Last week I was stuck in a revisions rut. I just couldn’t seem to get the piece I was working on quite right. Something was off. The client knew it, I knew it but no one could quite put their finger on where we were off. Admittedly I was having a rough week. A friend who had been battling cancer passed and I felt like I was just in a funk. Then standing in my closet trying to select a dress for her memorial service it hit me, my tone was completely off in the piece.
According to the Literary Terms & Poetry Glossary, tone is "the manner in which an author expresses his or her attitude; the intonation of the voice that expresses meaning. Tone is described by adjectives, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Often a single adjective will not be enough, and tone may change from chapter to chapter or even line to line. Tone is the result of allusion, diction, figurative language, imagery, irony, symbol, syntax, style, and so on."
For me tone is greatly affected by the headspace I am in when I sit down to write. I am certain I am not alone in this and in B2B writing your headspace is very important. It is a tough medium to write in. As Literary Terms & Poetry Glossary mentions the adjective is often the key to tone and adjectives are tricky little buggers in B2B content. Use them incorrectly and you come across as overpowering as the script for an infomercial or as bland as stereo assembly instructions.
Here are some suggestions I have for fixing the tone of your piece:
1) Clear / Improve your headspace. I am not going to suggest how you do this. It is a deeply personal thing but if you have been a writer for more than 6 months I suspect you know what you need to do. For me shopping even for small items such as a new nail polish will often do the trick. Last week the thing that worked was simply acknowledging the funk and realizing I needed to step away from the piece I was trying to write. Instead of only taking 2 hours off to attend my friends memorial service I took the rest of the day. I just heard a news story last week that the recession is causing Americans to use less of their vacation. I am going to suggest that if you are already getting no annual raise and less profit sharing than ever before then the one thing you should be taking every last minute of is your paid time off. Can I get an Amen?
2) Quit revising and start over. This is a hard one for any writer to accept. So let me say it again and let it roll around in your brain for a minute – Quit revising and start over! Bad copy is just that - BAD and no amount of revising will fix it. I promise a rewrite in the proper frame of mine will take less time and energy. Try to approach it as if it is a brand new project with all the hope and excitement that comes with it. I have been doing this long enough to remember electric typewriters. Remember the thrill of feeding in that clean white sheet of paper and tabbing over for the title? Go to that point and begin.
3) Thesaurus is not a dinosaur. This statement is true on two levels in that the thesaurus is not extinct but it does seem to be losing its place along with the dictionary as required business tools. If you don’t have one of each on your desk I dare say you are not a real writer! Okay you tell me you know how to find www.thesaurus.com Good for you. Get a well worn actual copy of Roget’s and use it and make notes in it and you will be better off. Because the key to tone is the adjective and the thesaurus is a tone deaf or at least tonally challenged writers best friend. Find the word that you are gravitating towards that is not exactly right and look it up in your thesaurus. Then read the list of suggested words. Pick two you like best and then go to their pages and read those lists. If you don’t have a word that is perfect at that point refer to #1 & #2 above. You just might not be ready to move forward yet.
Bad writing happens to all of us. In fact you might have issues with this very blog post! It is about the acknowledgment and process by which you get past it. I would love to hear your tales of woe related to bad tone and how you get past it.
10 Tried and True Ways To Smash Marketing Writer's Block - Wendy Thomas
New List of Gobbledygook Words: Are You an Offender? – Michele Linn
The Ritual of Writing – Wendy Thomas
About the Author: Heather has spent the past 15 years advocating for the customer perspective in her approach to software development and product marketing. Her penchant for collaboration is what drew her to the Savvy B2B team. Read more of Heather's posts here or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.