Where Does Genuine Writing Come From? (aka Sometimes I Think I’m Hilarious and So Can You!)
If you noticed Tuesday’s post came with a little something extra, well, you weren’t the only one. In fact, I still can’t feel anything below my knees because of the hard kicking I got from my editorial team. But you know what? Sometimes it’s worth it because there are a few shining moments when I feel like maybe it’s ok to commit rare acts of shenaniganry in the name of better business writing.
I mean, let’s face it. All that stuff out there… well, a lot of it anyway, is dry, dusty, boring and just… exhausting to read. Why anyone bothers to write it and then leave it lying around for someone else to find is beyond me. Just like Google proved that you don’t need a suit and tie to make a bajillion dollars, a few business writers have hinted that it’s possible to not be the biggest bore in the world and still speak on important topics like visitor engagement and, God forbid, conversion rates.
What Are the Elements of Good Writing?
Really, that should say “element,” but I didn’t think it would sound right, so I just left it. There’s only one true element of any good writing and that’s to sound genuine. Sound like people, basically. Sure, there are medical journals out there that are perfect for robots, but since there has yet to be a Roomba capable of completing a medical residency, even those prestigious rags still rely on humans that are more people than machine.
But what does it mean to be genuine?
- Does it mean that instead of typing at you in a generalish American middle-of-the-road dialect, I use the one of my people? I’m pretty sure you’d not be able to understand that, though many of you would try (I’m from the Missouri Ozarks).
- Does it mean that I pour out all my thoughts and leave them for you to sort through while I parade around unburdened? No. God, no. You don’t want to see that mess, and there’s nothing coherent in anybody’s word vomit.
- Does it mean that I insert curse words at every possible opportunity so you know how edgy I am? No. Use them like other words, when useful and necessary. Like when I tell you to cut the shit.
A writer who can sound genuine is someone who can write like they speak, more or less. They feel like a real person, you know? It’s a difficult concept to explain, which is why it’s incredibly hard to tell you how you can become a more genuine writer. But I’m gonna give it a go with an example from my actual life.
The first part of writing genuinely is, I think, to accept yourself. And really know who you are, bottom to top. For me, it means allowing myself to insert dumb jokes and turns of phrase that entertain absolutely no one but me because if I don’t, who will? It means allowing myself to feel a hollow sadness when I sprinkle those dumb jokes in because my partner in crime left us all behind about 18 months ago.
But I also know that things are always changing, and that means I’ve formed new alliances that have somehow convinced me to do things like sit through boring classes about writing better sales funnels and trying very hard to make sense of flowcharts neatly drawn in paper notebooks, photographed with a smartphone and uploaded to Dropbox.
Each of these touch points makes life stuff a little more complicated. Letting you see a shimmer of them makes my writing a little more relatable and a little more real. That’s what you want to get across, anyway, when you’re trying to be a more genuine writer. You want people to know that you’re a real boy. Not just a puppet on a string. Or a Roomba.
Humor Is a Harsh Mistress
I’ve been playing around with humor since I was a teenager, which was a very long time ago and we’re not going to talk about that. The thing I’ve learned about humor, above all else, is that it will absolutely rub your face in the dirt and make you cry the moment you think you’ve got it figured out.
Sometimes it’s the audience, sometimes it’s the delivery — usually, though, it’s you. You think you’re funny, no one else does. And that’s a risky move, especially on a platform like LinkedIn. You’re new people; I barely know you. Yet I expect us to share enough of life’s experiences and attitudes for you to think I’m funnier than Bob Hope (I am, actually, but I digress).
Speaking of Bob Hope, I was really disappointed to learn about all his mistresses. I’m not judging, but I always thought he was a much more wholesome fella. Like oats. And just like that, I lost you and I’m the only one left laughing. Wholesome oats. Never mind.
Humor in Business Writing: Yes or No?
If I have to choose, I will always go with yes. Sometimes, I’m funny on accident, so that’s sort of… it’s a risk of the job. But you can’t always be funny on purpose and deliver, either. For these reasons, I developed a few rules that I try to follow when I’m writing anything.
- Rule 1. Never start a blog with a “knock, knock” joke. I’ve tried this… it didn’t go well. People did not respond. Had I been in a public venue, I’d have been put in stocks and had mushy produce tossed at me.
- Rule 2. You’re not as funny as you think, at least not when you’re trying. You aren’t. Stop pushing so hard, and the good times will start rolling out like so much water from a mountaintop spring or something equally gushy.
- Rule 3. Humor is the realm of the Plebs. Hey, you can probably make a great joke about caviar and first-class world travel, but if you did, would anyone understand it? Humor is grungy, it’s salty and frankly, it’s mostly lowest-common-denominator stuff. If I can’t make you laugh at a joke about Kraft singles in the wrapper, then we can’t continue this relationship.
- Rule 4. Sometimes it just happens. And you don’t even notice until you get a note from your editor about how clever you are. This is an opportunity to peacock a bit, but I always mess it up. I will admit when I didn’t know I was being funny and make myself look like the worst every time.
- Rule 5. I don’t really have a Rule 5. I just thought it would look more complete with a fifth rule. Nothing to see here. Move along.
I mean, I could and probably should add some kind of booklist here, but most of the writing books I cut my teeth on are out of print or just out of date. So, instead, I’m going to recommend you read the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and the Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams.
Coming Back Around: How Much Will You Show?
I gave you a piece of me up there. I told you about my friend and his untimely death. I let you see, for just a moment, what was behind the curtain. To me, that’s what it means to be a genuine writer. Not a GEN-U-INE writer, as in you’re actually a writer, but a writer who writes genuinely.
It all comes from a place where hurt and anger and love and peace and ecstasy and wonder all sort of mingle together. The bad doesn’t always outweigh the good, either. I mean, there’s no joking here. It can be a dark and scary place to draw from, but the more you do it, the better you’re going to be at controlling the flow.
Write with feeling. Write with all that you are. I don’t care if it’s a training manual or a Fortune Cookie fortune. Set your keyboard on fire, and your audience will follow. There’s a reason our motto at In The Cloud Copy is “Charge your words, charge your world.”