letter writing

“Easy reading is damn hard writing."

Maya Angelou summed it up nicely in her remarks at the 2013 National Book Award dinner. Dr. Angelou received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

And she makes a great point. The more naturally words seem to flow, the less likely it is they just came together naturally.

I have three questions I ask myself while writing.

1) Would I say that out loud?

Easy reading is conversational. It's not at all uncommon to find me talking to my computer screen. Reading a sentence aloud so I can hear what it sounds like when spoken.

Why would anyone think that a sentence too cumbersome for conversation will somehow magically flow when read?

2) Is that the best verb/adverb/adjective?

Easy reading communicates quickly. Powerfully. And the power words on the page are likely to be verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Choose carefully. Challenge your choices regularly.

But, before you flex your thesaurus, think back to question one: just because you know a word doesn't mean you should use it.

3) Can I still "see the forest" here?

Easy reading is easily understood. Perhaps you've heard the saying, "can't see the forest for the trees?" Meaning someone is so caught up in details they lose sight of the overview.

Writing's a bit like that. Choosing the right words is important. Then you string them together in a sentence. Combine sentences to make a paragraph. And paragraphs to make a point.

Or is it the words that make the point? Regardless, you get my point.

No doubt there are other worthy questions, too.

What do you ask yourself? I'd love to know!

Year End Copywriting Basics


Every organization has its own unique story.

But every year end appeal — regardless of the nonprofit — has some similar ingredients available to add urgency and increase response rates. Here are a few of the tried and true year-end rules we see generate returns:

  • Provide a Deadline. Do you need those dollars to start the next year strong? Is there a project that will go unfunded if you don't raise a certain amount by a certain date? Share that information in an authentic, honest way without giving a boy-who-cried-wolf vibe and trust your donors to step up.
  • Provide a Dollar Amount. Building on the previous idea ... If there's a dollar amount that will allow your group to hit budget, help another family or shelter another animal put it in your copy. Our minds are wired to latch onto specifics. Giving donors a tangible goal helps in that department.
  • Provide Outcomes. Testing has shown that donors aren't as interested in the myriad programs your organization has as much as the nitty gritty of real outcomes and real people/animals/etc helped by their investment in your work. Be clear and to the point — and make it plain as day their contributions are the fuel behind every kind and life-changing act.

What are your go-to copy standards for year end?

Calling the Haiku Helpline ...

Nuance. Overtone.
Emphasis. Color. Degree.

A haiku seemed like a simple, straightforward approach. But I’m struggling with how to close, to make the point.

Perhaps …
Nuance. Overtone.
Emphasis. Color. Degree.
Clarity connects. 

Which is right. Your choice of words helps hone your point. Define and reinforce your intent. Minimize questions or doubt. 

Yet, there’s that whole bit about the context in which a message is received. Maybe it should read …
Nuance. Overtone.
Emphasis. Color. Degree.
Load words with meaning.

Because really, all we can do is put words out there for the reader to digest. Suggest, so that she can infer from her own experience … come to her own conclusions. Right?

But that feels a bit fatalistic. Real communication seems a bit random. What if, instead, …

Nuance. Overtone.
Emphasis. Color. Degree.
Give ideas a chance.

After all, our goal is to build understanding. Connect our intent with the context in which it’s received. 

What do you think? 

Please send me your suggestions.