I was a precocious talker, speaking early and often. My incessant ramblings weren’t about anything in particular. Mostly, I just described what I saw: a neighbor in the driveway, a banana that had turned. I wanted everyone around me to know what I saw, to get on my level. I learned early on that expression was a path to intimacy, which is probably why I’m a writer.
At the heart of writing is the desire to communicate. This seems to be true regardless of style or type, and I’ve tried many over the years. As a freelance writer, songwriter and aspiring poet with a BFA in Creative Writing, I’m a firm believer in the practical benefits of artistic writing. I’ve been writing lyric and poetry for nearly two decades, and the lessons I’ve learned continue to benefit my professional practice.
In the world of creative writing, nothing is really wrong, and nothing is really right. A work’s value depends on the experience generated, namely: Does it compel? I’m sure many educators would disagree with that summary, but creativity isn’t a science. All we can do is share our observations in hopes of fostering greater understanding. Keep reading to learn about mine.
Is There a Difference Between Lyric and Poetry?
A college professor in one of my creative writing workshops once told me that I wasn’t writing poetry — I was writing lyric. At the time, I was both devastated and secretly relieved that someone was finally about to share the difference with me (I’d written so much of both, never sure of the difference). To her, the distinction came down to intended delivery.
As she described it, conventional poetry offered its full value when read from the page. Each line break, blank space and punctuation communicated something in addition to the words. Lyric, on the other hand, reaches its full value when expressed verbally; its sounds and sequences communicate something in addition to the actual meaning of the words.
1. You Must Appeal to the Universal
Getting a reader or listener on board with your writing (regardless of what it is) requires making a connection; they must resonate with your experiences, at least on some level. But how do you make a unique message appealing to a broad audience of different life experiences? You need a universal equalizer.
Think about what happens when you listen to your favorite sad song. I bet that a little music video starts rolling in your head with you cast as the main character. You're not a multi-millionaire living in Malibu, breaking up with actors and living in luxury, yet you’re able to empathize with the singer. That’s because you do know heartbreak and disappointment; you do know loss. You related to those feelings, and the details followed.
Whether you believe that everyone shares a similar set of emotions or not, you probably agree that there’s some level of universality to the human experience. Even though the way people think about them is largely shaped by culture, the broad strokes of rage, fear, joy and sadness are pervasive states of mind. Noting the presence of these psychological undercurrents can help you connect with a reader.
2. Abstraction Needs a Throughline
No one likes to be taken on a journey that doesn’t come full circle, unless they know what they’re getting into beforehand (like the chaos-loving fans of experimental music and flash fiction). In general, consumers of art and media appreciate a rope to hold on to when they’re unable to see the path ahead. This isn’t to say that good writing shouldn’t have twists and turns; it just means that certain elements should still be recognizable after emerging from the fog.
Every songwriter is different, but I know that my songs suffer when I write the first verse in one headspace and any subsequent verses in another. If my song conveys an impermanent emotion, the disconnect makes sense — losing the feeling means losing the plot. The result is a song that began in one mood and ends in another, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, I think many listeners would prefer not to run the gamut of emotion in a three-minute span.
3. Simplicity is Memorable
Most writers don’t want their work associated with simplicity, especially poets. Unfortunately, those writers (myself included) tend to miss out on opportunities to connect with a larger audience. Mary Oliver, who arguably died as one of America’s most beloved poets, was widely criticized for writing simplistically, a fact that never deterred her. She insisted that to be understood, poetry must be clear.
The world needs writers, musicians and artists of all types, and they probably shouldn’t all capitalize on accessibility. However, Mary Oliver does have a point. If you’re writing something important, shouldn’t people be able to understand it? Her ability to eschew the complexity made her one of the most widely read and memorable poets in modern history.
4. Accessibility is Really, Really Important
I’ll be completely honest — I struggle to write accessibly. It could be the ADHD, my excitement, my boredom, my pride; whatever the reason, I tend to put my desire to make a big sequence ahead of the reader’s understanding. The effect can be beautiful, but it can also be extremely taxing on the reader or listener (yes, I overcomplicate my song lyrics, too).
When I first started writing songs, I felt like I was writing just for myself. I wasn’t ready for listeners to know everything I wanted to say, so I built my lyrics like a maze. Listeners would need to listen several times to really know what I was saying. It’s no shocker that I was frequently misunderstood, and my songs weren’t very relatable. To change, I had to slow down, simplify and shorten. I had to lean into universals and put more thought into the listeners’ experiences. This is important for freelancers, too.
One day I looked down at what should have been a simple blog to find a cryptic mess of complex thought and winding sentences. I started researching solutions and stumbled upon the concept of plain language writing. This writing style prioritizes easy understanding for neurodivergent people and people with cognitive disabilities, and it is part of a larger plain language movement.
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As writers, we should strive to be understood. That means taking an active role in fostering clarity between creators and consumers. By leaning into the universal, using throughlines, practicing simplicity and prioritizing accessibility, it is possible to craft content that is clear, compelling and focused. These are the qualities you’ll find in the copywriters at Hire a Writer.
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