Imagine there are mountains

Imagine a bull moose, shy and alone, just out of sight to the left, the east. There is no fog to the south, just pine-covered rock piles, gap-toothed hills blocking your view in the near distance beyond the meadows. Farther still, through the gaps and barely visible, untold miles away in the sunshine, there are mountains.

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Near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. August 2017

Critical word for writers and editors: Why?

As an editor, I like to know that writers use their words deliberately.

If I know that the writer picked her words intentionally rather than carelessly, I can do a better job of editing.

question-mark-2123969_1280Many sentences that I encounter employ words in a way that my high school English teachers would have considered incorrect, ungrammatical or even immoral (I’m not kidding).

A stickler by nature and training, I revise or suggest improvements to stuff that other people write. More and more frequently, I ask a question that other editors and writers might find useful: Why?

Why did you choose present tense rather than past?

Why did you spell “colour” that way?

Why can’t I find a verb in what you’re trying to pass off as a sentence?

Did you really mean “their pronouns” or should it be “my pronouns”?

Present tense might be the preferred style, depending on the context. “Colour” may or may not be a typo. The missing verb? A quirk, maybe, or a simple mistake.

Pronouns are more complicated than you might think, as I’ve learned in recent years. My pronouns, for example: he/his/him. Few of my readers need to know that, but the concept of gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language can be critical in some writing and conversation.

“Why?” can help the writer improve. The answers can be surprising and even educational, for writer and editor.

Takeaways

  • Writers: Choose your words carefully.
  • Editors: Ask why.

Writing with bad intent: Mongering fear

Inform, instruct, train, sell products, sway votes, incite a riot, make people laugh, get clicks.

I used those all recently as examples of what a writer’s intent might be. A bit later I mentioned another example: Scare people so they will buy guns and ammunition.

So what if you write with the intent of starting a riot and nobody shows up? What if no one is buying what you’re selling?

It’s possible that your message wasn’t clear. Maybe your writing is just crappy, or boring, or both. It happens.

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A few other possibilities:

  • You don’t understand your audience, the people who are your prospective customers, so your message doesn’t move them.
  • Your message just isn’t compelling.
  • Your intent was bad, even creepy (hey, Aqualung).
  • Your product stinks or catches on fire at inopportune times.
  • Perhaps you’ve written and published so many distortions and fabrications (i.e., lies) that people just no longer trust you.

So what do you do when your message falls on deaf ears?

Take a close look at what you’ve been doing, from execution (writing, editing and publishing your words) all the way back to your intent. Be open to change and taking a different approach.

Example:

Gun sales spiked during the Obama administration, as people who had much to gain from spreading fear managed to convince their target market that the government was plotting to take their guns. When it turned out that didn’t happen, and Obama was no longer president, gun sales dropped.

Having had some success with fearmongering and hate before, the NRA refocused its sights on Black Lives Matter, “leftists,” the media and other perceived threats. Its primary purpose these days seems to be more political than ever, even though selling guns and retaining power remain important. 

As effective as it looks lately, maybe someday the raw, vicious messaging will backfire. Maybe responsible gun owners will tire of the cynical marketing and politics spewed out by NRA leadership. Maybe they will leave the NRA in droves, or simply man up and throw out the creators and purveyors of such dangerous and deadly marketing content.

Maybe pigs will fly someday, too.

Update 7/28:

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The NRA: Going armed with intent?

On the off chance that you haven’t read my previous post, please take a couple of minutes to do that. At the end of it I said I’d share my thoughts on the intent of one of the videos linked to that post.

My thoughts, as promised:

The video, like a number of others from the National Rifle Association, was crafted to support more than one objective. The intent isn’t to support the safe, responsible use of firearms, as I remember the NRA doing when I learned about those things as a Boy Scout in the 1960s.

No, today’s NRA wants people to be afraid of each other, so it uses frightening imagery and scare words, often in the form of lies, to engender fear and hate.

Why? The other reasons are pretty clear from this and other NRA messaging:

The NRA does this because its leadership, supported by what we must infer is a large percentage of its membership, believes in white supremacy.

The NRA does what it does to maintain and increase its membership.

The NRA does what it does so that people will buy more and more guns and ammunition.

The NRA’s intent is to maintain and increase its own clout and to keep the American people buying guns and ammo from the association’s corporate backers.

This is all revealed more grotesquely in a newer NRA video that I will not even share here. It is that vile. In one sense, what the NRA does is akin to going armed with intent. That’s a felony in some places.

There’s no doubt that writing with intent and passion can be effective. Depending on the intent, such content can be destructive and even deadly.

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Writing with intent: YouTube, NRA

The other day I wrote these words about writing with intent. The very next day I found a couple of vivid examples of that.

In this one, from YouTube, the intent is crystal clear:

Let’s launch your video marketing campaign

You know exactly what to expect, and you can decide if you want to watch a how-to video about launching a video marketing campaign. Well done.

The intent in this other example is less clear, but see if you can identify at least one of its multiple objectives.

Freedom’s Safest Place | Your Choice

Let me know in a comment what you think the NRA’s intent is with that video. I’ll share my own thoughts on it sometime soon.

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Creating content vs. writing with intent

Creating content is a fuzzy, buzzy phrase that means writing and editing stuff.

backlit keyboardThat stuff might take any number of forms, including news, entertainment, commentary, analysis, scientific papers, technical instructions, training, even clickbait.

Some stuff is still delivered on paper, with ink. Much is delivered digitally in some form: text, video, audio or some combination of those.

Creating content is so easy that we’re awash in the stuff. Just look around.

The more rare good content is different, and the best of that is created with intent.

Creating content with intent is akin to what I call writing with intent. Writing with intent — with a solid grasp of your purpose for writing and disseminating your work — inevitably improves the end result.

Whether your purpose is to inform, instruct, train, sell products, sway votes, incite a riot, make people laugh, or just get clicks, be able to state that purpose clearly before you write a word.

You can’t meet an objective if you can’t articulate it.