The Bastardization of Writing (and How I Learned to Live with It)

The Bastardization of Writing (and How I Learned to Live with It)

The age of novel writing is over. The dawn of a new era has begun — the Age of Copywriting — and it’s marked by one indisputable fact: People don’t have much time to read anymore.

Everywhere you look, distractions abound. Marketers clamor for your attention, and you cram your already-busy day with even more activity.

So what’s the writer who has a message to share with the world to do?

For the longest time I tried to fight the tide, to swim upstream, go against the current. I wrote huge blocks of text and assumed people would read them. I demanded attention, instead of earning it.

And no surprise, people ignored me.

Then I had a revelation.

I realized I was treating people with a different expectations than I had for myself. In other words, I was getting distracted easily — by TV and email and the incessant ringing of my cell phone — but expecting my audience to focus.

So I started learning about copywriting. Not because I wanted to be a business writer, but because I wanted to be heard.

Things started to change. I wrote more clearly and with greater focus, and people started paying attention to what I had to say.

This honestly surprised and depressed me. Because I don’t like business writing. I think it dumbs down a beautiful craft and panders to people’s narcissism.

But what choice did I have?

Not much of one, if I wanted to be read.

In a world where there are too many messages, too many writers, too many people demanding our time, we have all learned to filter out what’s non-essential. We’ve become skimmers and scanners, and there’s no going back.

You can fight this trend, as I did, or you can find ways to live in a healthy tension with this new, lowered attention span. What’s not an option is for you to sit there with your arms crossed and choose to do nothing. Like I did.

If you have a message worth sharing, you need to get it out there. You need to write like you mean it and spend the effort asking permission to be heard.

Maybe you’ll find, as I did, that copywriting isn’t that evil after all.

Here’s what I learned…

Yes, I thought business writing was from the Devil. And to be fair, there is still a lot of crap out there, passing itself off as legitimate copy.

But there is also a redemptive side to this style of writing, and the purists would do well to take note. Here are three lessons I learned:

  1. It’s all about the reader. In the case of copywriting, you’re trying to get the customer’s attention and keep it. Every line is a chance to ask permission to read the next.
  2. Brevity is king. I always got bored reading long novels. So do a lot of people. Business writing taught me that if you keep your writing concise, you can take people wherever you want to go. The point, of course, is not the length, but the style. You can write a 100,000-word novel and keep the reader’s attention, if the copy is clean.
  3. Clarity wins. I thought I needed to be a verbose writer, because words were cheap. I used to carelessly spend them without much thought. Copywriting taught me to make each phrase count, and my prose is better for it.

I still wince when I read most copywriting blogs. There are a lot of hacks out there bastardizing the craft. But I’ve reconciled my distaste with business writing — there’s something here for all of us to learn.

My hope is this: That the writers who have something worthwhile to say (regardless of their industry or field) will find ways to earn an audience and then stand up and say it.

The question is, “Does that mean you?” I hope so.

Post by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook. His eBook, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), is an Amazon Best Seller in books about writing and creativity.