Lonna Whiting

Crafty writer, strategic thinker, curious learner.

Archive for the category “Inspiration”

Do you know how to KISS?

For those of you who know me personally or if you follow me at deskchef, you know that I like cooking vegetarian and vegan food. One of my biggest inspirations happens to be the gals at The Post-Punk Kitchen. In their print cookbook, “Veganomicon,” they write about the KISS method of cooking. If you haven’t heard of it, KISS stands for “Keep it Simple, Stupid,” which is a technique they largely embrace in many of their recipes.

The KISS method is not a new one, however, nor is it exclusive to cooking technique. A quick Google search for KISS brings back several results, including a historical account that claims it originated as a concept in the 1960s for Navy officers who felt keeping flight plans simple would ultimately produce the best results. Much like a simple yet robust marinara requires less than five ingredients, apparently smart Naval strategy is also simple yet well-planned. I think that’s pretty smart.

As a copywriter for a large health care entity, I often receive elaborate, overly complicated brand strategies that outline key messages in a way that is about as useful as a map without cardinal directions. It’s a case of clients and stakeholders wanting to do too much with very little. Have you ever seen a movie preview that’s so detailed it left you feeling like you already saw the movie? Or what about “that girl” who wears so much makeup she probably has to chisel her foundation off with a mallet and ice pick?

These are unfortunate cases that likely would benefit from simplification. As a cardinal rule when it comes to branding and messaging, KISS is also an invaluable method. Good, effective ad copywriting, whether it’s print, radio, television or digital, is always simple, with even the most unnavigable strategy stripped down to the fundamentals. For new and veteran writers, knowing how to KISS is part of the challenge – and fun – of writing for advertising. But how does it work, and what can you do to get better at simplifying complex messaging?

1. Cook up different ways to present complicated strategy with simple messaging. Write down the recipe. Cook it. Chew on the meat. Spit out the fat. You’ll be left with a leaner message that’s simple, clean and effective.

2. Study billboards. A major rule to billboard writing, of course, is that you  have less than three seconds to get your message across to passing vehicles. I suggest studying billboards because of this. They’re the leanest messaging medium when they are executed smartly. Before you stick your knife into it, remember that your call to action will likely take up half your allotted messaging space. It’s like the starch portion of your meal: filling yet nutritionally important.

3. Read poetry. I may have a particular affinity for this creative medium since I have a master’s in poetry, but working in this genre taught me to choose the best, most refined words for expression and effect. In particular, I’d suggest Emily Dickinson for her crafty simplicity. Metaphor at its chewiest.

4. Ask for the recipe. Brand managers know the clients likely more than you will as the writer on a campaign, especially if you’re not part of important strategic planning. Of course it’s always valuable to have the ad writer at certain planning meetings with clients, it’s not always possible and is often an unfortunate oversight. If you ask for the key message “recipe,” whether it’s notes from a meeting or a quick huddle with the brand strategist, knowing the ingredients that became part of the overall recipe will provide you with great context as you begin to cook down the messaging.

5. Let it simmer. But don’t overcook. There’s a reason the Italians cook their pasta al dente. Al dente pasta is always firmer, tastier and chewier than overcooked noodles. Knowing when your message is ready for consumption comes with practice. Simply by working in different media will teach you when your writing has reached the right consistency.

Of course, a lot of the rules seem a little obvious once you chew on them for a while. But isn’t that the goal of learning how to KISS? Just like kissing in real life: the first one is always awkward and you’re not sure you’re doing it right. But after a little practice, it begins to feel natural and oh so tasty!

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Sleepiphanies and Writemares

Last night around two in the morning, I woke up with a gazillion writing ideas funneling through my semi-conscious mind. Creative ideas. The kind that I hadn’t had in a long time. I thought up several blog post topics, fodder for a short story and even a few lines for a new mediocre poem.

Unfortunately, I didn’t write these amazing ideas down, a fatal detail that would leave my well-meaning, practical-minded writing mentors very disappointed.

I didn’t write my ideas down, everyone. Do you know what that means? I fell back asleep, and when I woke up, my Man Booker Prize-winning novel was  like a distant dream. Mere dust in the attic of my mind.

Because a large part of my job requires me to be creative all the time, I don’t always have enough energy left over at the end of the day to work on other projects that are near and dear to my heart. So when – what I call sleepiphanies – hit me in the dead of the night, I intend to jot my ideas down and comb through them when I’m more awake in the morning.

Emphasis on intend to jot down.

There’s something about sleepiphanies that don’t seem to incite enough wakefulness in me to seek out pen and paper. I leave a notepad and a pen on the bedside table for those times when I am awake enough to scribble down my thoughts. Probably a good third of my MFA thesis was written this way, half awake in the darkness of my bedroom. But the real world happened, and along with it the job that slowly started eating up the kind of creative time I carved out for myself during graduate school.

My once-coveted sleepiphanies are beginning to feel more like writemares because I’m just not listening to them. And I’ve had it. So I’ve developed a series of steps that will hopefully encourage me (and you) to not just roll over and go back to sleep, but to listen to those sleepiphanies and write them down in a fully awake state. I’m calling it: The Lonna Whiting Method to Conquering Writemares and Embracing the (Un)Common Sleepiphany.

Here we go.

The Lonna Whiting Method to Conquering Writemares and Embracing the (Un)Common Sleepiphany

NOTE: All exercises must be performed at the moment you are awake enough to think to yourself: “Oooh, that’s a good idea, I should write that down.”

1.  Sit upright in bed and bite tongue. Grab sheet of paper – first thought, best thought. Find Kleenex. Dab bleeding tongue.

2. Roll over onto sleeping partner. Awaken and anger him/her. Use guilt as fuel for wakefulness. Grab pillow to defend self from angry elbows. Locate paper and pen. Write.

3. Roll off bed. Hit floor. Use pain as creative motivation.

And …

4. Sleep one less hour a night. Use time to write more. Understand there’s only so much time. Conquer time to make time. To think, create and write.

Which technique will you try the next time a sleepiphany hits you?

Are you a Non-Writer Writer?

Here’s what I know.

I know how to use a calculator to balance my checkbook, but that doesn’t make me an accountant.

I know I’m pretty handy with the mirror and a flashlight when examining moles for discoloration or suspicious changes, but I’m no dermatologist.

I also know there’s very little else that irks a writer more than when non-writers think they know how to write.

What’s a non-writer writer, you ask? Non-writer writers are a specific type of person, and they are often colleagues and even close friends to people like me, a writer writer. Non-writers have these funny little character traits in common with one another. They think they are writers even if they aren’t, which of course is like me calling myself a sports medicine doctor because I wrapped my boyfriend’s sprained ankle once.

Who is a Non-Writer Writer?

A non-writer writer has a writing need and follows up a meeting with a ten-page pdf email attachment outlining the project with “suggested copy.”

A non-writer writer is known to say: “I’m no writer, but …” and then continue to talk about what they would have done.

A non-writer writer will spend a whole week on one draft of a project proposal, the approximate time it would take an actual writer to draft five proposals and still have time for lunch and a nap.

A non-writer writer has never faced 40 hours a week navigating Microsoft Word exclusively.

A non-writer writer can’t make farm equipment, rectal exams or taxes seem exciting and compelling.

Now that I’ve briefly outlined who a non-writer writer is, perhaps you’ve identified with this personality a little more than you thought you would. Please don’t be offended. I’m not offended when people tell me I’m not an accountant or dermatologist! It’s perfectly fine to be a non-writer writer; the cure is simple: Next time you’re itching to say: “I’m no writer, but …” don’t say it at all, and let the writer writer in the room do what she does best: write.

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