Mark Twain

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

“Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most,” Mark Twain said. I believe it. On Monday, I thought this brouhaha over the red Starbucks holiday cup would die a quick death. Then ratings machine Donald Trump weighed in with one of the weirder calls for a brand boycott I’ve ever seen.

As I get older—and my time on this planet gets shorter—I go berserk when people promise one thing in writing, deliver something else and waste my time.

At right "IN THE NEWS" is the lede of Howard Shapiro's review of "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller at the University of Delaware, roughly an hour's drive from my house in center city Philadelphia.  

I wanted to know one thing quickly: was this production worth the trip?

Of the 403-word review, the first 88 words are devoted to the excruciatingly dull details of how Shapiro got stuck in stop-and-go 8 mph traffic that caused him to miss Act I.

Shapiro spends the next 94 words dumping all over Arthur Miller's first act—which he has not seen:

Ah, yes, the babbling, daydreaming Willy Loman, aging badly from a hard life of sales on the road, is in his Brooklyn house, frightening his wife with his erratic behavior. He's also yelling at his grown boysparticularly Biff, who had been Willy's great hope and now is his constant disappointment.

In all, 182 words—or 45 percent of this supposed review—are expended (1) highlighting Howard Shapiro's self-described inability to keep an appointment and (2) wasting my time.

Shapiro and his editor—if such an animal exists in the bankrupt Philadelphia Inquirer—should be fired for letting this irrelevant drivel see print.

My message to Howard Shapiro—and to everyone that writes for public consumption (as opposed to private diaries or journals):

  • Consider the readers needs and wants before your own
  • Ruthlessly self-edit, because most businesses do not have professional editors.

"As teenagers' scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading-diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books," writes Motoko Rich in The New York Times. "But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount."

I believe this so-called "new kind of reading" is the result of the old kind of writing, which has become really bad.

I'm talking about the writing in mainstream media-newspapers, magazines and books-whose managements are so financially strapped that they can't afford decent editors. The result: Authors left to themselves are sloppy, self-indulgent and frequently boring as dirt.

This is also true of writing on the Internet and BlackBerrys/other mobile devices.

Note: Denny Hatch personally replies to all readers who write in. Readers respond to “How Not to Run a Meeting—or a Business: Lessons from the 109th Congress,” published July 27, 2006. Loved your newsletter dealing with meetings. I run lots of meetings and attend others and what you are saying is so very true. Our congress is, indeed, an exercise in how not to run a meeting. —Jerry Heisler Excellent piece, thank you so much for such an articulate review of the sad state of our Congress. I hope the majority of these Congress people get voted out of office, regardless of their party affiliations. I’ve read several

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