Writing as pain and art

I would like to point out the obvious by saying we should use different writing styles for different assignments. A novel by a master will be more majestic than a press release or directions to assemble a bicycle.

Here’s an example of a description of city light seen through a hotel window. It’s by Michael Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”:

A selvage of gray-blue radiation from the kitchen tube fringed the bedroom door and mingled with a pale shaft of nocturnal Brooklyn, a compound derived from the halos of streetlights, the headlamps of trolleys and cars, the fires of the borough’s three active steel mills, and the shed luster of the island kingdom across the river, which came slanting in through a parting in the curtains.

Writing as painEven without looking up “selvage,” I can celebrate Chabon for beautifully evoking a moment of early morning in the life of the novel’s two main characters.

A press release, in contrast, might contain a line about “the lights of the city.” A blog by a business person who wants to attract customers could be somewhat poetical in its description of the hours before dawn, but it definitely would not include the word “selvage,” which in Chabon’s usage means a border or edge.

Writing for business-to-business or business-to-consumer shouldn’t contain words that educated people have to look up. It needs to be clear, concise and efficient even as it describes, for example, a complex transaction, a sophisticated machine or a promise of good work.

I think that is what stops many smart and accomplished people from writing their own website copy, blogs or pamphlets. Instead of writing short, simple sentences that describe one idea at a time, they stumble into a complicated paragraph and get frustrated as they try to figure their way out.

It’s not that they couldn’t rewrite their way to success, but it does take time to write clearly, even for those of us who have been doing it for years. We are accustomed to the pain, however, and we are willing to continue on to a successful, or at least reasonable, conclusion.

Would you like help with your business writing? Contact me at Paul@paulsteinmetz.com.

About Paul

I grew up in Marin County, California, and moved to Connecticut to join The News-Times, a community newspaper in Danbury where I eventually served as editor for 10 years. I joined Western Connecticut State University and ran the PR and development offices. I now serve as director of community relations and public affairs. I have four kids, all with the same wife, and now run Writing Associates, a consulting service that makes writing easier for my clients.