Oh! That’s What You Mean!

partners in perfection
Writing, if it’s good, has someone’s blood on it (or at least some sweat).

That is to say, it was really hard for them to write. And the prose is clearer for it.

Some time ago, before I was so bloody busy, I used to think one day I’d grow up to be a real bona fide writer. I would come home determined; and always produced something.

When the novel thing started burning me out, I really needed a reason to write; moreover, I needed to write something that didn’t take much thought. I concluded that letters might be the answer. You remember those things, right? It’s how you used to keep in touch with girlfriends in other cities… or Santa.

I started with a couple friends who thought it was “cute” and “quirky” to receive typewritten letters. Yes. I typed them. On a typewriter. An old Smith-Corona beast from 1955. And I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet there’s a whole subculture of hipster-beat-typist-poets out there. In fact, hang on, give me a second.

I just did some real, serious research. After a few minutes of hard Googling I found these:


Filed under: “You’re doing it wrong/Ways to get rusty”


“How do you spell Pabst? This thing has no backspace.”

Why a typewriter?

Pretty simple really. I get waaay too distracted on a computer. Writing can be really intimidating, and distractions are usually crutches to procrastination. That said, it had an interesting side effect: I ended up communicating a lot more clearly in my missives. Think about it as the difference between conversing with someone at a dining room table vs. at a rock concert.

So I wrote a bunch of letters on a typewriter, got to be retro and ended up having some nice discourse with friends and family. What’s the point?

The most effective writing is deliberate and crafted, a process that takes focus and commitment.  A process that is not put on hold while you create an epic Pandora channel. As with most things, that which has value demands attention and care.

Much of our writing today is what I call “low cost” forms of writing. So it is with instant messages (I don’t think I ever spelled that out before), emails, texts, tweets, status updates… All of these things happen so often and in such rapid succession that, indeed, it seems ridiculous to invest much time in them. Why spend time crafting a message out of a response to “Whose food is in the fridge?” or “Where do we keep the ink cartridges?” The problem arises when we use the same careless, “low cost” approach for less utilitarian communication.

So how do you become a more considerate writer?  In my case, I eliminated the distractions. Maybe you won’t have to be as drastic. Maybe you’re just not cool enough to consider a typewriter as an option. Either way, if you take the time to apply a little bit of thought and style to the small stuff (responses to client concerns, interoffice questions, etc.*) you might find you get better results. As a copywriter, I may take too much time wording things but I tend to get my point across.

*I recently received an IM from an Art Director I used to be partnered with at another agency. He was experiencing frustration with his project management team and had made a list of five “easy steps” to becoming a Project Manager. Needless to say, the list was disparaging (write me if you want to see it, it’s pretty amusing) but had a rule that is pertinent here:

4. If designer replies with “I need more info” reply with “Read Below.”

Now, granted, this could be totally correct. Maybe the information was iterated for the designer in a previous email. But a few more words couldn’t hurt. E.g.:

“Hi Robert. The information was provided in a previous email. I’ve reattached, but please let me know if there is something specific you’re not sure about and we can figure it out together.”

I’m fast, I know, but I think it took me 12.7 seconds to write the above. Pretty sure I can afford that.