You Gotta Have Heart

Salma Hayek

WRITING IS SORTA like dating. Not that I’m dating. I’m a happily married man. But I remember dating, and one of the lessons I learned early on is that, while there were women who would never, ever be interested in me, this was good news not bad, and no reflection on either of us.

But once I grasped that truth, I was free to be who I was, since I had now come to terms with the fact that Salma Hayek and I just probably would not get along all that well anyway. (Have you noticed she’s kinda bossy?)

What that has to do with writing is this:

Setting aside the fundamentals of grammar we’ve all pretty much signed on to (some basic rules are mandatory if you want us to understand what in tarnation you’re trying to say in the first place), your best writing will emerge when you claim your own voice and let some of who you are come through, despite the fear some might reject it. For instance, I lost a few back there at “tarnation”, and I’m okay with that.

This is really just more on a subject I addressed in two recent posts regarding how we present ourselves in online profiles and bios (“Taking Yourself Out of the Picture” July 11, and “Getting To Know You,” July 10). But what prompted me to write about this aspect in particular was a silly little line of disclaimer at the bottom of a promotional email I received just today from WordPress:

“At some point you signed up for the WordPress announcement list. If that was an indiscretion you’d rather forget, click below.”

(Now that I’ve mentioned both Salma Hayek and indiscretions in one post, I’ll have some explaining to do with my wife. But that’s not the point.)

Some writers, or at least those for whom they write, might hesitate to inject such humor, even into something as below-your-radar as their opt-out disclaimer. I’m not sure what calamity they fear would ensue, whether they think they won’t be taken seriously from there on out, or perhaps that some of their readers will somehow feel offended or left out of the joke.

But allow me, if I might, to suggest what benefit might come from the addition of a little humor, or warmth, or any similar human element to this kind of copy, which can otherwise lack any sign it was written by a carbon-based life form.

In a nutshell, the evidence indicates that the open dialogue enabled by the Internet (especially consumer-to-consumer) has elevated expectations in general when it comes to any commercial or marketing communication, and across all media, not just the web. Such enhanced interchange has also fine-tuned everybody’s b.s. meter so that sirens and flashing lights go off more easily than ever. The slightest indication that your writing has been cut-and-pasted, written in your sleep, or in any other way phoned in will more likely alienate your readers than any attempt to engage them at a one-to-one level, however imperfect it might be.

Copy written by the book or on auto pilot says the writer mostly cares about his time, getting done and onto the next thing; copy with a human voice, complete with all the human imperfections, says the writer cares about communication, about making a human connection.

The worst that could happen is you lose whoever doesn’t get you, and you didn’t want to be dating them in the first place, right?