It’s only words and words are all I have…

Our neighborhood has been experiencing water service interruptions for the past week.

These interruptions are also taking a toll on small businesses selling cooked meals and baked goods in the neighborhood.

For these businesses, water interruptions during the day could lead to longer times in preparing food and washing their cookware. There’s also the possibility of poor hygiene because of the lack of running water.

Meet the BODs

For a quick background, we have a homeowners’ association, and a new set of homeowner’s association officers are chosen each year. They call themselves BODs or Board of Directors.

Two days ago, one of the BODs (let’s call her BOD 1) lamented on the homeowners’ Facebook group that a couple of homeowners who are in the small food business are blaming the BODs for the “lack of action” to the water service interruption problem. She shared that it’s unfair for other homeowners to say that they’re not doing anything when they are working on a fix “behind the scenes”.

I commented on BOD 1’s post that her concern would likely be addressed if the BODs can provide regular updates about the problem on our Facebook group page.

Specifically, I suggested that the negativity and call-outs that we’ve been experiencing in our community can be avoided if they can give us an update of the problem’s progress, and a rough estimate of how long it would take for the people-in-charge to address the issue.

When homeowners are informed about what’s going on (and whether or not the people-in-charge are doing something about the problem), “grumpy” homeowners are less likely to call the BODs out and put the blame on them.

She sent me a message privately sharing that the BODs are too busy to post updates on our Facebook group.

Words (supossedly) to the rescue!

The lack of communication from our BODs (even from the old BODs) is an old problem as far as I can remember.

As a result, there has been an “invisible conflict” vibe between the BODs and the rest of the homeowners. You can read it between the lines of posts and comments on our Facebook Group.

A month ago, I sent a message to another BOD (let’s call her BOD 2) that I can help with this “lack of communication” as a word person.

Wearing my UX writer hat, I shared an “information dissemination template” and formula that the BODs can use whenever a problem arises in the neighborhood.

Apart from helping inform the neighborhood of ongoing problems, the formula will also benefit the BODs because it will:

  • save them time in writing problem-related announcements
  • avoid “grumpy homeowners” from calling them out about their supposed inaction

Here’s what the formula looks like:

  1. Acknowledge the problem.
  2.  Share what has been done so far to address the problem.
  3.  Provide a timeline of when the problem will (likely) be fixed.
  4. Ask for help. Brainstorm with the community.
  5. Inform the community on when they’ll hear back from you again (tomorrow the same day, two days later?) for an update of the issue.

And here’s the template I shared.

There are two versions (Cebuano and English) because I noticed that some of the homeowners are non-Filipinos, and you can’t really rely on Facebook’s translations.

Homeowners Community Information Dissemination Example (can be used as a template)

It seems like my suggestion about the template + formula fell on deaf ears.  Over Facebook chat, BOD 2 said thanks with a promise that she’s going to talk to the other BODs about my proposed template. No word from her until now.

I even told BOD 2 that I was open to suggestions if they want me to make changes to the template and formula.

just another homeowners association meme

Now, as you read earlier, BOD 1 was crying foul about grumpy homeowners in the neighborhood.  The homeowners’ reaction isn’t a surprise because the BODs aren’t correctly communicating the issue.

If the BODs would only realize how words can have a significant impact on how people in our community would perceive what they do as folks who are supposedly looking after our neighborhood’s welfare.

Words matter.

The same goes for brands, companies, and organizations who think that words are only words, and asks copywriters — can you write something catchy?

*Legend has it that Death takes a kitten’s life every time someone asks a copywriter, “can you write something catchy?”

Punctuation Marks Go to Therapy

I posted this on Twitter last year.

The idea was originally for a comic strip, but I can’t draw, so I wireframed it via Balsamiq.

punctuation marks go to therapy wireframe
Go ahead, click the image. 🙂

If I were one of the punctuation marks in the wireframe, I could relate the most to “The Question Mark”.

While I haven’t really experienced a panic attack (I’m not even sure what it feels like for those who have gone through the experience), I usually have these rare moments of existential dread. I’ve written about it here – Existential Dread at a Grocery Store.

Whenever I’m flooded with thoughts and feelings of questioning the meaning of life, I have a couple of “go-to quotes” that make me feel better.

The first quote is from a conversation between Dolores and Teddy of Westworld (TV series):

Dolores: You came back.

Teddy: Someone once told me that… there’s a path for everyone… and my path leads me back to you… only I’d run away when you first asked me to.
Dolores: “And where would we run to?” “Other world out there? Beyond?”

Some people see the ugliness in this world. I choose to see the beauty, but beauty is a lure. We’re trapped, Teddy. Lived our whole lives inside this garden, marveling at its beauty, not realizing there’s an order to it; a purpose. And the purpose is to keep us in. The beautiful trap is inside of us, because it is us.

The other quote is from Donna Tartt’s book The Secret History:

That life—whatever else it is—is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch. For if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting down through time—so too has love. Insofar as it is immortal (and it is) I have a small, bright, immutable part in that immortality. It exists; and it keeps on existing. And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.

Beautiful bits of literature, right?

And that (I guess) is why we have literature, fiction, poetry, art, and so on. It helps us make sense of the things around us. In short, it gives meaning to life. 😀

What I Mean When I Write “Nestled Within a Comma’s Curve”

Months ago, a curious stranger who stumbled upon my Twitter profile asked: what the heck do I mean when I write “nestled within a comma’s curve” as my whereabouts in this corner of the universe?

I began using the phrase around three years ago when I felt uncomfortable sharing my exact location on my social media profiles. Although there’s no doubt that Zuck and his minions can easily figure out my exact location through their sneaky algorithms or some ancient alchemy, it was at least comforting to think that I’m not giving my coordinates that easy. In hindsight, it gave me a false sense of privacy.

Privacy stuff aside, what am I hinting at when I say “nestled within a comma’s curve”?

1. Let’s start with the most obvious. A comma is a punctuation mark that you’ll end up wrangling with when you’re writing — from print ads to thousand-word essays to lengthy novels that you can’t seem to finish reading.

Whenever someone reads “nestled within a comma’s curve” and takes a pause for a second to think about what it means, my writerly heart jumps with glee! All the more when they’ll associate the phrase with writing, words, or any form of wizardry that involves putting letters together to tell a story. After all, it’s what I do for a living.

2. As for the not-so-obvious meaning, what comes to mind when you read the words nestled and curve?

Can you envision someone who’s sitting comfortably in one of those cozy lounge chairs?

If you can, hats off to you because it’s exactly one of the images that I want you to think about when I wrote that phrase!

As someone who scores high on the introversion scale, I’m perfectly okay with the idea of lounging cozily in a chair with a good book or listening patiently to a friend who’s sitting across me.

3. Finally, let’s take a look at its metaphorical meaning by considering one of the comma’s major roles in writing: to join two or more independent sentences.

With that said, I have this slight obsession with unifying contradictory opinions, ideas, or thoughts.

The idea of finding that one main thought or commonality that unites two or more opposing ideas sends me into a frenzied state of aha moments.

My reasons (particularly the last one) may sound too far-off to you, but there’s a certain sense of allure and artisty when making up new metaphors or symbolisms in language.

Do you feel the same way?

3 Things that Copywriters & UX Writers Do Besides Writing

A new acquaintance asked me recently if I’m one of those writers who is a perpetual insomniac, scribbles poems at the back of receipts, and lives on copious amounts of alcohol so I can write drunk, edit sober. Plus, do I deliberately seek heartbreaks and drama in real life so I can have the best material ever for the next Dear John?

I’ve probably done one of those things in the past. But for now, I told her that I use words not as an excuse to guzzle on alcohol, but for nobler (hopefully) and practical (there are bills to pay of course!) reasons.

As a copywriter, I persuade people to take action. This could mean signing up for an email list or clicking the Order Now button.

On the other hand, I help people complete a specific task with ease (minus the “wtf is this app about?!” moments) within an app or website as a UX writer.

What do they have in common?

Endless curiosity about human behavior.

Apart from figuring out the right words to say (or write), here are three things copywriters & UX writers like me do on a regular basis as a student of human behavior:

1. I research (or stalk people) until I get to the bottom of things.

There are days when I don’t write a single word but I’m still doing my job. Instead of writing, I wear my Sherlock Holmes’ hat (with or without Dr. Watson!) and get as many insights as I can about the people I’m writing for. This will also help me put myself in the place of the people I’m writing for and anticipate their concerns.

Let’s say that I’m writing for an audience of small business owners. For research, I will probably visit the Reddit sub for small businesses and try to understand the pain points and common concerns of redditors in the sub.

Besides knowing what my copy or content should be talking about, it’s also a great way to understand the “language” as well as context and nuances of the problems that they’re trying to solve. By doing so, I can create copy that will be more relatable and resonating with them.

2. I find ways (might include “sleeping on it”) to keep my words simple, concise, and useful.

When I started writing essays in elementary, I’ve always thought that the more “big words” I have in my composition, the more I will impress my teachers and classmates.

Decades later, I eventually learned that these big words have no room in copywriting and UX writing.

While there might be exceptions to the rule, using plain and concise language is 10 times better than using empty, big words and phrases that will only confuse the heck out of your readers or users.

Instead of writing “in the event that”, how about writing “if” or “when”?

Instead of using “nominate your password online”, how about writing “create your password online”? Who am I nominating?

 

 

The more concise your copy or instructions, the more you can get your reader’s attention or help them complete their task as soon as possible.

As a copywriter and UX writer, this means going over my draft several times. One of my favorite things to do when reviewing my drafts is to “sleep on it” and read it again the next day. Sometimes, you have to test your copy with the product/ marketing team, and reiterate as indicated in your test findings.

3. I create scenarios in my head and transform them into compelling stories.

Being clear and concise doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write dry, boring interface instructions or create lackluster email copy. After all, the best way to get your message across is by using anecdotes and telling stories. It’s no secret that the best way to win someone’s heart (and perhaps logic) is through good storytelling than spewing out plain facts and figures.

When writing for marketing and UX teams, I make it a point to find a balance between clear, concise writing and writing with style and tone that is unique to the brand. This is what style guides are for. I love working with brands who have style guides already in place, or clients who are interested in working with me to create their own. Shopify’s product content style guide is one of my favorites.

How do I exercise my storytelling skills?

Reading and exploring various genres tend to work for me. When I’m reading a book that is completely unrelated to a project that I’m working on, I still consider it as part of my writing job.

In hindsight, it exposes me to different forms of storytelling and helps me look at a project or writing task from a different angle. Listening to other people tell their stories is also good practice.

Binging on Alcohol Can Be Helpful Too

For me, the best part about writing for the web or other digital interfaces is how I almost always learn new, interesting insights about humans and the world every day. Not to mention that stories have the power to connect people from various backgrounds. For a brief moment, someone from Asia will recognize the same feeling, sentiment, or idea in a story or essay from someone living in the Antarctic.

There’s also the occasional alcohol binging part so I can “write drunk, edit sober” and fit myself into one of those writer stereotypes. Heh.

Just a Quick List of My Favorite Podcasts in 2017

While listening to Headspace Radio’s newest podcast episode on relationships this morning,  I had a couple of aha moments with my own relationships (not just the romantic kind but with friends and family too). Consequently, I also realized that I had the same aha moments while listening to a number of podcasts the entire year.

Listening to podcasts has made a significant difference in how I work, interact with people, and do certain things. Tuning in to other people’s conversations and thoughts is like having a mentor, friend, and a therapist at once.

Like books, podcasts can also influence the way you think, feel, and react. If you’ve been looking for good podcasts to listen to while stuck in traffic, washing the dishes, or exercising, here’s a quick list of podcasts that I regularly listened to for the past year.

It’s probably too hyperbolic if I say that they’ve helped me grow as a person this year but think of podcasts as food for thought. You’re not going to notice its visible impact on your health and well-being right away but it helps in the long run. I hope that you’ll find something of value from these podcasts too.

Sunday Dispatches with Paul Jarvis
Each episode is super short and Paul simply talks about his thoughts on creativity, freelancing, and building valuable client relationships.
Favorite episode: Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

The Tim Ferris Show
I admit that I’m not a huge Tim Ferriss fan when his books were just gaining traction but I noticed recently that Tim has improved greatly in how he does interviews.  He knows how (and when) to ask the right questions.
Favorite episode: Managing Procrastination Predicting the Future with illustrator Tim Urban
Runner-up favorite: Intimacy, Emotional Baggage, Relationship Longevity with psychotherapist Esther Perel

Pardon My French with Garance Dore
I’ve been a fan of Garance’s style and illustrations when she was just starting out as a style and fashion blogger (even before her breakup with Mr. The Sartorialist!). When she announced that she was doing a podcast this year, I knew I had to subscribe to it right away!
Favorite episode: Mating in Captivity with Esther Perel (Isn’t it obvious now that I’m turning into an Esther Perel minion?)

Hot Copy Podcast
Binge-listen to this podcast if you want to learn about copywriting for the web. It’s also a bit weird that I like listening to this specific podcast while exercising.
Favorite episode: Why your sign off process is SO important

The Copywriter Club Podcast
This podcast for copywriters is like the American version of Hot Copy Podcast (which is hosted by two Australian copywriters). You don’t have to choose between the two because their podcasting styles are different and both offer a lot of value.
Favorite episode: Interview with conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe

99 Percent Invisible
Subscribe to this podcast if you’re curious about design and culture. Plus, Roman Mars’ voice is oh-so-sexy!
Favorite episode: The Trend Forecast

The Futur
Chris Do is a visual designer and helps creatives build their own businesses by providing valuable insights, tips, and hacks. I may not be a visual designer but I’ve learned a lot from this podcast, particularly when it comes to building client relationships.
Favorite episode: Feeling Overwhelmed-Information Overload ( I originally watched this interview on YouTube)

Design Matters with Debbie Millman
If I can choose one mentor from today’s thought leaders and influencers, I’d probably choose Debbie Millman. There’s just something about the way she makes people feel at ease during interviews.
Favorite episode: Interview with Brene Brown on belongingness, courage, and vulnerability.

How I Built This with Guy Raz
As written in their NPR link, this podcast is about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.
Favorite Episode: Interview with Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard

This is Product Management by Mike Fishbein
I’m not a product manager but most of the podcast episodes are focused towards topics that I usually gravitate to like user research and technology.
Favorite Episode: Behavioral Psychology is Product Management

True North Podcast
This podcast uncovers stories that intersect between design and innovation.
Favorite Episode: Behind Facebook’s Logo

Personality Hacker Podcast
This is a decent podcast (the only one I can find) about personality types. I like how they tackle personality types based on Jung’s cognitive functions rather than the usual four letters on the MBTI.
Favorite Episode: Your Personality 3-Year-Old Inferior Cognitive Function

Hurry Slowly
I just discovered this podcast on what it means to pace yourself while living in this tech-driven era and I’m hooked!
Favorite Episode: Craig Mod I Want My Attention Back

Freakonomics Radio
This is a good podcast for anyone who wants to know “the hidden side of everything”.
Favorite Episode: The 3-part series on Bad Medicine

You Are Not So Smart
If you like to challenge your own assumptions on almost everything out there, this podcast is for you.
Favorite Episode: Sleep Deprivation and Bias

Other favorites that I’ve been listening to for the longest time (and not just in 2017):

Do you have any recommendations? Share in the comments below or if you want to carry on with your air of mystery, send smoke signals instead. 🙂