Monday, March 3
Enclosed Please Find…
Those three little words changed the way I wrote forever. Seriously. When did it happen? Three years out of college while I was a designer at Bailey Design Group (now The Bailey Group). I'll never forget the moment. My boss asked me to draft a letter to a client which would be included in a package we were sending. Not being an experienced letter writer, I asked what it should say. To this day I remember what he said:
"Enclosed please find the requested revisions to (insert product name here). Please call when you have a chance to review."
The simplicity of the statement blew my mind. My letter would probably have said something like, "From our discussion last Thursday I included the revisions you needed done. Hopefully these solve some of the issues. When you get a chance to look at them, please give me a call so we can discuss the next steps." Now granted, I was a terrible writer all through college. I could get away with decent essay answers on exams and particularly excelled at art history exams, but ask me to write more than a page and I tended to fall apart. I even failed an Honors theater paper—first time I had ever failed anything in my life. I was devastated but fortunately the professor allowed me to resubmit it and I managed to pull it up to a B. But I digress.
I was shocked and awed by what my boss dictated to me. It was clean, elegant and simple yet refined and stated everything. There was no better way to say it and I was officially hooked. I wanted to clean up my skills and learn how to write that well. Why? I wanted to be successful and appear to be as professional as possible to my colleagues and clients. I had already noticed that more professional I was, the more they responded to me and the work I presented.
I worked hard at improving my skills. I happily volunteered to take the extra time to include a letter or draft an email. The only way to improve was to practice and by the time I left the company 5 years later I had enough practice to practically qualify for the gold medal of business writing. My resume then consisted of not only business letters, but design proposals, presentations, copy for product packaging, website copy and more. I also became a whiz at editing and proofreading—when you're working with a product which will be reproduced a half million times and cost the client a tremendous amount of money, you need to make sure everything is spelled correctly and commas are in the correct place. Remind me to tell you about the $16,000 mistake sometime.
Today I do even more writing. Aside from the usual onslaught of business letters, I write for both clients and academia. As a freelancer I write headlines, taglines, body copy, product copy, mission statements, trademark definitions, website copy, etc. You name it, I've written for it. For academia (as a professor) I've written assignments, handouts, worksheets, abstracts, proposals, seminars descriptions, etc. Writing has invaded every aspect of my life. The more I get involved in business and academia the more I find myself writing. Besides, who else is going to do it for me? I can't afford to hire a full-time copywriter so the weight must fall on my shoulders.
I've even taken writing to the next level writing not only for this blog but participating in NaNoWrimo. Taking a stab at NaNoWrimo the last two years opened up a whole new world of words and resulted in two 50,000+ word novels under my belt. Are they any good? The first one is funny and entertaining but has no real plot and no possibility of getting published. The second one has a real possibility if I can find the time to edit it and try to find an agent who believes in it too. (spare time… who has that?) What have these novels done for my writing? Everything. I now use better sentence prose, increased variety in the selection of words I use and have an easier time transitioning thoughts. It has also helped my grammar and punctuation skills.
Where else has it taken me? I landed a contract to do humor writing and illustrating for a greeting card company. How? It was the writing that sold them on my skills. I showed the president a card I had written and he laughed his ass off. I showed him a few more and he kept laughing. He told me that while the art was important, it was the writing that sold a card and he thought these cards could sell. From a little writing on my part, I now have the opportunity to have my cards—my writing and artwork—distributed in stores across the country. Would I have gotten the contract without the writing? Maybe but it was the writing that sealed the deal.
While I wouldn't expect everyone to take it to the level I have, I would hope that writing can become more of a priority among designers. Freelancer or not, writing is a main form of communication with a client and the main form in which clients communicate with their audience. Good writing is remembered and effective writing sells. Something as simple as an email which convinces a client to choose the best design can make a world of difference.
***As an aside—Writing in "txt msg" mode in email is not going to cut it in the real world. Plz, :-), ty, yw and ttyl are not appropriate and will absolutely lead the client to think you are less than professional. Not a good impression to make to the one who's paying you. And while I'm saying it, it's not a good impression to make on professors either. Give yourself a head start and start practicing good writing skills now***