Editor's Cut: At the end of the day, one could argue that I write for a living.
When asked what I do, I would say that I am a marketer. But if I really think about what I do—what I actually sit down and spend my time doing on a daily basis—I write and collect a paycheck thanks to writing. I analyze data, think out what it means, try to look at it differently and then write about it. Ergo…I write for a living.
This is not what I thought would ever happen. In fact, in high school, I thought writing would be one of the last things I would be doing. Becoming a lawyer was certainly on the list. When I set off for college, a career in politics was on the table. But when sitting in the back of the AP English classroom, writing was not on the list of what I planned to do when I grew up. At least that is what I told my English teacher.
How wrong was I? Thankfully, I had a chance to tell my English teacher how wrong I was. Sadly, as we closed out 2016, I also had to say goodbye to the person who, even if I didn’t realize it at the time, would contribute so very much to my future. So, in this tiny “Editor’s Cut,” I’d like to thank Dawn Hood, English teacher extraordinaire and a woman who was second to none.
To honor her, I’d like to take a moment to pass along some of her advice. While I’m sure she thought they were more like life lessons for a teenager, I still look at these three statements and marvel at just how relevant her advice will always be to me.
1) Over-punctuation is an intentional crime. Stop it. When you first start to write critical, thoughtful, “adult-sounding” papers (versus writing your standard book report), you want it to sound as intense and complex as possible. You don’t want to tell someone that you liked how the story unfolded. You want to tell them that the unfolding narrative—rife with heartache, thrills and danger—was life-altering. And if you can do it with ellipses, a colon and possibly an em-dash, you are golden. But sometimes a short, simple statement carries the greatest impact.
As a marketer, it is so easy to make things more complex than they need to be. From campaigns to strategies, we can easily step right over that simple statement that connects with a customer in favor of a complex process or strategy. So yes, Dawn, complexity can be an intentional crime. We should stop it.
2) Once you think you have a point of view, argue the other side of it just to be sure. It is hard to accept that another point of view could exist. The rightness of opinion can lead directly to shortsighted strategy. Just when you think Moll Flanders is a repugnant excuse of a manipulative tramp, just try to look back in on her life from the opposite direction to see the irony in every entrapment, marriage and child left behind.
In my life as a marketer, this advice has challenged me to look at data from more than one point of view. Just when I think the point of a study is clearly outlined, I take a hard pause, intentionally arguing the other side of the data coin. Is there something I missed? Am I able to look at the hypothesis from another angle that disproves everything I concluded moments ago? Without this investigation, data is just fuel for arrogant assumption. So instead of simply forging forward, take a moment to look around and see the another path through the insights.
3) Don’t write for a living if it means you don’t actually live a life. “Starving author” was never a job title I was looking to adopt, and Dawn knew it. But she also had this crazy idea that I could somehow make a living by stringing words together. There is a certain myopic focus that “real” writers have to have in order to finish their next great novel. It isn’t a coincidence that so many characters who are authors in great literature are tortured souls that teeter someplace between rapture and insanity.
This is likely why I never consider myself to be someone who writes for a living. I would like to think that I am living a life as a marketer and just get to write things down every once in a while. And every now and then, somebody reads what I wrote and thinks, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Instead of finding the path to becoming a tortured soul, I have built a life that I can only hope Dawn was proud to have been a part of.
So to Dawn Laraine Hood, thank you for everything. Thank you for my love of British authors, Irish poets and Scottish plays. Thank you for my belief that critical thought is critical. Thank you for giving a smart-mouthed girl from Sherman Oaks, California, the permission to be as big and as bold as she could manage. Thank you for never giving up on any of us.
Oddly, writing out her advice to all of you is the best way I can think to honor her. My hope is that someday down the road, someone will stop and think about data differently or wonder if that comma was absolutely necessary. When you do, just know that somewhere out there, a brilliant, kind and funny spirit named Dawn is smiling.
Until next month,