that differentiate an okay word from the right word for the context. Or to understand why “it was a dark and stormy night” is cliché, while “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is classic. Or why a spare writing style is fine, but sometimes you need to add meat to those potatoes to make your copy sing.

We need to find ways to instill that love in our young people from a very early age. I wish I had a sure-fire way to do so. I hate to contemplate a world where communication is dominated by staccato blasts of texted acronyms and video sound bites. But that does seem to be where we’re heading.

April 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm 2 comments

Fed up with email? Customers are, too

Helena Bouchez

In Email Insider’s most recent blog entry, “Helping People Become Better Email Users,” Chad White describes his experience at the OMMA (Online Media, Marketing and Advertising) Expo at the Email Experience Council’s booth where he suggested a visitor subscribe to their free weekly newsletter. The visitor’s reply? “Whoa, another email newsletter? I get too much email as it is.”

It’s something to think about the next time you help plan an email campaign or launch a newsletter for a client. Assuming their target market even reads email anymore. If they’re younger than 25, chances are they don’t. They’re communicating real time via IM, Facebook or Twitter. Heck, even executives Twitter now. But I digress.

In his post, White gave several suggestions to help assuage people’s frustrations with email. They’re good. I created @Action folders for both my work and personal email accounts and emptied my Inbox. My Inbox hasn’t been 100 percent empty since 1995. It looks and feels sort of weird, but I like it. I’m fairly confident, however, that most email recipients are somewhat less process oriented and organized than he or I. Which means my client’s e-newsletters are splashing down into a sea of communications numbering in the hundreds, maybe thousands. Lost among thousands of little email voices pleading with recipients to “Read me! Pay attention! Take action!” No small wonder so much email gets deleted or ignored. Who can take the guilt?

To preserve this communications outlet among those still engaged with it, we marketers have to use it wisely. Make sure the email you send to your target audience is relevant, engaging and if at all possible, personalized. The technology exists, and there are partners out there ready to help you. It’s not cheap. But consider the cost of a poorly targeted email campaign that causes the recipient to view your brand as irrelevant or annoying. Some things are better left unsent.

March 19, 2008 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

Fun with typos

Sally Saville Hodge

Back in the days when I was a journalist, at one publication we maintained a “wall of shame” where we gleefully tacked the worst press releases, pitch letters and other sorts of fan mail. It was littered with pieces where the lead was buried at the end, new entrants to the “world’s longest release” category, and, well, let’s call them “unfortunate” typos.

That was way before the Web made it so much easier to share the wealth. Our friends over at The Bad Pitch Blog led the way on this front, and recently have taken typo ridicule to a totally new level.

They recently called out a most egregious typo, spotted on a job post for a VP, of er, well, you sort of have to see it to believe it. TBPB invites you to leave your best, one-line response to the job description. Don’t wait to play; the winner(s) will be announced soon and receive fame and some swag.

To play, go here. May the best, uh, candidate, win.

March 14, 2008 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

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