Famous Last Words: Edit Your Stuff!
I have taken some flak for my definition of a blog: "A cross between bog and blob."
By that I mean many bloggers love to clear their throats, roll up their sleeves, rub their hands together and talk about what they had for breakfast, whereupon you are in the middle of Page 2 and have learned nothing.
What triggered this piece was a blog in The Huffington Post by Think Computer Corp. Founder Aaron Greenspan, who sued Google in a small claims lawsuit for $721 and won. Whereupon Google appealed, and the appeal was upheld. I was intrigued Google would spend a ton of money on high-priced lawyers for an appeal over a nickel-and-dime judgment of $721.
For his two-part article on this lawsuit and appeal, Greenspan expended 3,979 words—longer than the average New Yorker short story. I started with Part 2 (describing the appeal) since that's what I first saw on HuffPo, but when I got to paragraph six of the story, I realized Greenspan was caught up in stream of consciousness drivel:
The appeal trial was re-scheduled once for no apparent reason before the date finally settled on May 22, 2009. I arrived at the San Jose Courthouse after scrambling for change to put in the parking meter (because it's never a good idea to park illegally in front of a public building—especially one swarming with policemen). Google's Ms. Milani and two men I didn't recognize were already there, listening patiently to a man with an accent who had been involved in a car accident explain to the judge how his chiropractor was both an accredited physician and not, all at the same time. The judge, to his credit, was both condescending and infinitely patient, letting the man go on and on, even when he had repeated himself for the fourth or fifth time. He did point out that only the circumstances at the time of the filing mattered for the purposes of his decision—not anything that had transpired afterward. After that case was finished, a man who had received a parking ticket in Palo Alto for parking next to a red curb protested that he did not know what red curbs meant (though he did admit to knowing what blue and yellow curbs meant), and that curbs were, in fact, invisible to drivers due to issues of "angle."
I am busy. I am at the computer from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. And frankly, I have no interest in a long, self-indulgent digression about a guy who had a car accident or someone else who was fighting a parking ticket. I wanted the Google lawsuit story, but not enough to sit through Greenspan's verbal diarrhea. So I quit.
• People are busy. In business memos, notes, e-mails, letters, white papers and articles, get to the point and stay on message.
• When Ernest Hemingway finished writing a novel, he stuck it in a desk drawer and took off for three months. He went deep-sea fishing, hunted in Africa or made the bullfight circuit in Spain. When he returned, he read his prose afresh and right away could see where cuts should be made. Obviously, we can't wait three months to circulate a memo. But try to wait a day and then go over the thing from the point of view of a first-time reader.
• "I am reminded of a fishing trip to Maine when we used dry flies with barbless hooks. Unless you kept up the tension all the way to the net, you lost the trout. A reader should feel the same sort of tension. If not … reel in the slack," copywriter Malcolm Decker has said.
• Some writers read their copy aloud into a tape recorder. If they stumble and get twisted in the knickers of their syntax, it is quickly obvious that some rewriting is in order.
• Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. In Greenspan's prose above, one sentence is 47 words. The last sentence runs 59 words. Too long.
I downloaded Greenspan's two-part blog and filed it away under "Google" in my archive of news stories. Maybe I'll read it if I do a story on Google lawsuits. Then again, maybe not.
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the e-mail newsletter, Denny Hatch's Business Common Sense. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.