Lonna Whiting

Crafty writer, strategic thinker, curious learner.

Archive for the tag “Mondays”

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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Existential Influenza

Today I stayed home from work because I’m sick.

I don’t have the flu, a stomach bug, a sore throat, a headache, or even a hangnail for that matter. In fact, I’m feeling pretty physically sound. But when I woke up around 7:15 to the dull gray curtain of winter creeping open to reveal an overcast daylight, I took one turn in the sheets and said, “Today, this ain’t gonna happen.”

About five minutes later, I got on the email train and alerted my colleagues at the office that I was “not feeling well and wouldn’t be in today.” I wasn’t lying. I didn’t feel well in a way that most people would call “A case of the Mondays.” Most people would have enough gumption to get themselves out of the damn sheets and face the day like only consumerist, capitalist middle Americans can. But the last thing on my mind this morning was how I could work harder so I could spend more. What was on my mind, however, is how I could do less and feel less guilt. Because of course, the minute I emailed my boss, a cloud of guilt moved its way over my soul, similar to that feeling you get when you have to say no to your mother when she asks you to go shopping with her.

Kevin was up making his morning smoothie when I came downstairs and told him: “I’m not doing today. I’m going back to bed.” He turned around silently and threw an empty bag of frozen peaches in the garbage, which I noticed was nearing full. In a futile attempt to make myself useful (because isn’t that all we ever want in life – to feel useful?), I began to pull the swelling garbage out of the bin. Just at that moment, however, Kevin approached me in a halting yet gentle manner, grabbed the garbage and said, “If you’re going to take the day off, you’re going to take the day off.” Was he being sarcastic? Ironic? Or was he just being insensitive?

“Fine then, I won’t bother you,” I stammered away in my UGG slippers and made my way up the stairs and back to bed.

Surely it’s a coincidence that my existential flu hit on a dreary Monday morning. I’m no less prone to feeling this way on a rather insignificant day of the week, say Tuesday, but one thing’s for sure: I gave into my need to stay away from people. From work. I didn’t get out of my pajamas. I read “The Subtle Knife,” the second book in Philip Pullman’s fantastical His Dark Materials trilogy. I made toast and spread it lavishly with real butter, then ate it. I took a nap. I knit the second in a set of legwarmers for my niece. I read three issues of The New Yorker that I’d been neglecting for weeks. I balanced my checkbook. Snuggled with the cats. Pondered my existence.

It was healing.

Later today, I realized that when Kevin refused my assistance at the garbage can earlier in the day, he wasn’t being sarcastic, ironic or insensitive. He was merely stating the obvious: If I’m going to go through the effort of essentially paying myself to stay home (salary. PTO.) then I might as well do absolutely nothing I would normally do on a Monday, which is work, stress out, work some more, go to the gym, come home and prepare to do it all again the next day. I broke the pattern of my work life, and it feels great.

Am I super excited to get back to work tomorrow? Not really. Am I glad I just said no to today? Yes. Am I still feeling guilty on the meetings I missed and the assistance I could have given had I been present in the office? Of course. Once a consumerist capitalist, always a consumerist capitalist.

Today and the days like this I am surely to experience in the future, they are a dilemma of existence. They remind me that I am wholeheartedly a contradiction in character and action. I work hard like I have since I was 11 years old. But I want you to stay away from me every once in a while. I love writing as a job, but don’t tell me it’s wrong to just hate it sometimes, too.

Tomorrow will be my Monday on a Tuesday. People at work will ask me if I’m feeling better, and I promise myself not to lie. Instead of feigning a cough or hoarse voice, I’m just going to tell them the truth. That I hated even the idea of facing them, but now I’m over it. I’m ready for the work week. I’m ready to work more so I can spend more. So I can do it all over again next Monday. And so I can do it all over again on the hundreds of other work Mondays I’m certain to face in the future.

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