It’s easy to be vague in writing, and in life. I’m guilty of both.
Last night I was challenged for details over a glass of wine with a neighbour I’ve just met. Most new acquaintances allow us to gloss over the finer parts of our lives, and focus on our general demeanour and sense of self. But not this man, he’s a journalist.
Hard as I tried, I wasn’t granted ignorant refuge in sweeping statements about metaphysics or the reason I didn’t like a book. Oh no, I had to bring my opinions to life. I was forced to think, and in doing so became acutely aware of my tendency to document the bigger picture, over real time experience.
My neighbour and I had agreed to meet because it was World Poetry Day, and we both enjoy writing. ‘A glass for a poem’ was the deal, at first sight a harmless barter.
The potent collection of words that brought us together set the scene for an evening of magnification. He brought out the niggler in me as we shone lights on Tolstoy, contemporary fascism and the dynamics behind a book recommendation. There was no hiding behind somebody else’s point of view, or an eyes-glazed-over nod. We made each other answer every question, comprehensively.
Oh the tiresome, and mildly competitive, nature of writers.
Aside from being exhausting, the evening was rather brilliant. I was encouraged to review opinions I’d formed three years ago and bring my plans to life with detailed descriptions.
As we all do, I have personal goals I want to make happen before the year is out. I want to move into a more senior role, I want to publish poetry, I want to swim a 10km open water race. I also want to hear my Dad say ‘I love you’.
By translating ‘professional goals’ and ‘family relationships’ into definitive acts, we make them tangible, and much easier to realise. And by sharing them, verbally or in writing, we commit to them. Like shaking hands, their publication becomes a contract with the receiver.
The same goes for writing. In good copywriting we show the values of a business by illustrating how it deals with an angry customer or chooses to source its raw materials. We don’t just write ‘a generous returns policy and ethical supply chain’. It means little, and is usually forgotten before a reader finishes the paragraph.
Some people call it showing not telling, I call it keeping things real. So in life, and in work, that’s what I’m pitching for – less fluff and more reasons why. Let’s bring out the detail behind the sweeping statements and have intelligent conversations. Let’s make people listen.