Visual yumminess


The description of Brooklyn artist Thu Tran at LostAtEMinormade me feel I've found my soulmate: "Obsessed with food and cartoon animals, Tran's color-saturated aesthetic is that of a twelve-year-old girl with a killer Red Bull habit."

Above are the artist's plush landscapes I especially like. Find much more eye candy and inspiration at Thu Tran's sketchbook styled web site.

Confessions of a hard drive



A few days ago, I tweeted this after a thought-provoking discussion with a client:

Interesting discussion w/client: are computer techs bound by a priest-like seal of confession re: what's on the hard drive?

Here's the most eloquent response I received, from a Computer Healer who is carrying so many secrets he asked not to be named:


Priest-like seal of confession? Sorta. I think of it more like I'm the maid cleaning the room or a doctor treating patients. You see a lot, but you've got work to do. You solve a problem, you move on. There's no way to remember it all and no one really wants to hear about it.

What is priest shop-talk like? Do they consult with each other to best console and guide the flock? Is it good enough to anonymize the confessor?

Once you rise to the level of advanced computer healer like me, you can often diagnose the computer's problem just by entering the room. A sound, a lagginess in the mouse, all are clues. The way things are arranged on the desktop. It reflects the inner organizational habits of the user or the organization. I have cured by a laying of hands.

Computers have become such a private repository of a person's life. So much gets created and stored there, but so many people don't focus on backups. They don't care for it the way they'd keep a wedding dress or baby pictures. Microsoft doesn't make it easy. They purposefully hide a person's email, for example. Someone might be smart enough to backup their My Documents folder to a thumb drive, but not their email - their notes, their conversations, the pictures they've received.

The most heartbreaking moment in my job is when I tell them the hard drive is dead and it'll cost $400-1500 to recover the files. Many young people can't afford that. I tell them to just keep the hard drive around until they can afford it.

I've helped companies recover data related to internal investigations. I am tempted to get my private investigator's license, as it would probably triple my per-hour fee, but I'd need to invest in quite a bit more security equipment to preserve the chain of evidence.

If I ever see something offensively illegal on a computer I'm repairing, I'd report it... but I've never seen that. Have I seen things I wish I could un-see? You bet. If I think about it, the greater mystery is the peek into the zeitgeist. Such narcissism! Young women taking thousands of arm's-length self-portraits with a pouty face, thousands of pictures of three of their friends all leaning together making cool faces. Why?

Such addictions to computer games! World of Warcraft, Unreal Tournament, people calling me twice a day to see when they'll get their computer back, telling me it's quite important that they be online at 7 p.m. tonight because they have to join their guild for a fight. Their deepest personal connection is with far-flung semi-anonymous personalities rather than their own community. A game server company could go out of business and a large chunk of their being would be set adrift. Is it much different when people are mesmerized with Twitter or Facebook?

We are marching into a future where our next generation will have created a digital record of their youth that diffuses out into the world, a record that might've been shared and literally reproduced with friends who will move along their life and years and decades later those pictures, those notes could be released to the world if someone was motivated to do that. Facebook and cell phones will make it harder for this generation to move to another city and leave a section of their life behind.

I hear about it from attorney friends all the time: how stupid people can be! Going through a divorce, they tell their lawyer one thing, they put photos up on Facebook to show otherwise. Sure, I've stopped drinking and smoking dope, really I have.

I have a few clients where I'm forced into the role of pretending not to know they have a porn addiction, one that leads them repeatedly to infect their computer with more spyware. Every few months, they pay me again to clean. Guys, when I run my tool to remove the temporary files that clog your computer (great design, Mr. Gates) it pretty much tells me where you've been. I become a counselor, warning them of what'll happen if they download again. I counsel the parents who can't control their kids - their adult kids - who repeatedly mess up the home computer.

Questions & comments 1

Photos from an iconic writer



The Photography of Eudora Welty

from Smithsonian Magazine online.

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How Twitter makes you a better writer

A good read for writers and businesses by Jennifer Blanchard of Procrastinating Writers  via copy maestro Brian Clark at copyblogger:



By now you’ve most likely joined Twitter (and if you haven’t, you need to, pronto!). Twitter is not only a great place for businesses and marketers, but it’s also a great place to spruce up your writing skills.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Twitter can make you a better writer. Here’s how.



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Copywriting Kickstart of the Week: Sustainable Malaysian Design

Beautiful things inspire beautiful words. What would you say about this?

malaysiaonionthingies.jpg says:

Malaysia is no stranger to iconic buildings. Two of the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers, are located in Kuala Lumpur, the country's capital. So it comes as no surprise to us that a stunning new residential development is planned for the Putrajaya waterfront known as Precinct 4, just 30km south of Kuala Lumpur. The design, however, is a refreshing and original with unique, marine-inspired structures - which also draw from traditional Islamic designs - arranged in a permeable, radiating block of bioclimatic architecture.


The winner of a recent contest, the design for Precinct 4 comes from Studio Nicoletti Associati and Malaysian architects Hijjas Kasturi Associates, who provided the masterplan of Putrajaya. The goal of the designers was to provide a model for sustainable residential design that was inspired by the city's unique landscape which includes an expansive artificial lake. The biggest inspiration came from the sea and the entire development resembles a fleet of ships.

The architect's goal was to design buildings that tell "of its place of origin which is culturally modern, Islamic and tropical in nature." Added to this is Nicoletti's extensive experience in design and construction for extreme climates. For Precinct 4, the Italian firm brought sustainable strategies like terraces, sunshades, natural ventilation and integrated green space into the design. The buildings will source from alternative energy and are expected to produce 50% less CO2 emissions than similar residential projects.

Link to more photos/renderings: Inhabitat: Sustainable Towers in Malaysia by Studio Nicoletti Associati

Plagiarism Pearl of the Week: UTSA honor code council

This week in plagiarism news, in which even the definition of plagiarism was plagiarized, via the Daily Texan online:

"University of Texas at San Antonio students found themselves in the middle of a misunderstanding when allegations that they plagiarized another university's honor code circulated through the media.

"The story accused the students of copying Brigham Young University's honor code, which was also taken from another school, Clemson University. In an Associated Press article that was published nationwide, plagiarism experts referred to the incident as an indication of "sloppiness among Internet-era students," but officials from Clemson said they disagree."

Full story at: UTSA honor code council accused of plagiarism

Have a great weekend, and remember, anything worth doing is worth doing twice.

7 words well worth $325 million


Jonathan Haeber over at bnet explains, in One Tourism Slogan that is Tough to Top:

Before the Las Vegas tourism authority launched their "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign, tourism was falling at about 5% annually.

By 2007, the advertisement had become iconic, and widely credited with record visitor numbers. It led to four consecutive years of growth in Vegas visitation. Though the ads came at a cost -- the tourism authority paid R&R Partners nearly $325 million linking the city with the slogan -- the investment ultimately paid off.

The rest of the article is at: BNET1 |

Words to walk by


"Pedestrians in the city often find themselves walking in deep thought. A routine trip can prompt reflections on everything from future goals to last night's dinner conversation. As people sacrifice personal time for hectic schedules, these casual occasions for reflection become all the more important.
Sidewalk Psychiatry encourages self-evaluation in transit by posing critical questions on the pavements of New York City. Now your daily ponderings and emotional problems can be prodded and treated on the go - and, best of all, it's free of charge!"

Link: Candy Chang - Public Art - Sidewalk Psychiatry

Thought for the Day: Be Weird

Many thanks to James Palmer's The Copywriting Blog for this quote and image:


"Success is taking all the things that made you weird as a kid and getting someone to pay you for them when you're older."--David Freeman, Screenwriter

And with that, carry on, Copywriters!

Say it proud

Learned in broadcast J classes once upon a time: if you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud! That is, make it sound like you know what you're saying even if you have no clue.

A different tactic is now offered by a mouse-overable sound directory to at least 89,258 English words.

Link: English Pronouncing Dictionary with Instant Sound Free Online

Get unblocked and write the thing


The fabulous personal productivity blog 43 Folders gives some sweet and effective insta-cures for when you're staring at a blank screen while deadlines loom.

Among the tidbits in the entry Hack your way out of writer's block:

Write crap - Accept that your first draft will suck, and just go with it. Finish something.

Unplug the router - Metafilter and Boing Boing aren't helping you right now. Turn off the Interweb and close every application you don't need. Consider creating a new user account on your computer with none of your familiar apps or configurations.

Write the middle - Stop whining over a perfect lead, and write the next part or the part after that. Write your favorite part. Write the cover letter or email you'll send when it's done.

Write five words - Literally. Put five completley random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page.

Bravo, Merlin Mann -- we especially like the one about the power of lower standards. Crap or not, it's a start.

The test of time


Had occasion to check back with our client Covered Wagon Ranch recently. Their web site rocks copywriting by Miz Engel of Faith River Communications, and those words are getting the job done.

Like any good story, good marketing writing has to stand the test of time. Sure, web immediacy makes it possible to change and tweak online writing any minute of any day. And content absolutely must be in perpetual-update mode, since that not only pleases the search engines, but it makes readers happy, too.

Even in this atmosphere, there's still something to be said for being solid, reliable and predictable. A little something that remains true, no matter what.

New stuff on all our sites

Updates a-plenty this week across our network:, the Faith River Communications sister site (or, uh, brother site, as the case may be) is showing off the new look and some even newer content this week.

On Fly Fishing, the fly fishing portal invented by my business partner Scott Smith will soon be hosting content from the Wild Trout Journal -- this is the flyfishing newsletter I created with Mike Dry with the cooperation of all the Bozeman and Yellowstone-area flyfishing professionals. The
Wild Trout Journal content will be part of On Fly Fishing to promote the cause of Reel Recovery, a national non-profit organization that conducts fly fishing retreats for people in recovery or in their ongoing struggle against brain cancer. As many of you know, the author of most of the content of the Wild Trout Journal, Mike Dry, who is the father of my children, died in October 2005 from a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. Scott Smith and I hope to honor Mike and his struggle through the On Fly Fishing site. Please visit On Fly Fishing today to receive a FREE e-book on the basics of fly fishing (scroll down and look to the left to see where you should click to get the free flyfishing e-book).

At Faith River Communications, I'm putting new updates and photos on the site in the next couple of weeks. Faith River Communications is my main business site, an enterprise that I'm very proud to have run for the last 15 years in a very creative way that allows me to also be a full-time mom and wife. For our 15th Anniversary, I want to hear from other creative professional parents who have built their own businesses -- so if you're one of them, please contact me at Mary to be featured on the StrongCopywriting blog and as part of our 15th Anniversary Celebration at R Climbing X Ranch.

Updated Site Debuts!


My biz partner Scott Smith unveils our new, improved web site!

This is about copywriting that knocks socks off, kicks doors open and gets wallets to spill their guts: Copywriting . Net

And in case ya wondered, there's yours truly, Ms. Mary Engel, right there behind the About Us tab.

How copywriting saves your bacon

Anyone who's followed politics even a tiny bit lately knows that the make or break, the sink or swim, the black or white, comes in the form of the right words at the right time.

The same is true of your business. Say the right thing, or know when to make amends for your missteps, and you'll be thriving long after those less-copywriting-savvy dupes have gone puzzled to the great "irrelevant" heap in the sky. A few well-chosen words can be the difference between obscurity and greatness.

Read on: A Simple Copywriting Tip That Can Save Your Business From Going Down In Flames

More copywriting genius from Scott Smith

My partner in copywriting Scott Smith appears with StepForth Placement in this piece: An Interview with Expert Web Copywriter Scott Smith

by Ross Dunn:

It is my pleasure to introduce to you Scott Smith, partner at CopyWriting.Net and copy writing guru. Before you read any further, however, I want to give you a heads up that this is not a normal article from StepForth. This is an unedited interview written in a very personal style. In other words, this is not the normal condensed knowledge that my staff and I try to put out every week. That said, I really wanted to introduce you to Scott because I feel his copywriting skills are top of the line and either his services or his tips may help you shore up your bottom line. If you want to get in touch with Scott Smith he is best contacted by email or via his web site

Ross: "So tell me Scott, what is web copy writing?"

Scott: Just this: words power the Web and Internet. The Web is the graphical interface of the 'Net, where we actually see what's going on in the inky blackness of cyberspace. But when you scrape away all the flashiness of presentation, it still boils down to what is being said. Which means... WORDS. That's what search engines read. But more importantly, that's what human beings read.

So what is web copy writing? Writing for humans 1ST. Writing for spidering search engines always comes in as a close 2nd.

The actual process of web copy writing is much the same as print copy writing, BUT... with its own set of rules.

First thing to remember is that the reader is reading through a cold computer screen. Generally, it's not very inviting. The world outside the computer screen is much more compelling, and oftentimes a lot more interesting. Heck, it's most often the comfort of someone's own home. Which means the first words on the screen - yes, the Headline - had better grab the reader by the scruff of the neck and forcefully pull them in.

Know what? Very often this is against the reader's will... after all, as the writer you are asking - no, scratch that, you are demanding that they pay very close attention to what you have to say.

And according to studies by research sites like, you have less than 30 seconds to interest your reader enough for them to read on. Which means, your headline and opening salvo had better be compelling.

Most copywriters spend a great deal of time writing and rewriting their headlines. I do. Here's a copywriter's secret (which if you've been online for awhile, is not really a secret at all...): there are entire books for sale containing nothing but great headlines, as well as 'cheat' books of great headlines out there in circulation. We use them to jog our creativity. They are great resources when your 'butt's to the blade', as my dear old Dad used to say. FYI, at this point I've boiled my own copywriting resource shelf down to only two books: Brian Keith Voiles outstanding 'Ad Magic', and Jay Abraham's 'Mr. X' book. For me, these two books say it all for both print and web copy writing.

To wrap it up about web copy writing, you should know this: readers don't read in linear fashion. Maybe this is obvious to you. After all, they can enter your site at any entry point, via any page or any link.

So how do you deal with this? Simple. Treat every page of your site as a complete entity unto itself. In other words, each page of your site is its own 'pitch' if it's a sales site. If it's an informational site, each page of your site must offer a complete piece of the puzzle per page PLUS provide an overview of your company.

Be smart. Write each page to be unique. Take the time to do this, and you will be rewarded with more readers. Better search engine positioning. More sales.

One more thing to know about your reader: they won't read your page from top to bottom. Instead, they will skip around. First, they will read your headline and opening salvo. Then they will jump down the page. Studies show they will often head straight to your pricing, then back up to your bullet points, testimonials, your PS (post script), and then...

They may actually get around to reading your copy from top to bottom.

Don't be frustrated by this. As you can see, the real difference between print copy writing and web copy writing is the 'modular' concept. As the writer, you are forced to take a modular approach to the writing. Because of the reader. And, sometimes because of the designer. A designer will do the most interesting things to your copy. After all, this is their job. And a good SEO will often take your copy and go one step further to give you a boost with the search engines.

No problem. Go modular, be as brilliant as you can be in each facet of your copy, and you cannot help but succeed.

Ross: "What is the biggest mistake you see in other people's web copy?"

Scott: Every business has their own culture, but what I'm about to say applies to each and every one. We've had the privilege over the years to work with some of the largest companies and campaigns in the world, as well as with one-person shops and brand-new startups. We've experienced enormous success at every level, and we've also been in on failures. So we can speak from experience here.

This is what I see.

The biggest mistake on the web, in the web copy, is not being personal. It doesn't matter if you are a mega-corporation, or a billionaire. And it doesn't matter if you are a tiny little shop trying to come across as an established big business. You MUST be personal.

I'd even go so far as to say... go "belly to belly". The Internet is such a cold medium. You have to melt the frost. Taking this step with your copy is key.

Be personal. Go belly to belly. Don't be afraid to 'tip your hat and reveal yourself'. We all have warts, bumps and bruises.

Then roll up your sleeves and write the very best copy you can. Plan to rough draft it without being too critical. Sleep on it. Then, plan on being very critical indeed with each module of your copy. Buff and polish every single one. Your copy is organic and alive. Write and rewrite. Write and write, and...

Web copy is never done, another wonderful difference it has from print copy writing. You can easily go back and rewrite. And you should. Testing various elements is easy. Simply test a single element at a time.

And remember to keep it personal.

Ross: "What is the best client result you have seen from your copy writing efforts? Do you have a great story you could share with my readers?"

Scott: We have a deal with our clients. Since '99 we haven't gone public with our client list. All work has been proprietary and private. Some of our clients are names you would know in the online marketing and copywriting world. We write behind-the-scenes for these famous online 'gurus', which I'm very proud to do. It's a privilege to have access to these special people. They're the ones who set the trends, and they're out there on the front lines. Yes, they charge the big bucks, then turn around and pay us on a much smaller scale to do the actual writing work. It's a win-win for us both.

So as far as names of the famous go... I'm kind of stuck. I can say that we have indeed made millions for multiple online campaigns since '97.

Here's one I will try to 'mask', as I can't get in touch on short notice to ask permission: a friend of mine (who with a partner started the world's most famous software company - there's your clue!) had an idea for a remarkable brain mapping facility. Although he himself had the money to fully bankroll the project, he wanted investment of a different sort by medical facilities and research organizations. So he asked me to craft a story piece, which would become a long sales letter involving the medical community and foundations in investing in this project.

I wrote the piece, which became a 'modular' Web site and print sales letter. The result? An initial investment of $80 million grew to an investment of $120 million.

I'm quite proud of this, because it's a terrifically worthy endeavor. And yes, he really is a friend of mine. When I was a teenager, we had the world's worst rock and roll band. We loved Hendrix, and were devastated when he died. There's another clue for you.

Now here's a real life story, with names: The Bozeman Angler at is a fly fishing shop based in Bozeman, Montana. About 7 years ago they had a terrible web site that they had thrown almost $12K into. And no one came... So they were stuck, with a busted web site, and they didn't know what to do.

I knew I could help, so I roped a friend of mine in to re-doing their design (Dairrell Ham of for pennies, and I more or less volunteered to rewrite their site in exchange for some quality fishing time. Yes, I bartered.

The result? Their business grew from $400K to $785K in three seasons, and they now do 96% of their marketing on the web. Their offline advertising budget is practically nil, and the only paid advertising they do beyond a local Yellow Pages ad is a fairly aggressive PPC campaign which I helped them set up.

The success of their site is due in large part to smart web copy writing, which is personal. It was highly important that the writing be infused with their voices (the voices of fishing guides), that the behind-the-scenes optimization be focused for their industry, and that their link campaign be ongoing. This has almost doubled their business, and made them the most successful fly shop in the town of Bozeman, Montana, where the local joke is that 'this is where God gets off the plane to go fly fishing'. I live here, and believe this to be true...; )

Ross: "How can you write content for fields that you do not work in?"

Scott: The only way to write copy for a field I don't know is to do the necessary research to 'feel the pain'. In other words, research the field until I know it extremely well, and... dare I say it?... feel it deeply.

Yes, even if it's about widgets.

I must understand the pitfalls and drawbacks well, and all the benefits and pluses the products and services seek to address. When I say 'feel the pain', I mean it. The word PERSONAL crops up again. How can you write it if it's not personal to you?

Here's a gripe about the profusion of copywriting courses now online: they teach technique. Uh-huh. But what they don't teach is...


Too bad. Because without it, guess what? Most writing stinks. There are too many cookie-cutter direct response sales letters out there now which take the 'bash you over the head' approach.

They're like action films with characters you just don't care about. And if you don't care whether they live or die, then guess what? You're sure not going to recommend the film.

And odds are good you're not going to make the sale.

So getting back to writing about a field that's new, foreign, outside your realm of experience... what do you do? Roll up your sleeves, go to your favorite search engine or directory, and... start researching.

The Internet is the greatest research tool ever invented, and it's easy to do the necessary research. Look up forums. Newsgroups. Pay attention to how language is used. Buzzwords. Sites. What people are most interested in.

Allow yourself to get excited about it. As Brian Keith Voiles would say, "be childlike". He's right!

Ross: "Scott can you offer some seasoned advice to my readers who may want to do their own copy writing? Perhaps some guidelines that might help them out?"

Scott: Yes, here's your easy/hard assignment. Easy because it really is easy. Hard because it's easy to veer off track, and because you really do need to be childlike to make this work!

Here goes: get a sheet of paper, and draw a line from top to bottom down the middle. On the left-hand side at the top, write 'Benefits'. On the right-hand side at the top, write 'Features'.

About Benefits: a 'benefit' is something your product or service does for the good of your customer.

About Features: a 'feature' is a fact about something. It describes what something does, or how it works. That's all.

Okay, get yourself a pen or pencil. You are about to spew out EVERYTHING IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER! This 'no particular order' direction is very important. You DO NOT want to edit while you are doing this exercise. All you want to do is... spew.

Don't leave anything out, and please don't worry about being messy here. Go ahead and ramble. Just get it ALL down.

When you feel that you have gotten it all down, then you're done. Congratulations! Only when you've gotten everything down in both the Benefits and Features categories should you go back and put them in order of priority.

This is your first step for writing your sales letter. Here's why:

Your headline will come from your most important benefit
Your list of benefits - from most important to least important - will be utilized and fleshed out in your salesletter
Your list of features - from most important to least important - will be utilized and fleshed out in your salesletter
Regarding writing the rest of your salesletter, here's a question for you:

Do you like long copy sales letters, or shorter copy sales letters? My own feeling is that you should let your own taste inform your answer here, but with this understanding:

The higher ticket your asking price, the more convincing you may have to do. In other words, longer copy for higher pricing.

Here's some more food for thought: there are endless formulae for writing the optimal sales letter. Let your own taste dictate. If you love Marlon Sanders, his formula is available. If you prefer another approach, no doubt it's out there. But on the other hand...

You could always dare to be different!

Take the modular approach. This is essential for web copy writing success, on all your web pages.

Be personal. This is THE way, and can separate you out from the rest of the pack. In today's cutthroat web business environment, this is a very good thing.

Ross: "How does writing copy for the web relate to search engine optimization? Are you optimizing the web site when you write copy?"

Scott: Over the past eleven years Copywriting.Net has often worked with SEO firms in partnership for their clients. This has been a great relationship for us to have, and one we have sought out. It's proven to be the optimal service combination for client sites, giving them the foundation they must have to weather the ups and downs of the dynamic, ever changing web business environment.

Now Copywriting.Net is proud to be partnering with one of the very best: StepForth. Together we can anticipate changes, strategize and maneuver to help our clients deal with the cutthroat online business world. Our combined services are exactly what clients need today and in the future.

I have a basic understanding of SEO, having studied with Robin Nobles and earned certification through the Academy of Web Specialists. But I'm a writer, that's my department. StepForth are the expert SEOs. I need to have enough up-to-date understanding of basic SEO practices to ensure that our copywriting work always has an eye on the SEO needs of our clients, and supports our mutual goals.

Because our clients are working with StepForth, then it's highly important for us to guarantee our writing fits StepForth's SEO needs. Always. This is key. We do this in the writing itself, and by listening carefully to any needs as they arise and as we progress toward finished copy.

As I mentioned, we always write for human beings first. But the copy can and should be adjusted for spidering search engines. So in answer to your question, yes absolutely. We do indeed work toward optimization when we write the site copy.

It's all about serving the client, and improving the bottom line.

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More to love about SLC: hardly any dogs!

You know, it was Jess who called this the first time: what's eerie about SLC? No dogs. Honest. We didn't see a single dog downtown while we were there (we saw ONE golden retriever in Sandy a day later).

And what about that businessman with a bowtie carrying a briefcase and riding a unicycle along South Temple? God. Doncha wish the whole world was like this?

We now return to your regularly scheduled life

There's never been a time when I wasn't happy to be in Salt Lake City. This trip is full of reminders of time passing, and I feel joyful and a little bit wistful at the changes happening here, while embracing the new things to come:

-- A few special hangouts in downtown, including the Crossroads Mall and a sweet cafe where I was once photographed full of hope, are no more -- demolition has begun for one of the most ambitious civic projects in Salt Lake history:

Downtown Rising :: Home

And it looks like it will be spectacular.

-- The downtown malls are currently replaced by the Gateway, a shopping/living/dining/lifestyle complex fronted by the old Union Pacific depot. My daughter Jess and I made a substantial economic impact there during two days of shopping.

-- Got to take my daughter to the Garden restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith building, where currently the Utah Chef of the Year hangs his toque. The Garden is wonderful, with a more casual atmosphere than the other high-end restaurant situated just to the north on the 10th floor. During our visit, the weather was so good, they had the retractable roof open in the Garden, and Jess and I had the best salads ever, under a perfectly white pergola with a view of the Temple, of course.

-- A special bed-and-breakfast on South Temple no longer operates as an inn. It's now a Ronald McDonald House, which in its own way brought a smile to my face. I love the little high-fives life gives you, and this was one.

-- On a more somber note, I reflected on February's shooting spree at Trolley Square, that killed five people and wounded at least four others, and caused enormous property damage. Trolley Square had been one of my former fave haunts, and I didn't go there this trip because I'm not even sure if it's open. The story is still on the front pages of the Salt Lake Trib, though, as those close to the rampage in any way still try to sort things out.

More news to come. Thanks for tuning in!

Questions & comments 1

Not ready to bite the hand that feeds me... er, I mean, like not totally OFF or anything

Of course advertising is stupid, but I'm still enough of a suckup to resist fantasies of death by folding chair or faulty hotplate. On the other hand, copyranter has been in NYC long enough to deserve to be cynical. Not so your advertising backwater hostess, Miz E. So for a look at various scathing and sometimes vulgar reviews of advertising, see copyranter.

Meanwhile, if you want to see the pathetic little updates to my main business site, please view the agonizingly earnest Faith River Communications.

NYT, get ahold of yourself

Is it just me, or has the New York Times been a little too hot on the trail of adult topic matter disguised as an objective look at new digital technology? Sheesh. A grip, please, people.

In Raw World of Sex Movies, High Definition Could Be a View Too Real - New York Times

More powerful than a caret, faster than a speeding en dash


Now we're talking! Proofing and editing marks you'd really like to use, especially the "you wish" mark, viaGeist: Comix

I love Christmas


... but I admit I think Copyranter's 12 Evil Days of Christmas is a bit funny: copyranter

The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life

What a glorious autumn it has been! The usual joyous late September crush of family birthdays and the annual Zehntner cattle drive led us into a reflective start to October (Oct. 2 in particular), followed by a giant hip-hip-hooray for my dad Larry Engel, who at age 75 is finally old enough to enter his softball team in the Senior Olympics. The "20 Guys from Milwaukee" team scored and shined at the 2006 Games. Miz E's Copywriting Bootcamp launched a couple of new stars and made lots of new friends, and the infrastructure at R Climbing X is better than ever as Husband Hall of Fame nominee Jon completes the insulating, floor, framing, walls, doors, wiring and windows of the new office complex. Still to come: sundeck, greenhouse and humidor.

Over the summer, as many of you know, I lost my beloved companion cat, Kris. He was with me through thick and thin for 14 years. Kris was a beautiful Maine Coon that I got from a family in Polson, and he was truly my infallible best pal over the last decade-plus. Kris was Pet of the Week at our house about 97% of the time, since all the rest of the animals here tend to cause at least a few cuss words a week; Kris, never.

So it is with bittersweetness that I send this news: Last week I adopted a gorgeous black and white tuxedo cat from the Humane Society here. This 7-yr-old gentleman had been given up by his family when they moved away, and I gotta tell you, I can't imagine why anyone would leave him. He is not only exceptionally handsome, but has a loving personality that is calm and open to everyone including my two yorkies and one shih tzu (Mike's dog we adopted at his death).

In a nod to my husband's and now my Rhode Island roots, our tuxedo dude is named Squibnocket (aka Squib). He's a love. And he's looking forward to our next clambake, to be sure.

Now that November is just about to smack us in the face, check back often to Strong Copywriting -- cuz this is a good season to think about writing.

Message is king

The difference between effective advertising and stink-o, no-effect advertising is mostly the message. Write it well, comrades:

business - Selecting the Most Effective Advertising Media

Yay, we're back!

I know how much you've missed me... really, I'm sure it was killing you not to have the bleeding-edge copywriting news lately. Mea culpa, and now we are back!
The LexBlog/Strong Copy Writing dealio is now fully updated and ready for action.
muchas ~
ma Rear (the Rhode Island pronunciation of Maria)

Vive Cuervo?

Anytime the words "some flack" show up in an advertising blog, we make it our business to get over there pronto in a show of solidarity: via Adrants: ? Cuervo Black Campaign Unsells Target Audience

Heroin chic makes OED

The latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary explains it all, from the gaunt look of supermodels, aka "heroin chic," to the correct spelling of counterterrorism. Wonder which editor was having a vengeful hissy fit bad day when they decided to include "Macarena"?


Sharpen the pencil

The last 4 months, I've done almost nothing but write. My copywriting assignments have been fierce (don't get me wrong... they're most appreciated 'cuz without my clients, of course, I'd be penniless), with a schedule of 15 to 18 hour days. Not sure how I did it, but along the way, a couple of dear friends reminded me of this metaphor: once in a while your pencil lead wears out. You could keep making the motions, but the words would not come.

That's why you stop to sharpen the pencil.

In these jammed days since February, I finally got it: sometime around 6 or 7 pm, whenever the day's copywriting assignments had taken up all they needed to, I laced up my shoes and hit the road, knowing full well I'd have to come back later and write some more.

My biggest breakthrough was an evening in late April. I was already training for the half marathon, but my runs had been tight, tense, one more thing I "had to" get done. I was deep into high pressure deadlines with work. I was trying to be The Good Mom to our four teenage girls. My work stuff was strewn all over the dining room and bedroom while my husband continued to work on framing in, insulating, painting, putting in new windows and refinishing the wood floors of my new office space. The phone rang constantly. The emails poured in. The kids had all the usual teenage stuff, sometimes ramped up, and sometimes garden variety. My husband had to travel to South America and all over the US in the midst of it all.

That April night, though, I set off in cruise mode on a course longer than I'd ever attempted. For once, I quit worrying about time and who needed me at home. I threw my arms open and looked to the sky, and ran on in the full knowledge that it would all be OK.

Two hours later, I ran back down my driveway. I finished up at the horses' gate and realized that I wasn't panting or gasping or exhausted. I was exhilarated. I was alive. Of course, the horses looked at me like I was an alien and wondered what this had to do with their dinner. No, no, no, don't mind me, I said, I'll get your hay, no keep your seat, don't get up! And with the horses fed, I went inside and the kids wondered what this had to do with THEIR dinner, or their current crises, or their love lives or their laundry and so on and so on... but I could turn my palms up, silently say AS A MATTER OF FACT I DO ROCK, and then go on and do all the things I needed to do for them, better than ever with the work of writing, being Mom, being wife, being example.

Last weekend, I ran my first half marathon, and I loved it. I have photos at the finish line if any of you slacker StrongCopy readers doubt me.

And this week, I'm back at my post with a sharp pencil. As for the horses, they still think I am off wasting time that I could be spending on feeding them.

Handy next time you play along with NPR's Says You

All about the word "haboob," via Wordlab.

Mother's Day offers a break from the mayhem

Whew! With a schedule so slammed I haven't updated my web site in weeks, it was a delight to spend Mother's Day far from the computer with my kids and some Helena friends in our fair capital city. Ah, Helena, where the trees are in beautiful full bloom while here in Bozeman the plant life is still giving us that squinty, alarm-clock look that says, "Spring? Already? 'K...just five more minutes."

Current Faith River Communications projects keeping me in bondage to Word are the stunning new Schnee's catalog hitting the mail in early June; stuff for the blog of the most excellent Andy at Eagle Harbor Insurance who has given me yet another excuse to head over to the PNW islands; print materials for fab client (and my neighbor a mile up the road) Healthcare Performance Solutions / Success Profiles; our pals at IntegraSeed; plus a whole lotta everything for my longest-term client Geoff and his latest ventures.

I thank my lucky stars every day for my amazing clients and my good fortune with this business. On Mother's Day, especially, I reflect on how it was my kids, and my desire to always be available to them, that really drove the success of Faith River Communications.

Cheers to all of us. And now, a little Mother's Day vid for all you moms out there:

Because you'd have to be nuts not to like AOL


AOL performs a valuable consumer service by protecting you from the whackjobs who criticize them.

Via Consumerist: AOL Blocks DearAOL Emails

Copywriting jihad

Hack or not, I still like to believe that a writer has the opportunity (if not the power) to change minds and influence world leaders. Or, you know (eye roll), to influence some impulse purchase at least.

And so via Articles Factory: Why Good Copywriting Matters

Why Good Copywriting Matters

Whether it is a web page or a brochure or a mailer or a newsletter, your written words decide the direction and dimension of your enterprise. The written copy of your message can make or break your business. It can make your reader eat out of your hand, it can incite a Jihad against you, and it can be simply dry. The Internet is a great leveler. Although the current spate of pay-per-click search engines has made the battle ground a bit uneven, it is still favorable to small but innovative businesses.

Shout out to Scott T. Smith

Just wanted to give a virtual but very large and enthusiastic high-five to Scott of, who's been my copywriting hero and business pal for at least seven years now. Eight? We've written tens of thousands (or more like hundreds of thousands) of words together, and made a damn fine case for the thriving entrepreneur in little towns like Bozeman, Montana. Faith River Communications would be nothing without the guidance of and partnership with

Here's to you, Scott, for not only believing in me in business but for showing me a truly decent human being in action.

Copywriting . Net, Scott's empire and my touchstone, and a business I'm truly honored to be part of since 1999.

Post-spring-break survival strategy

Judd Apatow's vomit draft approach will come in handy as copywriters struggle to gain a fingerhold back into work life after ten days of goof-off mode. Via In Focus magazine, here's a clip from the interview:

You told the WGA about writing what you call a "vomit pass" on your scripts. Could you explain this for the aspiring scenarists in our audience?

I read a book by Ann Lamott called "Bird by Bird," and in the book she talks about the "Down-Up Theory" � "Get it down, then fix it up" � and how you shouldn't judge yourself when you're writing your first draft. That should be a moment for pure creativity, and being too hard on yourself prevents you from finishing.

So I've taken that advice. I call it a "vomit draft," which means I try to write a first draft really fast and not judge myself � and then I look at it and see what the hell happened, then deal with it in a more critical way.

Other people I worked with when I was a show-runner on TV shows could literally sit in a room and obsess for hours and hours over whether or not to put a comma somewhere. And you could see how much pain they were in as they were writing, because they were judging the work as they were writing it � and that's impossible. I guess it's possible � some people do it � but those are the people that take a long time to write, or suffer through it.

Do they tend to burn out earlier?

I don't know. I just think it makes you write less. I read a lot about writing and how the brain works, and it's true that your brain is cut in half, and one half judges and one half is really creative � and you shouldn't have 'em working together.

The full interview here:
Fun With Dick and Jane and Judd Uncut

Those nutty street namers

I love this! On my travels, I've been snapping photos of interesting signs and street names for years. Send me yours! For inspiration, see this entry from the truly fab Adfreak blog: Wacky street names win contest, if not high home prices

Standard disclaimer

The following had absolutely nothing to do with our recent visit to the City of Angels, I swear: LA Daily News - Mystery Blob Eating Downtown.

We toured pop culture ghettos and made personal visits to some of our favorite obscure reference points, though. JRC and CZ dug Just Plain Media. We especially love the report above because we just like saying "bombadilla."

Writers' retreat in Montana

Just opened up our next writers' retreat for August 2006. There are daily writing workshops, an opportunity to ride and hike and fly fish, and overnight accommodations in a rustic setting -- tipi, finished 100-yr-old barn hayloft or the authentic homestead-turned-B&B, all nestled beside the Bridger Mountains.

Link: More Fuel for the Writer's Soul

As I was saying

More input on the case for good copywriting.

Via Why content is essential for e-commerce sites

Cuts like a knife

I've been wondering this very thing ever since I had a mini-stapler confiscated out of my writer-on-the-go kit by the TSA (it had a pointy little thing on the back end meant to remove staples and evidently the eyeballs of pilots). What has become of all the manicure scissors and ninja toothpicks amassed by airport security? Well, here's the answer. All good implements go to heaven -- that is to say, eBay.

Via Shiny Pointy Things

Black hat vs. Good copywriting

In recent discussions at the ad agency, we've looked at the irritating trend whereby zero-content shlub sites still rank high by employing a number of black hat techniques to fool the search engines into thinking they're legit. Certain of these tactics can get sites banned from Google, but the well-trained Internet research eye often still has to scan through a number of no-hit listings on page one of results. Great news for the webmasters who hope massive misdirected traffic will gain ad click-throughs and income for them, but frustrating for all the rest of us who expect genuine, useful information when we search.

Google and others continue to evolve in an effort to weed out the all-form-no-function sites and bring only true content to the fore. But in the meantime, businesses can still get razzle-dazzled by SEO lingo and the promise of "massive" (why do shameless promoters always use that word, massive?) traffic.

What real businesses really need to know is that digital acrobatics aimed only at raising your ranking are ultimately a waste of time, the equivalent of a happy hour that brings the traffic by but results in no long-term commitment or interest from your genuine audience.

What can replace hidden text and false-front pages that boost rankings temporarily, then? Same thing you've heard from the early days of Internet commerce: content is king. Caveat: content has to talk to the search engines, too. Useful, helpful, interesting, amusing or in any other way repeat-hit/return visitor content, AND writing that comes with an intelligent approach to SEO.

That is, the most beautiful, literary, intriguing or engaging words still have to land in front of the people who want to read them. For this, the search engines are your friend. You want them to help the right people find you -- and to that end, you do have to incorporate SEO tricks, yet not to the extent of alienating either the audience or the search engines themselves.

That's where a good copywriter / web team comes in. A solid partnership between the writer, who can incorporate the right language, phrases and words, and a content integrator who sets it all up in a search-engine-friendly way make for a win-win.

As a writer, I want to tell the story as it needs to be told, and I want the story to go out to the right people with the intended effect. That's my job. When I work with good designers/content integrators, like Cary Silberman, Corey Smith, Dave Simon, Josias Goodwin, Carter Jankowski or James Lear's team, the results speak for themselves.

Please pass the Lurmaerket

If Christians burned something down every time Jesus was parodied, caricatured or mocked, there'd be nothing left. In support of freedom of the press, buy Danish.
Here's a shopping list.

Win a trip to Israel

Sharpen your pencil. Ynetnews and the organization Israel at Heart seek a new slogan to better represent Israel to the world. You pen the winning entry, and you're on your way to Israel, baby (if you already live there, you get a trip to New York instead).

There's even a simple fill-in-the-blank form to enter the contest at: Israel at Heart

Wisconsinites still predominate Onion staff

Five years ago this month, the satirical non-news rag The Onion moved from home of my alma mater Madison, Wisconsin to The Big Apple. The New York Times gives the update here: An Onion Uprooted, Without Tears - New York Times

A great issue of Killian Advertising Newsletter

Newsletter 22 from Killian Advertising is a great roundup of topics: new brands with names that make sense, white papers, cover letters from hell and more. Copy geeks and wanna-bes, scroll all the way to the bottom for the final item -- Another Self-editing Tip.

Link: Killian NL #22 - 3 new brands, 2 White Papers, 0 Partridges or Pear Trees

Kane Architecture

We dig this one, too: a sleek, savvy site designed by Corey Smith of Locus Design and written by Mary Engel for the very engaging and talented Deb Kane of Kane Architecture.

This is what it's all about. Kane Architecture

Another new copywriting sample: Covered Wagon Ranch

As always when I get to write a love letter to Montana in the course of my work, I'm happy! I feel especially proud of the site for Covered Wagon Guest Ranch designed by 45 Degrees North and written by yours truly, because this is another instance where I feel I conveyed the experience of it accurately.

Take a look. It's lovely. Covered Wagon Ranch

American Copywriter podcast

Radio Talent Zoo has a number of weekly podcasts of interest to the marketing and ad community, including the informative American Copywriter.

Link: American Copywriter

The Relevance of Elephants

Not copywriting, exactly, but writing: Here's why, according to Rachel King and her Monday Morning blog, it all matters:

Monday Morning: The Relevance of Elephants: rambling thoughts on eternity and storytelling

Embrace your inner bitchiness

OK, stop already with the "how can I do what you're doing?" emails.

I agree, I have the ideal life: freelance writer toting my sleeky-sleeky G4 iBook from Rockford Coffee to R-X streamside or barn loft to martini-fab leather chair to rimside at the Green River confluence to the historic Concord, Mass., library to Fisherman's Rock in our own Little Pond Cove in Rhode Island.

But what the hell am I writing when I self-righteously perch myself upon a tide-swept rock or a historically significant ballustrade? Um, well, a lotta stuff --SHUT UP! -- like marketing and advertising brilliance that will change the course of America or at least the buying habits of some teeny portion of a specific cadre of lefthanded fanciers of post-WWII lighting fixtures.

The sorry truth is, everyone's a writer. I'm just lucky enough to get to be paid for it when I'm in Alaska or Sao Paulo or Pienza or Prague.

And geez, don't I know that my livelihood rests on that razor's edge every day, you know, if everyone just spoke the truth and got their typing fingers in sync with their hearts, hell, I'd have no job. Spelling helps, sure, but that's minor because that's what dictionaries and spellcheckers are for.

So how can you do what I do? BELIEVE it.

And then bring a raincoat, a stupid hat, sunscreen and a lotta bug repellent. When others query you, roll your eyes and click your iPod over to OVAL.

Copywriting for a great 2006

Nice to see that copywriting issues are prominent among the marketing weapons in today's Bryan Eisenberg article on ClickZ Network. More on why search engines aren't your friends and why hiring a copywriter should be at the top of many corporate to-do lists at
Seven Thoughts to Arm Yourself With in 2006

Continue Reading

One writer's opinion re: SEO copywriting

Having just written a project that was heavy on the SEO purposing, I tend to agree with this "just say no to SEO copywriting" article. I wrote several drafts that were deadly from a consumer point of view -- words that someone would not only read, but actually enjoy and learn from. Unfortunately, those drafts ended up mostly on the cutting room floor in favor of stuff that hit our keywords and key phrases but hard.

Necessary evil, or ultimate disconnect from prospects? The full article from David Utter at WebProNews: Just Say No To SEO Copywriting

Questions & comments 1

Gimme shelter


Our latest client is that stylish and erudite house of real estate finery, the Montana affiliate of Christie's Great Estates. The previous month or so of work over here at Faith River Communications will contribute to the area's coolest and most-educated web site devoted to luxury Montana real estate: this outfit is staffed by some impressive folks who truly "get" the upscale client. We've got the articulate and compelling modelly Zuzana, we've got Dartmouth, we've got a former international financier, we've got the native Montana element, and my friends, I have to tell you, it doesn't get any better than this.

If you click in today, you can watch the web site evolve from its current state to the new (coming soon) version devised by Eric Hathaway, Cary Silberman (my man! in the design biz) and yours truly: Christie's Great Estates Exclusive Montana Affiliate

Continue Reading

It used to pay to be literate

Once upon a time, you could get a great deal on eBay by simply being aware that plenty of auctions were spelled wrong. Assuming that most people doing a search on eBay would enter the correct spelling, these typo-ridden auctions ended up in some sort of backwater with few bidders. Now everyone seems to be in on to this loophole, so I guess even the less dextrous and linguistically challenged can have successful auctions. Here's just one of many sites devoted to rooting out even those most-heinous typos and misfires:

eBay Misspelled Search engine Provided by - Misspelled eBay bargains and Mistyped auctions at Discount Prices

Heavy on the Dwight

And heavy on the Death Cab. In this untenable time, my network of creative friends have asked repeatedly: what are you dreaming? and what are you listening to?

You can't believe my dreams, and they're too hard to explain just now. But I can give current playlist:

(De La) Yaleo - Santana
1,000 Miles - Dwight Yoakam
A Lack of Color - Death Cab for Cutie
A Million Miles Away - David Byrne
Ain't That Lonely Yet - Dwight Yoakam
All These Things I've Done - The Killers
Angels of the Silences - Counting Crows
Atlantic City - Bruce Springsteen
Bend to Squares - Death Cab for Cutie
Caring is Creepy - The Shins
Cinnamon - The Long Winters
Darshan - B21
Every Ship Must Sail Away - Blue Merle
Fair - Remy Zero
Firesuite - Doves
Hate Every Beautiful Day - Sugarcult
Heaven - Talking Heads
How's It Going To Be - Third Eye Blind
I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today - Guster
I Will Remember You - Sarah MacLachlan
If There Was A Way - Dwight Yoakam
Leaving Las Vegas - Sheryl Crow
Lonesome Roads - Dwight Yoakam
Losing My Religion - REM
Love By Grace - Wynonna
Lover Lay Down - Dave Matthews Band
Maria Maria - Santana
Mesa - Mark Turner
Mockingbird - Eminem
Mr. Ambulance Driver - Flaming Lips
My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down - The Ramones
Never Going Back Again - Fleetwood Mac
Nothing's Changed Here - Dwight Yoakam
One More Night - Phil Collins
One Of These Things First - Nick Drake
Only Love - KD Lang
Once in a Lifetime - Talking Heads
One Love - Bob Marley
Playera - Dave Grusin
Pride of Man - Quicksilver Messenger Service
Readin', Rightin' Rte. 23 - Dwight Yoakam
Reelin' in the Years - Steely Dan
Refugee - Tom Petty
Resist - Melissa Etheride
Ride Wit Me - Nelly & City Spud
Riders on the Storm - The Doors
Run, Baby, Run - Sheryl Crowe
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
She's Got a Problem - Fountains of Wayne
Sledgehammer - Peter Gabriel
Smoke Along the Track - Dwight Yoakam
Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel
Streets of Bakersfield - Dwight Yoakam
Streets of Philadelphia - Bruce Springsteen
Such Great Heights - Iron & Wine
Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
Take Me to the River - Talking Heads
Tennessee's Not the State I'm In - Joe Ely
The Great Gig in the Sky - Pink Floyd
The Heart that you Own - Dwight Yoakam
The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon & Garfunkel
The Scientist - Coldplay
The Voice Within - Christine Aguilera
The Weakness in Me - Joan Armatrading
Thousand Miles From Nowhere - Dwight Yoakam
Transatlanticism - Death Cab
Two Doors Down - Dwight Yoakam
Walkin' After Midnight - Patsy Cline
Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key - Billy Bragg
What is and What Should Never Be - Led Zeppelin
What Would You Say - Dave Matthews Band
When I'm Gone - 3 Doors Down
Your Winter - Sister Hazel

Contribute to Blogger Survey

Technorati and PR firm Edelman have partnered to study the blog use and opinions on PR, corporate communications and "best practices for companies wanting more active involvement with the blogging community."

It's a manageable 17 questions long. Weigh in with your thoughts at this link to the survey: Technorati/Edelman Blogger PR Survey

Continue Reading

A dream of a place

Last night I dreamed of an amazing place, a sprawling sort of estate/castle. Overall, the complex was very long yet by comparison narrow; it was laid out in a series of interconnected grand structures made of cream-colored brick. There were manicured courtyards and tall iron fences around some parts that were off-limits to visitors, but other parts were open as inns. Part was a monastery. I was there with an old friend on a short and somewhat clandestine holiday or getaway.

Some of it looked like what I saw in Venice... Arabian or Moroccan influences. I'm trying to find a photo.

Is there such a place? I should try to draw it. And the person in the dream who was with me -- did you have the same dream, too? If so, do you remember what I bought in the little room down the stairs and past the cobbler's shop?

I know too many people who talk like they write

All the way back to the days of "Plain Talk" car insurance policies (a concept pioneered at Sentry Insurance by my favorite ex-husband, Mike Dry), this thing of good voice in writing, particularly business or ad writing, has been proven many times.


Kathy Sierra gives us the following article to back the idea and offer some nice practical tips. Creating Passionate Users: Conversational writing kicks formal writing's ass

Meanwhile, visit the Mother Site (author/source) of this blog: Faith River Communications for more on copywriting.

Writing you have to do vs. writing you want to do

Sometimes when I'm writing a catalog or a lot of web site content for a client, I clock out to write in my own self-absorbed personal files for a while. These files are the stuff I'm making into short stories or essays, or even the stuff that serves no marketable purpose, but gives me a place to express. I even maintain a passworded pure-rant file.

Yeah, weird, I know -- taking a break from writing by writing some more. But I liken this to, let's say, a figure skater who spends hours a day practicing, honing, perfecting a choreographed piece vs. times when they can just skate for the joy of it. You might use the same moves, skills, style... but in an explosion of just doing it. Because, after all, isn't that how we ended up here? Back in the day, we wrote and we chose this profession because we loved the writing.

We love the choreographed stuff, too, and the quest for, if not perfection, something momentarily brilliant. A little something that adheres to all the requirements of clients and agencies and marketing principles but still comes out sparkling with an "aha!" from the audience -- well, that sure is wonderful. Yet there are times when no-rules, no-style-sheet, no-deadline, no-committee-of-vultures writing is essential to tap back into the soul of it all.

So today, I was writing a campaign for a mortgage company. Getting there and feeling on-target. But I detoured for a while to write a bit of an ongoing essay about parenting four teenage girls, a crazy thing that is simultaneously an ode and a be-otch session. My preferred medium is the computer, but I maintain a number of journals, too, because they're more adaptable to use in bright sunshine out beside the horse pasture or along the creek, and always in my bag when I head over to the Yellowstone River. Some of these journals are of the spiral-bound 5-for-10-dollar variety from Staples, and some are treasured Moleskines that I make an effort to fill with visuals as well as words. Visuals like pressed flowers, airline luggage stickers, things ripped from out-of-town-newspapers, prayer cards, found objects and my own bad drawings.

In other places I have the beginnings of personal work about brain cancer, dishonesty, fly fishing, the competitive spirit, modern-day monastic communities and vintage barns.

Say ADD if you want, but these are all pillars that support my professional writing life. Right now, I'm back to the mortgage company copy, and I go there knowing I am a writer. Bonus for the client. Better for me.

The journal as art

For all the reasons people keep journals, here's a roundup and some inspiration.

Jennifer New : Drawing From Life

Using the medium of sheep

A UK poet is given a grant to create random works of verbal expression via a flock of sheep. While the author of this article fears the "poems on sheep" project will be the subject of public derision, there evidently are quite a few who think it's at least entertaining, if not exactly literature.

Sheep, Art, and Money

Language of intimacy, information, sin and redemption

Jeff Einstein of MediaPost's MediaDailyNews begins a series of columns to examine how "our obsessions with and addictions to technology and the media inhibit our ability to express ourselves and apply our craft as marketers and advertisers."

ACCORDING TO THE BOOK, "ANSWERING God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer," by Eugene H. Peterson, language can be split into three distinct phases, each with an equally distinct function:
Phase I: Establish intimacy
Phase II: Accrue information
Phase III: Motivate and sell

Full article: MediaPost Publications Home of MediaDailyNews, MEDIA and OMMA Magazines

Opt-in NL and free writing guide

Thanks to Seth Godin's blog for pointing out this guide for online content writers.

Writing for the Web: FREE Guide with your Newsletter Sign Up

Professional bloggers

I've always hated the idea of blogging about blogging, but here's an exception. As this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shows, blog writing has gone pro.

Career Journal: Blogging becomes a corporate job

Copywriting: time to make the doughnuts

It's a strange life, this sole-proprietor copywriting thing. Each day, the would-be copywriter must wake up from a blissful oh-man-it's-warm-and-cozy-in-here dream (warmth being a particularly prominent part of the dream if you live in Montana) to face a harsh, cold reality: I've gotta write something brilliant, meet my deadline and/or convince someone to pay me the big bucks today.

After 10 years as the queen of my own LLC, I can tell you, without reservation, that the ass-puckering daily encounter with reality still remains -- to some extent. But without knowing it, without having a roadmap, without anyone telling me so, I did, in fact, develop a routine that quietly reassures me through every creative tussle, including those occasional death-match dealios with Satan.

Generally, here's how it goes:

Continue Reading Questions & comments 1

Comic that feels my pain


The agony of copywriting. I'm so glad someone understands, in this case Jack Cheng and Heather Flyte of Adgrunts. Nice strip detailing the trials of the advertising illustrator (pencil dude) and ad copywriter (pen chica), plus timely little remarks on current ad campaigns and blunders by the creators of the strip. Thanks to Brandon Barr for turning me on to this!

adgrunts: a webcomic

Questions & comments 1

Good writing for good results

It takes the average human twice as long to understand a negative sentence as to understand a positive one. The same message written two different ways can evoke two completely opposite feelings. This article shows how these and other interesting linguistic effects apply to your business communications:

Whittier Daily News - Business

Top 7 tips to write an effective blog

"Effective blog" implies that you have a specific, defined purpose for your business blog. Here are tips for writing a good blog:

BlogWrite for CEOs: Top 7 tips to write an effective blog

Characters are what they do

Here's an interesting writing insight from Angela Booth, who blogs on the technique, inspiration, craft and business of writing. People really are what they do, sez Angela, not what they say or think. At times my failure to grasp this truth has had tragic consequences in my real life, not to mention my writing!

Writing technique: Know yourself

Brand goes beyond the buy

Branding is about everything that influences feelings, impressions and beliefs about a brand. The words we write help shape what people know about the enormous universe of products and companies around them, and often copywriters focus on the pre-purchase phase of branding only. Read this excerpt from Proven Ways to Get New Customers for understand the good point that branding continues far beyond the buying decision, and acts more like a life cycle including the sum of all the experiences someone has with a brand. As writers, we might keep this in mind when crafting messages.

Article source: Harry Joiner

The article begins with this old joke: "A guy dies and goes to heaven. At the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter says: 'Although you qualify for heaven, I'll give you the option of staying here or going to hell. I'll even let you spend a day in each place before you decide." So the dead man spends the first day in heaven, which is quiet and relaxed. On Day Two, one of Satan's sales reps shows the guy around hell - where everyone's partying like it's 1999.

"On the third day the dead guy informs Saint Peter: 'As much as I always wanted to go to heaven, the folks in hell really know how to have a great time. I'd rather spend eternity there.'

"Immediately, Satan's sales rep reappears and escorts the guy to hell, where he's shackled to a stone wall. 'Here's your new home!' the man is told. 'But wait! You can't do this!" the guy yells. "I was here just yesterday, and everyone was having a wonderful time. What's going on?'

"Satan's sales rep says: 'Yesterday you were a prospect ...

Today you're a customer!"

Read more: Using SWOT as a Sales Technique

Auburn Media's cool RSS excerpts

Here's another terrific resource for writers -- a roundup of blogs about writing or by writers that's much more than the usual list of links. This setup gives robust excerpts from recent posts. Definitely worth a look at:

Writer Blogs :: RSS Excerpts

Words really do build brands

My graphic design counterparts have joked for years that no one actually reads copy, and it's really just another graphic element anyway. Fortunately, this article from the Guardian Unltd. / the Observer backs me up 100% in my view that words, more than ever, matter in the building of brands, loyalty and purchasing behavior.

Read the label, love the product

:: Words brand as strongly as visuals, says John Simmons

Sunday March 13, 2005
The Observer

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Copywriting for more sales online

Content into Conversions
Source: Scott Smith of

Five categories of perks you can offer to increase traffic of new and returning visitors.

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Benefit-Rich Headlines Build Your Web Business


A strong, enticing headline is the single most important element of your Web marketing copy. It is the opening statement and first impression you make.

Because Web pages load from the top down, place your headline right at the top of the page so it can be read while the rest of the elements fall into place. If you have a lot of graphics that need to load, your headline should give your site visitors enough reason to wait.

Imagine your Web page is a blind date for every first-time visitor who comes to your site. Your headline MUST make the right first impression immediately, or new visitors will want nothing more than to click away just as fast as they can. After all, they don't yet know how wonderful you are!

Obviously your headline cannot be all things to all people (and you wouldn't want to date everyone either...), but it can and should speak directly to those people you most want to reach.

Your headline has a single task: to ARREST the attention of your target market.

If your target market is 'doctors', then use the word 'doctors' in your headline. There's a funny saying:

"Enough about you... let's hear about me."

That's your site visitor talking. These words tell you everything about how to craft your headline, and the more specific and targeted you make it, the better.

Your headline should serve as an ad for the rest of your Web copy, clearly delivering a 'distilled' version of what they are about to discover in the body of your text.

Did you know that only one out of five people get beyond the headline to read the rest of the Web page? It's true! So spend the time to make your headline work.

Here's how to find the right headline:

Tell your target audience the most important benefit you are offering them.

That's it.

State a powerful benefit in your headline that clearly enhances THEIR LIVES, using power words such as: 'Discover'; 'Announcing'; 'Breakthrough'; 'Facts'; 'New'; 'Now'; 'Yes'; 'Sale' - all words that are active, grab the attention of prospects, and promise them something. (The two words of most value to your customers are 'You', and 'Free'.)

Finally, keep in mind that your customer is never buying a product or service. They are actually buying a key benefit that makes their lives better.

Studies show the right headline can increase response to an offer exponentially, which is a good reason to test different headlines until you find your 'killer'. Once you've got it, it's the key to your success.

Writing for Site Visitors and Search Engines

5 Keys to Copywriting for Site Visitors and Search Engines


When it comes to writing your Web site copy, you must balance the needs of your target audience with search engine optimization. Here are the 5 keys to help you succeed with both site visitors and search engines.

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Edit yourself out loud

Very often I'm in presentations where the agency AE reads an excerpt from my copy aloud for the client. I learned -- the hard way -- that reading aloud is an excellent way to catch awkward structures, double meanings, unintended repetitions of a single word within one paragraph, or just plain stupid-sounding constructions. These days, I read my own advertising and promotional copy aloud in private before submitting it for presentation. Even in the case of very brief headlines, I find it's helpful to hear it, especially because good headlines are repeated aloud in the field as well as in a meeting with a buncha suits.

It's not my personal discovery, of course. Fiction writers sometimes read a "daily" of their writing onto tape or microrecorder, then listen to it in another setting outside of the desk/computer/coffee shop/work venue. Interesting insights occur regarding gaps in logic or character when replayed this way. It's like applying another of the senses to your work, that is, hearing instead of just seeing/reading the words -- and somehow there is magic in that. In fact, what it reminds me of is my intense poetry-writing days (which now have dwindled to the occasional lyrical blitz sometimes resulting in a worthy or tasty bit o' verse): I always read my poems aloud before letting anyone see them. So if it works for the every-nuance-counts world of poetry, it works for the real-estate-by-the-centimeter world of advertising splendidly.

Did I read this entry aloud before submitting it? Um, no. Sometimes you just have to let fly.