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Why Did "Michelangelo Let David’s Penis Hang Out" And Other Tips for Corporate Copywriters

The novelist Richard Bausch once laid on me his one rule for writing literature: “Don’t be boring. It’s really the only rule there is.”


This was some fifteen years ago, I was an unpublished writer, and Bausch had read one of my short stories. I think he meant “Don’t be boring” as general advice, though it could easily have been leveled at my story. I’m sure the story really sucked.


The good news is that my writing got better. Publishably so. Today most of my income comes from being a freelance writer (or “corporate whore,” in writerspeak). But whether art or commerce, I always keep Bausch’s remark in mind.


Corporate writing should be as interesting as your bosses will permit. It’s the sworn duty of every writer not to add more crap to the sky-high pile of bad writing that’s already out there.


Bausch doesn’t do much corporate writing that I’m aware of, but via my personal connection to the Divine, I’ve taken the trouble to channel him here. Here are his three thoughts on corporate writing:


1. Let your patron dial you back.


Don’t second guess or try to read the mind of the one who commissioned your work. After all, you were hired because you’re you. Remember that Michelangelo let David’s penis hang out. Had he been second guessing Pope Julius, then he would have given David a pair of boxing trunks. If a client ever has to ask you to liven up your text, it is generally a signal that you’re on the way out.


2. Never dumb it down.


Sure, if you’re writing for an international market you should purge your text of American baseball metaphors, and SAT words like “abnegation” should probably be avoided. But keep in mind that educated people in the Nordic region (my market) generally read at language levels many times above their spoken levels (which are also impressive). Even though their spoken vocabularies may not include “execrable,” that’s what they’ll think if it’s obvious you’ve dumbed something down.


3. Lighten up, Francis.


If you’ve ever worked in a corporate setting you know it can be too serious. A meeting with the court writer, like a meeting with an ad agency, ought to be the highlight of the day. And the writing you do ought to serve as a constant reminder that conveying serious information doesn’t have to induce sleep.

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