What’s on the iPod: Lonely Boy by The Black Keys
Is it even possible that I’m digging out from under this pile of work? Really? I’m afraid to say anything for fear one more thing comes in that threatens to stretch today into another 10-hour day. For now, I’m not exhaling – optimism is for suckers.
I’m in the middle of a modern/contemporary poetry course, and we’ve been studying imagist poems. An example is William Carlos Williams’s two versions of the same poem — the second being the imagist version.
Young Woman At a Window
While she sits
with tears on
her cheek on
this little child
who robs her
knows nothing of
but rubs his
She sits with
her cheek on
in her lap
to the glass
So obviously the meaning and the cadence changes with the second version. What also changes is the clarity – the second is more obscure in meaning, isn’t it? The first tells a very definite story, leaves a few things up for question, and leads the reader to a certain conclusion.
Ah, but version two is a poem stripped of extraneous words, and intentionally so. Williams is exact in his approach — you can sense that he’s set out to make this deliberately unclear, up for interpretation and discussion.
So which one is stronger? Depends a little on what you like, but version two packs a pretty big wallop for so small a poem.
How does this relate to business writing? We can look at poetry – and even more specifically the differences between these two versions, and see how the methods in each change the message.
Brevity. Cutting out extraneous wording from our prose — yes, even business prose — can take the focus from a micro level to a macro level. You see more. Maybe not clearly, but what you see in the shorter poem is a tighter message, one that evokes a response in you. You’re now intrigued. You’re also adding your own filters and translating it to fit you. That means you’re spending a little more time contemplating it. And if this were a business ad or sales piece you wrote for a client, you would have made your client very, very happy.
Clarity. But there’s a lesson in the first version too, isn’t there? Not every client wants a riddle wrapped in an enigma as their lead-in to clients. While imagist style can teach us to trim our words to the absolute minimum necessary to evoke the feeling or send the message, sometimes we have to give more information. The first poem does that, and spells out clearly what that message is. It may not stick with you as long (or maybe it does), but the intended message has been received.
Also, both versions use plenty of breaks and pauses in writing to emphasize certain words. If you’re writing website content, you have less than two seconds to capture a reader’s attention. Why not make it two impactful seconds? But will this work when you’re writing a white paper for that same client — 10 pages explaining a researched study outcome or a trend that brings up specific issues? Not likely.
Right word, right time. What both poems have is an attention to using the exact right word in the exact right place. The same goes for business writing. It’s okay to say “Joglegs inspire athletes to jump higher, run farther, thanks to our full line of footwear.” But why not choose your words more carefully? “Jump higher. Run farther. Your shoes, your life. Joglegs.”
How has poetry or fiction helped you in your business writing?
What one lesson is toughest for you to incorporate into your client writing?