The writing of everyday things
When I was working as a journalist, I used to spend nearly two hours every day reading the news. Before coming into office, I would have already spent an hour reading the newspaper. At the office, I would warm up for the day by reading articles from The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Wire and The Print. My editor, who had been in the business for nearly 40 years, would say that reading the news (and reading a lot of it) was crucial to being a good reporter and writer.
When I left journalism and began working as a content writer, my news reading habit stayed and helped me in inexplicable ways at work. I knew what was happening in the world, and so I was creating relevant content for social media. I was exposing myself to good writing, albeit in a different medium and context. And in the process, I was becoming a better and more effortless writer.
There’s a lot that inspired me this year — I mostly read lovely books and watched wonderful films and TV shows. And while none of them were remotely related to the work I do as a UX writer, I took away big and small writing lessons from all of them (even the not-so-lovely books and not-so-wonderful films):
Stay away from clichés
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes, Fredrik Backman
This strangely-titled book is a masterpiece for more than one reason. Backman’s metaphors are fresh, amusing and serious, all at once. He writes, “She is incredibly tired, as tired as an almost-eight-year-old gets after staying up all night feeling angry.”
Clichés, as true and appropriate as they may be, should be used sparingly. Use too many of them and laziness is evident. Backman’s metaphors were a good reminder to look for more creative analogies and metaphors, even in microcopy!
Write for everyone, not just millennials
Only Murders in the Building
Only Murders in the Building is a show about my favourite kind of elderly people — the kind who have endless stories to tell about their life and who solve murders.
Not only did the show take my obsession with true crime to new heights, it championed this wry, deadpan humour. As the two boomers interact with a millennial, the chasm between the language elderly people use and the millennial lingo is clear.
People who didn’t grow up with the internet, but use it now, speak a different language. It’s something to remember when writing for products that non-millennials use.
Edit, edit, edit
All About Love, bell hooks
There was a lot of fanfare around All About Love and the book offers interesting insights — a definition of love that extends beyond romantic love or the difference between secrecy and privacy.
But there were paragraphs that struck me as repetitive. If the repetition was for emphasis, that was lost on me.
Whether it's a 400-page book or a mobile screen with a few words, brevity is paramount. Short attention spans kept aside, people don’t want to read even two sentences if one will do the job.
Write to delight
Flights help me get from point A to point B. To me, they are just functional. So are paper cups. I was wrong. Paper cups are an opportunity for some branding.
IndiGo’s paper cups have three facts on them and you have to spot the lie. When I used one of them on a recent flight, I obviously spent a few minutes trying to spot the lie (and got it wrong!).
I was impressed that someone at IndiGo had thought to use copy just to delight. Delightful copy can show up when users are least expecting it and reinforce a positive brand image.
Creation starts with seeking inspiration from what others have created before you. Product designers can learn from architecture, project managers can learn from medicine, and writers can learn from cinema — inspiration doesn’t know the boundaries of discipline and medium.
To give my spin to Anton Ego’s iconic words in the film Ratatouille: Not everything is inspiring, but inspiration can come from anywhere.
This article was originally published on the Obvious blog in 2022.