There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Ernest Hemingway
I have always enjoyed writing. It comes pretty easily to me and it’s a skill that serves me well in my media relations business. But with all the pitches, proposals, business plans, emails and general correspondence I have to write every day, there’s little time or brainpower left for special projects (like this blog) or when a client needs an op-ed, article or speech written on a deadline. That’s when I call in a pro!
Jan Schroder is one of the most talented writers I know. She can deliver a message in a way that’s always insightful, often humorous and consistently fun to read. But for our clients, her real gift is in her ability as a ghostwriter to capture a client’s vision and express it authentically in that person’s voice.
Since writing is a form of communication we all engage in every day, I thought it would be fun to pick Jan’s brain about ways we can up our writing game.
Some people find writing really difficult. What’s the best tip you can give someone who struggles with writing?
Dorothy Parker said it best. “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” I can think of so many things to do besides writing when it isn’t coming easily — that’s when it seems mandatory to scrub down my kitchen cabinet doors. And I hate cleaning.
Sometimes you just have to power through when it isn’t working. If I’m really stuck, I go take a walk around the block. A quick break can often get my brain back in gear.
What’s your pet peeve in business writing, something you see that makes you cringe?
Too much business jargon. People often overcomplicate their ideas. Simple, everyday language is best for conveying ideas.
“Brand journalism” is the latest trend in marketing, but it really just means telling a company’s story – is it hard to get business owners to speak authentically and without all the jargon?
Funny! I wrote my response above before I read this question! What I’ve found most useful is if someone says something that doesn’t make sense to me, and I know won’t make sense to the reader, I ask them to clarify. Sometimes people know their business so well, they forget that their targeted audience doesn’t necessarily understand their industry language.
Business writers are often translators. We translate jargon to English.
How do you work in a client’s message naturally without it sounding like a sales pitch?
Telling stories is a good way to convey a message. Testimonials from existing clients that tell a story are particularly effective. Keep the focus on the benefit to the consumer rather just saying how great the company is.
What’s your cure for writer’s block?
Getting up and moving around. I have a hula hoop in my office. I turn on a song and try not to drop the hula hoop during the entire song. I have successfully mastered that with “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
What’s the hardest assignment you’ve had, and how did you get through it?
I had a ghostwriting project and the client just wouldn’t let it go. We probably went through 16 edits, 14 of which were completely unnecessary. I tapped into my martyr complex to get through that last meeting, as one person continued to put in and take out the same commas she had done five edits before. Thoughts of strangulation were involved.
You do a lot of travel writing, which sounds like a dream job to many – is it hard to come up with different ways of saying “OMG this place is amazing, I never want to leave”?
Looking for a fresh angle can be a challenge. So rather than write about how great this fancy resort is, I focus on the sea turtle program the property is involved in or culinary trends in that destination. In one of my favorite articles last year, I compared riverboat versus cruise ship tours of Europe so a reader could decide which was best for her. And yes, the research for that one was amazing!