Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Author: ; Published: May 11, 2011; Category: Business Writing, Communications Tools, Editing and Proofing, Message Simplicity; Tags: , , , , , ; No Comments

Blaise Pascal

Often time is limited and something needs to go out now. As Blaise Pascal stated, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." In other words, writing fast and writing concisely are often at odds.

I do a profile each week for the Church of Beethoven. I have 140 words and maybe 15 minutes to do it.

For tweets from Working Like Dogs and National Assistance Dog Week (@WLDogs and @NADWeek) which I started doing recently, I have 140 characters and no time.

What do I get out of it? For the 140-word Church of Beethoven profiles, I interview an audience member or volunteer before or after the show. The profile appears in the weekly e-news that goes out on Wednesdays. I learn a lot of amazing things about the people, their interests, their background, and their work, so that’s fun.

For the 140-character tweets, which I actually almost always do through Facebook (trying to save time by posting once), I have to skim news items and figure out what the main point is, then make it short. So like the profiles, I learn a lot, but am always in a hurry, struggling to be efficient, accurate, yet hopefully interesting.

But what about the readers? What do they get out of it? Are these items reaching and teaching or motivating them?

Now that we have less time and space than ever, are we getting better at focusing our messages? Or just creating large quantities of short and not very meaningful messages?

There have always been limitations for marketing professionals: the ¼ page print ad, the billboard, the :15 second spot, the text link on the web page. And of course there’s editing to fit the space:  I just had to cut someone’s op-ed down from 1200 words to 600.

But do extremely short messages, like tweets, push us even further?  And do they really help us communicate effectively?

It’s not just brevity, but speed. When we have to get something out before it is no longer news, that makes it a rush. When we have to make it short, and do it fast, have we gone beyond what is possible? 

Going back to that quote from Pascal—everyone seems to understand that writing short takes more time. But in the current zeitgeist we are expected to do both, fast and short, each and every time. Is this really working?

Blogging for the Dog

Author: ; Published: Aug 27, 2010; Category: Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments

Marcie Davis and her assistance dog Whistle

This summer I haven’t written for my own blog at all. I’ve been busy with a variety of projects, but the one that was the most involving, and fun, was National Assistance Dog Week.

Yes, I really was blogging for the dog:  Whistle, my client Marcie Davis’ assistance dog, to be exact. Just like his partner, Marcie, that dog is an overachiever. Being the co-host of the Working Like Dogs show on Pet Life Radio just wasn’t enough.  He also had to start blogging. But he needed a little help from me and Marcie to pull that off.

I wasn’t just blogging for the dog; I was helping Marcie promote National Assistance Dog Week to individuals and organizations around the country. We put together a website, www.assistancedogweek.org, with Evolution Web, promoted NADW and the website, posted events being held in various states and organized our own events here in New Mexico. 

We partnered with Assistance Dogs of the West and got Governor Bill Richardson to sign a proclamation, had an Assistance Dog Fair at Zoe & Guido’s Pet Boutique, and received press coverage for these events.

Then we got Betty White and Ali MacGraw to be guests on the Working Like Dogs show in honor of National Assistance Dog Week. Having celebrity guests brought lots of attention to Marcie’s show, and to NADW. Since then, I’ve also helped Marcie contact and book animal issues reporter Jill Rappaport from the Today Show, and entertainer and guide dog partner, Tom Sullivan.

I’ve been involved with helping my amazing client, Marcie Davis, with a number of her projects. She does so many different things, it makes my head spin. Besides Working Like Dogs and National Assistance Dog Week, she has a nonprofit called Soulful Presence and a company called Davis Innovations. All the work these organizations do is to help people and animals, both locally and globally.

Marcie is ceaseless in her efforts for others. But despite all the work she did, and does, nobody really knew about it. I’m trying to help her get more attention for her causes and projects, in hopes of building awareness and enabling her to be able to do even more good.

Confessions of a compulsive reader

Author: ; Published: Feb 8, 2010; Category: Business Writing; Tags: , , ; No Comments

Vermeer painting of girl reading

I like to read: Magazines, books, websites. Hell, I’ll even read the copy on the back of cereal boxes.

From the time I learned to do it, I’ve been reading a lot. There are some benefits to this.

  • The more you read, the more you learn about different topics. This is useful to me because with a variety of clients, I am always writing about new subjects. In many cases something I’ve read before will relate to what one of my clients is doing now.
  • The more you read, the more you stimulate your brain and come up with new creative concepts.
  • The more you read, the more you hear other voices, and get ideas about what defines good and bad writing.

Of course defining good and bad writing can be controversial. But how about clarity? Most people will agree on that.

What’s good and bad might vary depending on the purpose. Is it a white paper or an ad? What’s the topic and who’s the audience?

Something might be appropriate for a specific audience, and you just don’t happen to be a part of that group, so it’s not speaking to you. But other times it’s not just a style thing; it’s just unclear.

Reading a variety of materials lets you see how writers address different topics, how they organize their material, how they persuade their readers. It lets you become a student and a critic, gathering nuggets of useful information and adding examples to the list of things you don’t want to do.

I do spend a lot of time reading things that might be considered work-related—
background for clients’ marketing projects, articles in professional journals, online content about words and grammar.

But other times I might be reading about cooking, a historical figure, or even fictitious characters, although I don’t get as much of this type of reading in as I would like.

I try not to feel guilty about any of it. Because if I think about it, as a writer, almost everything I read can be considered useful in furthering my work.

Yeah, that’s it; I’m not goofing off reading a book, no matter the topic, I’m working! It’s time to take a break from writing and get back to reading.