Where do you have your best ideas? In the shower? In bed, in the middle of the night? In the car?
In the era before we carried tiny computers around with us, I always kept a notebook close at hand wherever I went. At night, it sat on my bedside table and tended to fill up, more often than not, during the hours of darkness. I put it there after countless experiences where a groundbreaking thought materialised in my head in the middle of the night and then just as quickly passed out of my mind, before I had the chance to commit it to memory or paper.
Imagine what I could have achieved had I captured all those thoughts!!
And I am clearly not the only one to have suffered! Recent research has begun to give us a far greater understanding of the science behind this. For a layman like me, this article (https://buffer.com/resources/shower-thoughts-science-of-creativity/) has a good go at communicating some of what is going on in our brains.
There is clearly a strong connection between feeling relaxed and generating ideas and it is comforting to know that this is not a new phenomenon.
One of the reasons why the English language is so rich and eloquent is the number of words it uses for similar ideas. I recently explored the derivation of the verb “saunter” (https://twitter.com/claretandwhite), having done a fair bit of sauntering myself over the last year.
Like many words, there is some debate as to its origin but the following explanation seems very appropriate.
Saunter had no connection with walking until the 17th century. Until then the middle English verb was “santer”, which meant to muse or to be in a dream-like state. The theory is that this in turn was connected to the noun “sawnterell”, which was the word for a pretended saint - a thinker, a ponderer, you might say.
And then, presumably, people walking slowly looked so like they were contemplating great thoughts and musing on the purpose of life that suddenly they were “sauntering”.
I am a saunterer - there, I admit it! I often get told off for walking too slowly but the walking police do not realise what damage they are doing to the percolations going on in my mind. By sauntering, I am formulating ideas. When I am stuck for something to write, I go for a walk.
The concept of “writer’s block” has probably been around since writing began but the term itself was first used in the 1940s by a psychiatrist called Edmund Bergler, who had been trained in the Freudian school of psychoanalysis. In 1950, he published a paper in American Imago entitled “Does Writer’s Block Exist?” This was after spending years with “blocked” writers, interviewing and researching.
His conclusion, unsurprisingly, was that they needed therapy; their “blockages” with writing were the result of personal psychological problems. Unblock their own lives and their writing would flourish.
Vague though this was, it has been supported to a certain degree by more recent research. Psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios took on the issue in the 1970s and 1980s and their conclusions, while more nuanced, broadly highlighted the same problem. A lack of motivation to write had some connection to a lack of overall joy in their lives. This article in The New Yorker provides more detail and also contains stories about the great Graham Greene! (https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-to-beat-writers-block)
So, clearing your mind, as best you can, may be the answer and going for a walk may be how to achieve this.
But whether it is the woods, the shower, the bedroom or the car, take note of where you have your great ideas and be ready to record them before they wash away, for ever. And if they still don’t come, try going for a nice, long saunter!
What could be clearer? If you need logs, you can buy them here. If you don’t need logs, don’t bother visiting!
Clarity achieved in words and working effectively to deliver sales to this company. The copywriter’s dream.
After all, you wouldn’t want the sign to read,
IT SEEMS WE PROBABLY SELL LOGS.
No qualifiers, no jargon
As any copywriter will tell you, qualifiers generally don’t help in advertising. Absolutes are clearer.
We will, rather than we may. All, rather than many. Always, rather than often. And there’s no room for perhaps, essentially or somewhat.
Absolutes bring clarity to writing. Qualifiers bring doubt. And if you don’t know what you mean, how can you expect your reader to?
Have a look at The University of North Carolina’s take on qualifiers (https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/qualifiers/) if it appears you’re still somewhat confused!
And copywriters will also tell you to get rid of jargon and overly boastful adjectives. Customers have become too savvy for that.
WE SELL STUNNING, ORIGINAL WOOD, CHOPPED DELICATELY INTO CHARMING AND CHARACTERFUL SEGMENTS
Just say it clearly, honestly and without flannel.
So far so good. Clarity works. Everybody wins. Right?
Yes, clarity must be effective because even the government is using it.
Marketing Communications firm, The MullenLowe Group, has helped the government deliver its latest Covid messaging. And it works. Wash your hands regularly, wear a mask on your face and socially distance.
In April it was STAY HOME, PROTECT THE NHS, SAVE LIVES. Again a clear, honest message that accompanied the initial UK lockdown and eventually resulted in an effective suppression of the virus.
But when the virus had been (as it turned out) temporarily suppressed in the summer, the message changed.
STAY ALERT, CONTROL THE VIRUS, SAVE LIVES
The Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, amongst many others (mostly on Twitter), said this was too vague. And when combined with the clearer, but some said contradictory, branding (EAT OUT TO HELP OUT) the effect was exactly the opposite of what they were striving for. More complex conditions had created a more vague, less clear message. It was the log sellers’ version of,
WE SELL STUFF
Sally Dibb, Professor of Marketing and Society at Coventry University, argues that a more effective umbrella message might have been something like, WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER. Then they could have added more layers of detail without ever contradicting the overall message. She argues this would have provided clarity and consistency which could have kept more people on their side (https://theconversation.com/where-the-uk-government-is-going-wrong-in-its-coronavirus-messaging-according-to-a-marketing-expert-146783)
So what’s the problem with clarity?
But even if you get your branding right, is there a danger that by striving for clarity, you can actually create more trouble? Warning, I am about to discuss Brexit. Take cover!
TAKE BACK CONTROL, GET BREXIT DONE, £35O MILLION A WEEK FOR THE NHS
Need a lie down?
You cannot argue that these messages were unclear, however. But did they create more problems than they solved?
The more we search for clarity, the more divisive and divided we become. You are either pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit. You are pro-national security or you are pro-refugees. Either you are in favour of foreign aid or you want more domestic spending.
But I may like some elements of Brexit while regretting others. I may want to support refugees while still keeping the UK secure. I may think helping the poor in other countries is as equally worthwhile as funding the NHS.
Where has the middle ground gone? Where is the nuance?
It is certainly hard to find on Twitter, the platform that only allows 240 characters to express opinions. This attracts and encourages polarised opinion, simply because there is not enough space to put forward a nuanced argument … and people don’t have time to read it.
Ex-Conservative minister and London Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart has argued all this already, of course : https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/11/rory-stewart-wants-change-way-british-democracy-works/601480/
But he lost, not just in the Tory leadership election but in the Brexit debate too. And when campaigning stopped in the London Mayoral elections, he was not winning!
WE SELL LOGS, IF YOU PROVIDE US WITH MONEY AND CAN TRANSPORT THEM YOURSELVES
A more nuanced message but a ridiculous one for the log sellers.
So, the log sellers know what they are doing.
The message works. It’s clear. You can be consistent. You target your potential customers. You can deliver what you say you will.
But selling logs, with all due respect, is low stakes in terms of world issues. When the stakes are higher, when lives, whole economies and livelihoods are on the line, has our search for clarity led us somewhere more dangerous? Has a need for clear, simple messages actually served to divide society? And, if so, are we copywriters at all to blame?