The client’s missive popped into my mailbox.
I was concerned.
Had the script done what was needed?
And was he happy?
Not just happy enough, mind you. Was it no-exceptions happy?
He’d know the difference between good and great.
This is a man whose entire life has been big radio. Did my writing render the result he required?
“I love the script.”
That reaction made the hours sweating over a dozen details of 167 words all worthwhile.
For days, the script had been 97% good.
The last 3% was being a beast.
You keep struggling with it.
Kicking the thing.
And resisting a change to something you know, deep in your heart, is wrong.
A key word in the copy was “Neuroscience.”
Thematically, this word is the lynchpin for his message about human behavior.
But the two beasty words were: “In action.”
In an effort to emphasize the point that neuroscience is the hero, I had trotted out the phrase “Neuroscience in action.”
Over several days and twice as many tweaked drafts, that phrase began poking at me.
It was not a glaring, “LOOK AT ME!” darling.
Nor was it an error of great and grievous proportions.
But every time I tried to cut it loose, my head kept second-guessing me.
“We need it there. It brings action. Literally!”
The tactical writer inside me kept rationalizing it.
Then, the executioner inside me said, “This must end. Kill it now.”
With a single swing of the ax, those two words rolled away, forever separated from neuroscience.
The prepositional phrase that had been pestering me evaporated with a keystroke.
“Neuroscience” suddenly stood up its hind legs.
It now had gravity.
It brought the force of its own four syllables to poke at the listener’s gray matter and make the connection.
It was now putting the “awe” in authority.
(Did I really just write that? Eegad.)
Anyway, here’s the point for you, the writer who must create compelling copy…
Finding the right word and the right phrasing matters.
It takes time and doesn’t always leap forth from the keyboard as if yet another verbal Athena from the head of a thesaurical Zeus.
Writing well a process.
We can do things to accelerate that process.
But sometimes, we let ourselves stay stuck.
This is why good writing is rewriting.
Solid copy needs the opportunity to solidify.
What seems like cured concrete today can jiggle like unset gelatin tomorrow.
As important as it is to listen to the words, it’s also important to listen to one's writerly superego.
It will say things like, “Is that really right?”
Or, “Should that maybe go?”
Or, “Perhaps we should see how it sounds without that one thorny little oyster of a phrase.
“Maybe the pearl is already out of the shell.”
It worked. All of sudden, it was 3% better.
In the aftermath, I was pondering the process of finding just the right word. So I asked Prof. Google.
I typed in, “Just the right…”
And the professor finished the phrase for me.
I was looking to see if there’s any scholarly insight into the kind of wrestling that happens in making the page right, or if I’m just a hardy fool.
I stumbled upon a quote from that old, often cancelled rich white guy of immense ego and equally immense support for the common man, the underdog and the worker bee.
Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Mic drop, Mr. Twain. Thank you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.