Media Shower writer Robert Shillcock is well known for his work in travel and lifestyle writing.
An eccentric homeless man who lives in New York, who claims to be able to understand and interpret the squawking of seagulls, doesn’t appear to have much to do with writing articles for a living. Only in my case, it has everything to do with writing articles for a living, because if I didn’t know about this man then I would likely not be a writer.
Actually, I’m being slightly mischievous here. I didn’t become a writer because of Joe Gould, AKA Professor Seagull, but I did become one because of Joseph Mitchell, the man who told his true story. Joseph Mitchell, The New Yorker’s finest ever writer, would have made for a terrible content marketer. This is a writer who deals only with facts, presents them in a somewhat plain style, and who repeatedly shows an unflinching resistance to modern appliances and practices. Hardly the attributes needed for a profession that requires its workers to be always ahead of the curve.
Yet Joseph Mitchell was a masterful non-fiction writer and we, well…we’re trying to be masterful non-fiction writers too. So what can we learn from Mr. Mitchell, and from other famous writers and authors as well? Well, plenty. Our crafts aren’t as diametrically opposed as they’re commonly thought to be.
Keep It Tight
Joseph Mitchell was a master of keeping his text tight, as was Hemingway – especially in The Sun Also Rises. As writers with only 500 words worth of space, our writing has to be short and snappy and our words chosen well. Try to say what you mean in fifteen words rather than fifty, and follow David Olgivy’s advice: “Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.”
Let The Subject Speak
Part of what made Joseph Mitchell such an accomplished writer was his ability to let the truth dictate the story. If you’re working with an interesting subject then you don’t need to talk over it; let it speak for itself. Not everything has to dressed up like a Christmas tree. Though this is a greater challenge, it will ultimately create a more authentic piece than one based on a contrived narrative.
Build on the Past
Of Shakespeare’s thirty-eight plays, less than a handful are considered wholly original creations by the playwright. Instead, Shakespeare’s genius came from taking preexisting plotlines and characters and making them better. When it comes to writing or content marketing, there’s no reason for you to shy away from mimicking styles or ideas that inspired you – so long as you add your own sparkle of originality to it.
Be in Tune With Your Context, but Not Beholden To It
The brilliant E.B. White once said, “writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” The temptation is to always follow the zeitgeist when creating marketing content, but to do so religiously will stifle your ideas and your output. You need to be aware of current trends, but you should also, to paraphrase White, feel free to push the envelope into new territory if that’s where you think you should go.
Want to see how we apply these techniques to our work? Have a look at our success stories to see how we’ve helped our customers.