Why shout when a whisper will do?

(photo credit: Louise Bagnall)
Simple Writing Bullet #2: A mouse moves an elephant. Why shout when a whisper will do?

Some writers obsess with spelling, punctuation, grammar and adjectives. Some lose sleep trying to be funny, witty or cute. Some brag about their awards or mastery of style guides and writing rules… or the thickness of their thesaurus. Some scream HYPE! while others prefer Vague. One. Word. Sentences.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, if you write for entertainment or mental masturbation.

But, if you need to help people make difficult decisions and lead them to take action, there’s something more powerful than all of the above.

If you’ll give me a few seconds and play along, I’ll demonstrate what it is.

First — think of the one show, event or performance you wish you could experience before you die. It doesn’t have to be real. It could be your fantasy concert, or even a legendary event you wish you were a part of.

... like watching Jimi Hendrix live

… like watching Jimi Hendrix live

Got it? Good. Now, imagine that through a series of unlikely events… you scored tickets before they quickly sold out! Then, after waiting in agony for months, the sunniest day ever finally arrives! And you rush to wait in line. You smile, exhale and reach for your wallet… but… you suddenly feel sick

It’s not there!

You grope frantically. You check your pockets. HOW? You left home with it. Where could it be? Did you leave it on the seat? Did you leave it on the roof of the car while paying for gas… AGAIN? Did it fall out while you were fiddling with your jacket? No no no this can’t be happening…

Your best friend reminds you to breathe (easy for her to say – she has her ticket in hand), but you’re already backtracking anxiously while mentally racing through your wallet: driver’s license, credit cards, membership cards, that sentimental memento you’ve kept since high school, the cash you need to get home… and THE TICKETS – NO! NO! NO… why tonight of all nights! The credit cards can be cancelled, but you cannot miss the show!

As you torture yourself on the sidewalk, defeated and weeping into your hands…

… you hear a stranger’s voice:

“Excuse me, is this yours?”

It’s your wallet! And everything’s there!

OK. Now, here is the important question:

Is there any way anyone can deliver that message differently, and not produce the same reaction from you? Would you care if your messenger stuttered, if he wore a suit or pink tights; or if he said it in broken Spanish or Sign Language?

No. And that’s why Rule #1 is: Always Start with Who.

Then, to know what to say to stop a heart, you don’t need to be a wordsmith.

You just need to shut up and Listen.

When you find the thing that matters most to someone, how you say it won’t matter.

So, from now on, stop trying to be clever or cute. The right words don’t come from within you. They come from the person you’re writing for. Start listening, and listen with your heart.