I can only read so much, so writing some for now
If you can’t code, write books and blogs, record videos and podcasts. — Naval Ravikant, The Almanack of Naval Ravikant
Everyday, I deal with words. I edit copies one sentence at a time. These words are written to sell or inform. They target customers who are busy and distracted, also bombarded with messages from brands–just like the one I work for.
Writing for me is a job. It was a vocation when I was chasing stories as a beat reporter. But after 20 years, I pivoted to corporate. Here, I wrote because it brought food to the table. I went after stories. Facts, figures, and quotes were my goals.
Today, I need to hack a 302-character copy with a clear “call to action.” I have to figure three to five possible Subject Lines for different segments of customers. Segments are inventions of marketing. It puts people in boxes, assuming they check certain attributes.
Years ago, I learned that writing is an art. You can learn it. But it was my professor’s advice that stuck: “You can be a writer. You just need to read more.”
So, I read. But I chose books I loved. Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, to name a few. I picked up science and tech magazines, too from a second-hand bookshop: Discover, Utne Reader, Wired, The Atlantic, Fast Company. A confession: I also bought magazines on How-to-write, but most of them remained sealed, stacked inside a box, unread.
Books on writing…and reading
Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was the first book handed to me by my dad. He is a writer too.
Did they help? Yes, and no. I learned the hard way.
See, I sucked at writing. Because I started late–reading. I abhorred reading books, including newspapers. I saw it as an old man’s activity.
When I can barely finish finish a sentence, my dad has had a collection of books and newspaper clippings. He had a bookshelf-full of theology books, dictionaries, and compiled Time and Newsweek magazines, and a complete set of Ian Fleming pulp fiction. I leafed through some. But I found the Reader’s Digest more engaging. They had short stories, jokes, and trivial articles about science and technology.
He also had different versions of the Holy Bible, or The Scriptures along with volumes of Commentaries. (He studied the Bible).
When I finished College and was looking for a decent job, I started writing poetry. I didn’t even know the difference between a haiku and a standard poem. But I wrote with passion. All because I was inspired– no, in love!
I wrote love letters to my soon-to-be wife. She kept them. I’m too embarrassed to even read them now. My wife disagreed, since she married me. I guess, my writing worked!
Writing your own history
Blogging or web logging became popular and accessible when the web started to take off. It was the early 2000s. Just after Y2K, I discovered that blogging was liberating.
I blogged under a funny handle: cyberbaguioboy. “Cyber” to represent the Internet, and “baguioboy” because I grew up in this city known for its pine trees.
Among the early bloggers, I was known as the journalist who blogged too. I got invited to events where I met more bloggers. Bloggers wrote about different topics. One blogged about technology (I wrote about them too). Another blogged about politics. Another about lifestyle. These bloggers became my friends.
Blogs captured moments of our lives, in words and in pictures too. But I used it to document my journalistic journey. Since I worked for an online news service, blogging was my community.
‘Reading is faster than listening’
I read books all the time. Some I finish, some languish in my customized bookshelf. That’s okay.
A good friend always reminded me to “Go out, study nature” whenever I share what I read.
Reading is the cheapest form of education. I learned faster. But my good friend followed up with, “Read and apply what you learn” and to that, I agreed.
Reading is a gift from God. Reading allows you to extract meaning from sentences strung together to form paragraphs. That amazes me still. Words by themselves have no meaning. We put meaning to these words.
Language is God’s gift to us. It is through His words that we are blessed.
Words are gems. They can create or destroy lives. They make or break a relationship. They seal or botch deals. They boost and kill reputations. Words are powerful.
I love books, thus I collect them too. I gave away hundreds back when I moved houses. Today, I have collected hundreds again, but most are in digital form. They live in my Kindle. I download them in this nifty paperwhite reader. At night, I leaf through each digital page, reading one sentence at a time.
I want to finish reading more books when the year ends. I plan to finish 20, at least. Too few for someone whose job is to write at least a thousand words a day.
Writing one sentence at a time
I am an editor. I read what others write and help them write better, I hope.
I make sentences short, tight and clear. I read through what another writer has written. I take notice.
While I’m not heavy handed, I respect his or her sentences. I only focus on grammar, tenses, tone, and style.
As a news editor, I dug deeper into facts, figures, and quotes. If the writer fumbled, I shared the blame. I was accountable.
As a copyeditor, you must be patient and quick-witted. Copywriting is far from journalism. You have to sell, convince, push people to action, and change their behavior–and hopefully their minds. You need to understand who they are, what they are, and why should they even read a sentence.
Copywriting sound simple. It is not. It takes practice, lots of it.
Like doctors, editors learn after years of practice. This comes with mistakes and learning. They call it experience.
Hours of painstaking reading and revisions make one a better editor. Knowing how to give good feedback to aspiring writers trying to beat a deadline is expected.
Writing and editing require thinking, arguing with one’s self, decision-making, and coffee. The latter should be at least two shots of espresso with milk, a “flat white.”
I wrote some today because tomorrow I would forget. I wrote these words fast. Then I edited them later, knowing I would still find words to delete, revise, and replace. That’s writing. That’s how you roll. Thank you for reading. If you’re still reading at this point, I appreciate it. You just spent 5 minutes making sense of each sentence, finding meaning in words.