Posts Tagged ‘the Waking’

Some Copywriting Tips for Content Writers

July 16, 2019

Legendary Ad Man Herschell Gordon Lewis

To be successful, a copywriter has to do everything a good salesman does without the benefit of a live customer to react to — you can’t look into your customer’s eyes and you can’t hear the tenor of their voice as they respond to your words.

Instead, you have to anticipate any possible reservations your reader might have and address them in advance.

Don’t Use a Bunch of Highfalutin Words

You don’t impress potential customers when you use words they don’t understand. In fact, it leads them to conclude that you just aren’t smart enough to say what you mean in plain English.

Make Your Writing More Inviting

When your readers see a massive block of text, it’s intimidating.
So use headlines, bullet points, and bold text to break up your prose and make it more inviting.

Most readers don’t read read the whole thing all at once. Instead, they peruse the copy first, considering the headlines, bullets, and bold text first.

A word of warning about bold text: Just like swearing, the more you use it, the less potent it becomes.

And generally speaking, headlines should be no longer than 10 words.

Start With a Bang

As the great Elmer Wheeler used to say (no, I’m not making that name up) “The First ten words are more important than the next ten thousand.”

That’s why it’s often a good idea to begin with one or two provocative questions or a short, direct declarative sentence.

Sell the Benefit

Legendary ad man David Oglivy used to say that good copywriting shouldn’t call attention to itself. Instead, you should “make the product the star.”

Tell the readers precisely how whatever you have to sell will make their life better by saving them time, saving them money, making them look better, making them feel better, or making other people envy them even more.

Don’t Overpromise

If you make one unbelievable assertion, readers will automatically question everything else you have to say.

Say Their Name, Say Their Name—A Lot

As Dale Carnegie used to say: “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

But you can’t address your customers by name. So use the words “you” and “your” as often as you can without sounding goofy.

We Think by Feeling

Modern brain research confirms that human beings “think by feeling,” just like the poet Theodore Roethke said.

Words evoke feelings. And buyers are overwhelmingly influenced by feelings. Legendary ad man Joseph Sugarman reminds us:

You buy a Mercedes automobile emotionally but you then justify the purchase logically with its technology, safety and resale value.

Customers aren’t buying what you’re actually selling — they’re buying the way they hope it will make them feel.

The Right Connotations Are Crucial

Connotations are the feelings that a word evokes in addition to it’s official dictionary definition.

For example, the words cheap and inexpensive mean roughly the same thing, but they have very different connotations.

Which sentence sounds more warm and cuddly?

Dr. Smith provides outstanding treatment.

or

Dr. Smith provides outstanding care.

And don’t use words with negative connotations to assert a positive value. For example, legendary adman Herschell Gordon Lewis used to go bonkers whenever he read copy that suggested a product would “drastically improve your life.”

Drastic is full of negative connotations — so why not say “this product will dramatically improve your life,” instead?

Rhythm and Flow

Even though people will typically read your copy silently inside their own heads, the sound of the words you choose and how they flow together strongly influence the way your writing will be received.

Poetry and copywriting have a lot more in common than most people realize.

 

by Richard W. Bray

Listening to Yourself

January 14, 2018

Metacognition

Metacognition means thinking about thinking. You can do this by listening to the words you say aloud, and more importantly, by listening to the words you silently tell yourself. That’s where the real action is — inside your head.

Self-awareness begins by examining the words and phrases your mind creates and then asking yourself if it would make sense for someone in your position to say such a thing.

Phrases to Watch Out For

Any sentence that begins with the words “I don’t care” is probably a lie you’re telling yourself to protect your feelings. Here are some examples of the types of ego-preserving lies we tell ourselves and one another all the time:

I don’t care that dad abandoned us when I was four.”

“I don’t care who she’s going out with.”

“I really don’t care if he ever loved me or not.”

Here’s another example: Whenever you hear yourself say, “He’s just_______,” “She’s just_________,” or “It’s just________,” it’s probably because someone or something has hurt you and made you feel bad about yourself. And now you want to diminish someone or something to make the hurt go away. It never works, but our brains are designed to do it anyway.

For example: Let’s say that Walter is bragging to the guys about his hot date with Gladys. Poor Alex secretly adores Gladys, but he never quite got up the nerve to ask her out. Now his brain is cascaded with defensive outrage and denial:

“Walter is just a stupid, arrogant, spoiled asshole.”

“She doesn’t really like him. She’s just going out with him because he’s tall, good-looking, and his parents are rich.”

“She’s just a dumb little bitch for going out with that guy”

We Think by Feeling

We often talk about thoughts and feelings as though they were in competition with one another. “Don’t let your feelings get in the way of your decision,” is a common refrain. But there is no such battle occurring in our souls between thinking and feeling. Thoughts and feelings are inseparable. Thoughts don’t exist in opposition to feelings — thoughts are better understood as the residue of feelings. “We think by feeling,” is how the great American poet Theodore Roethke put it. This observation has been confirmed by a whole body of modern brain research.

Scottish philosopher David Hume figured this all out over two hundred years ago without the benefit modern fMRI machines that tell us which parts of the brain are involved in the decision-making process. Hume was one seriously smart and reflective dude.

The Unexamined Life

Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, but it’s also been noted that ignorance is bliss. So what should you do? Who knows? Metacognition is both painful and enlightening. The question is: Can you handle the truth?

By Richard W. Bray

 

Seven Ways of Looking at a Line of Poetry

November 6, 2016

zzwaking

Anthropologists tell us* that “some time between 75 thousand and 60 thousand years ago” homo sapiens underwent a remarkable change (194). This event occurred “somewhere on the African continent (most likely somewhere in its eastern or southwestern regions)” (193). Suddenly, our already impressive brains developed the capacity for symbolic thought. Our ancestors, who heretofore merely consisted of roving bands of uppidy carnivorous weapon-wielding bipeds, were transformed into artists, shamans, scientists, and engineers. World-domination was now only a matter of time.

These new-and-improved brains rendered representational art, handicraft, metaphor, music, dance, language and poetry essential to our existence.

As Kurt Vonnegut notes, this spectacular transformation gave us not only the capacity and the inclination to produce Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; it also gave us the capacity and the inclination to

burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities.

I’m seriously into words. I have argued that it’s ultimately impossible to separate language from poetry because our ancestors began playing with words as soon as they began to invent them. Uttered phonemes are automatically poetic just like every basket and every arrowhead homo sapiens produce is a work of art.

Death and disruption at an early age hurt Theodore Roethke into poetry, as W. H. Auden suggests “mad Ireland” hurt W.B. Yeats into poetry. And oh what prodigious poetry Roethke did make! I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about how to say the third line of a villanelle Roethke wrote called “The Waking” because my brain spends a lot of time thinking about such things.

A villanelle is a nineteen-line Italian form in which the first and third lines are each repeated three times. (I’ve written a few of them myself.) (A smartass once wrote on this blog that “the cool thing about villanelles is that once you’ve written the first three lines, you’re 42% finished.”)

Here’s the first stanza of Roethke’s “The Waking.”

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

I told you the dude was prodigious, right? Anyhow, the first and third lines of a good villanelle must be firm and flexible as much heavy lifting is expected of them. Here are some examples:

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

(First line of Auden’s “If I Could tell You”)

(I think I made you up inside my head.)
(Third Line of Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”)

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Third Line of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”)

Now back to “The Waking.” If a reader must read the same lines four times in a nineteen-line poem, the poet should provide her with options about which words to stress. Here are seven ways to say line three of “The Waking”:

#1 I learn by going where I have to go

Learning is about destination rather than free will.

#2 I learn by going where I have to go

The essential lesson is in the destination

#3 I learn by going (pause) where I have to go

The journey, so to speak, is the destination.

#4 I learn by going where I have to go

The lesson is in the doing.

#5 I learn by going where I have to go

The important thing is that the experience is educational.

#6 I learn by going where I have to go.

It’s imperative to take a certain route that is nonetheless educational.

#7 I learn by going where I have to go.

I find out what I’m supposed to do only by doing it.

Art inevitably pops up wherever you have people and it’s our sacred duty to make it available to our children. (But this isn’t another jeremiad about those sick, sad losers who think our children are merely their test scores).

by Richard W. Bray

*Ian Tattersall, Masters of the Planet

Thinking v. Feeling

December 17, 2011

Thinking v. Feeling

Poet said We think by feeling
A thought that echoes Hume
No logic-minded being
Would genuflect at tombs

We feel therefore we think
Is what they’re finding out
This unappealing link
Is Descartes turned inside out

With a touch of intervention
From our modern frontal lobe
My breed maintains ascension
On our lovely little globe

Toughest on the block
With more appetite than smarts
Condemned to rule this rock
For the cravings of the heart

by Richard W. Bray