Friday, September 24, 2010

What I do? Problem-solve, mostly.

Q: Tell me more about your work - do you contribute? ghost write or mostly edit/proof? (From a Twitter follower)

A: I mostly help people *develop* compelling content. So the emphasis is on pre-writing, critical thinking, audience analysis, and identifying storytelling elements and news value.

I teach people to restructure their drafts altogether, so that it doesn't resemble what they learned in school. (Essays have their place, but not in a world of information overload.)

Instead, I encourage business professionals and other writers to "tell the story out of order," to give away the punchline, juxtapose unlike items for contrast and subtle tension, and reduce word count by editing content, not words.

Pre-write, restructure, edit differently

If you do a better job of pre-thinking, restructuring and counter-intuitive editing, you'll arrest the attention of skimmers, get heard by an executive who has the attention span of a flea, and get people to respond to your e-mails more quickly.

People will forward your analysis up the chain of command rather than put it in a well-intentioned "read later" pile. People will follow your instructions rather than skip your memo altogether.

I am happiest when creating new classes to solve problems that people weren't sure could be fixed.
Examples of past requests:

  1. We're changing our brand from heavy engineering to consumer-friendly. Can you help our PR, marketing and analyst relations writers make that switch? (Technology used to be for geeks but became more mainstream starting around 2005.)
  2. We want our writers to demonstrate more business acumen when writing for executives and journalists -- do you see a way to do that?
  3. We want people to be self-aware enough to raise their own standards when editing their own work, especially for complex assignments.
  4. How can we meet tight deadlines for press releases when the people who are supposed to provide the content don't get back to us until the last minute?
  5. We want our startup's voice to be a cross between (1) inspiring like Obama, (2) smart and irreverent like Jon Stewart, and (3) approachable like Kari Byron (of Discovery Channel's MythBusters). How would we do that?
  6. Does our writing voice fit our audience? Why are we good at reaching one kind of audience but not another?
  7. Our staff are seasoned professional writers but even they can do better. What would you recommend?
  8. Our staff now have to write for audio and visual formats, but their experience is limited to the written word.
  9. We find ourselves having to re-purpose corporate content for social media and Web use, but it comes out in the wrong tone, lacks zest and is mostly being overlooked. How can we fix that?

Eagle Eye training isn't what you think

I created a two-month training program that teaches copy editors to find what other professionals miss. It's successful in large part because it's unconventional. I teach techniques that I call "brain off," "hot zone" and "professional restraint."

I'm one of the fastest and most accurate editors you'll find anywhere, though I don't always proofread my own work, which brings untold embarrassment. But I am also *not* an advocate of perfect proofreading in high-trust relationships or situations where too much fussing is a waste of time for the purpose at hand.

I'm not a snob. Personally, I don't care if people make mistakes. But I can uphold standards when paid to do so. I'm not one of those people who sneers at a wrong application of whom, lay or less, or who bewails the end of literacy as we know it. I care about content and connection, and most of all about people making progress.