Take a look at what is arguably the worst poem ever written. And we could argue about whether this is really a poem. But you’d lose. :)
When I wake up well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you
When I go out yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you
If I get drunk well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you
And if I haver yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked 1,000 miles
To fall down at your door
When I’m working yes I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s working hard for you
And when the money comes in for the work I’ll do
I’ll pass almost every penny on to you
When I come home oh I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you
And if I grow old well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s growing old with you
(repeat chorus, and so on ad nauseum)
I’ve shortened for practicality, but come on! Take away the “you know I’m gonna” and “when I x” and you’ve turned a 40 line lyric into a 10 lines of gibberish. It’s almost gibberish now, and I’ve cut the 15 lines of “da na na na.”
But now, turn your speakers up loud and listen to the song by clicking below. (I suggest you close your eyes so you won’t be distracted by the goofy looking lead singer and the scenes from Benny and June.
I hope the contrast is striking. A sophomoric piece of writing—the lyric—was turned into a pretty cool song! I bet you can’t listen without at least tapping your feet. Steve gets up and dances, but we know he’s given to that sort of thing. The reason for the transformation is obvious: 95% of the impact of the song, the message of the lyric if you will, is not in the lyric itself. It’s in the music: the thumping lead guitar chords, the driving beat, the singers’ tone of voice. In short, it’s the music, stupid!
Make your words sing
The Proclaimers have a lot of tools in their box to create the impact they do with this song. They have the guitars, percussion, their unique voices and accents, variation in pace, volume, and pitch, and more—to say nothing of the electronic editing that goes on after the tracks are down. When you’re trying to create an impact with your writing, you have one tool: your words. Best choose wisely.Most people settle for the words that first spill out of their heads onto the page or screen. This is a bad idea; good writing is hard work and takes time, and unless you have years of practice under your belt, the words that first spill out are not the best ones to create an impact with writing. Oh, you’ll get your message across, but if you’re going to write powerful content on a blog, for instance, you need to do more than just get your message across. It needs to fly up to your reader, grab him by the collar, and shake him until his teeth rattle. Or, for a different kind of impact, you want your words to slip on the reader like cool cotton on a hot day: she slows down just a bit to savor the sensation. Words can have that effect, but not if you don’t choose them carefully.
Find another way to say it
Here’s a challenge and an exercise to help you choose powerful words. Look at a piece of your writing—a past blog post, perhaps. Choose one sentence from it and rewrite that sentence in five different ways. For some inspiration, force yourself to use some of the verbs listed here. Why not? There are about 750,000 words in the English language, give or take a couple hundred thousand. Yet most people don’t venture outside of the 400 (or so) they’re used to. They’re severely limiting their toolbox. Make it a standing challenge to yourself to get your point across and then to find another way to say it so you can add some lights, sound, and color, some music, to every piece of text you write. Your readers will thank you for it.
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