Effective writers and actors are the same. They perform roles. On stage. On paper. But not on Quora. They aren’t writers.
– a Quora writer got traumatised after reading this
This sums the purpose of this long post. If you don’t want to read ahead for the next one dozen minutes and spend the next week upgrading your thought process of working with a client, leave now by taking home this message. If not, let’s proceed.
To break apart the above tweet or IG photo tweet in a better way, remember the voice you have in your head. We all have an internal monologue running within us whether we are alone or with someone else. The job of a good writer is to replace the voice in your head with what they are saying. All the fluff of “Finding your voice as an artist” means this only. Making your ideas reach the occupied heads of an audience. On the other hand, when you’re talking to a client, you need not replicate this strategy because it is more important to replace the voice in your head with their voice. Complete reversal. That’s how you’ll know what they want you to work on and without doing this, you’ll do what you want to do without giving a conscious thought to what the client wants. Let’s see some examples on this because theory doesn’t create a good marketer. Marketing does.
A guy who’s is a friend of mine, together with him we wrote his college application essays. I mean, he wrote after I devised the structure on a phone call. It had to be 300 words. So we couldn’t blabber our way by “Confuse them if you can’t convince them” logic. The reading time for a 300-word thing is maximum 3 minutes because it is no more than a page long thing. The deadline was one hour away and there wasn’t much time to spare. Plus, two more such essays had to be written. Here’s what we did:-
This was to show his life journey. Since he had come from a farming family and is presently very well equipped with raising funds using virtual mediums, it was simple. It showed the following transition in his life:-
That’s a pretty sharp thing to convey using the resource-outcome analogy. Earlier when he was in his village during school days, he worked with his father on the farm and learned how to use a sickle. That equipment made his family financially stable. When he was studying, there was a pen in his hand. It gave him the skills to survive in a an urban area. Once that part was done, he raised funds for an international organisation using laptop as a resource. The shift from sickle to pen and from pen to laptop ultimately contributed to bringing in money for his family and also for his organisation. Boom.
Since we had to show a challenge in this essay, it was time to make a mark. Your challenges are only interesting when you emphasise the before and after stuff like gym people do all the time. Here we wrote about his growth from being a rural guy who began reading books like Gulliver’s Travels and during college, he progressed enough to finish Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I haven’t read these books but if you Google “100 books to read before you die”, they’ll come up in the list. I’m not dying today so I’ll read them later. Anyways, getting back to the client.
Side by side, he put himself in situations where there were English speakers – Indian as well as non-Indians. This was during his experience as an intern in a rural development programme and while organising pro-level networking events for accomplished business owners in Delhi. You can say that this essay was, broadly speaking, a signal of being motivated to learn and also about being curious to find ways to learn rather than looking for excuses to not learn. Boom.
In the final one, we had to share the driving force which my friend has within him and his “Why” of applying for this specific course and college. This was a cakewalk. I told him to pick up quotes by his role models and merge them with his personal beliefs. We started with Gandhi’s skill-based lifelong learning and non-violent ideologies. Then came Che Guevara and his concept of inclusive and bias-free development of a society and not just of a few privileged segments. Final one was Adam Smith on how capital is necessary for an economy to flourish but should not always lead to a money-driven mindset.
What these people said was much more than what he wrote but paraphrasing works well if you know a little bit of something and then place along with it your interpretation of the same. Theory is theory when in books but it becomes useful in a context. He was the context here. Boom.
In addition to this, he found out who the assessor was. That was one thing which made the essay writing smoother. He saw through her work and online profiles to find out what makes her tick and moulded the essays to signal relevant information in that format. He got through the screening procedure and was called for the interview. But no particular thing can be credited for him getting pass the screening. Maybe the assessor was in a good mood. Maybe the candidates before him were pathetic. Maybe her husband cooked breakfast for her. A number of factors can interplay in such a scenario but what we did from our side was putting our best foot on the front. I thought like him and he thought like his assessor. That’s next-level shit if you read the last two lines. There was one mind over his mind and then there was his mind over another mind. We took a bet on probability and it turned out to be in our favour.
One of the strangest writing I did was this. A man met a woman using LinkedIn for professional communication. They started to personally interact. The guy was an insecure prick who abused her on text for not replying to his messages 2 seconds after they were seen by her. She posted the screenshots on LinkedIn. The guy lost his job the day later. Easier said than done. How I come into the picture?
This guy contacted a friend of mine to sort out the mess which had happened. He was my his client and being the smart-ass marketer my friend is, he suggested writing a confession statement and an apology letter. My friend could not write it and wanted me to do the same that too in record time. It took me 3-4 hours to get done with these two writings works which were about 3500 words in total. I got contacted for this strange gig for two reasons.
- I write on sex education and related themes and know how to be sensible around women unlike the client who wasn’t so considerate to the opposite sex
- My writing speed makes me deliver fast, seek feedback fast and improve on it fast until the best work is out there
But there was a problem here. I wasn’t like my client. He was a proud oozing man who was business smart but psychologically incapable of handing rejection in personal life. I asked for the text exchange script between him and the girl and my friend sent me that. Plus, he told me about the guy’s life and upbringing to construct a personality which aligned with what mess he had created for himself and the woman. In my mind, the client was starting to take the shape of a human being and was no longer his messages and screenshots. Beliefs lead to behaviours. I knew what had to be written within 20-30 minutes. See this:-
Apology letter – This was to be done along the lines of regret. But my first draft was so critical of the guy that my friend told me to smoothen it a little. What I had done was to portray him as a misogynist which he was, but I had to not explicitly convey that to the reader. This letter was supposed to go to the woman with whom he had misbehaved. She knew he was a chauvinist and all but for future career opportunities, the guy had to keep this as evidence to show to his employers. We presented the same shit in better packaging. It still stank, but not overtly.
Confession statement – This was to be posted anonymously on a blogging platform to highlight how one incident of misbehaving with a lady changed this guy’s general perception about women and specifically about independent and ambitious women. I made it a personal narrative by outlining what all the client was regularly doing to improve on his values and empathy skills for future interactions with women in professional as well as personal settings.
I forgot to tell you that he was married and had a kid too. One of his companies was bought by Flipkart. He was that “Big” of a shot. A week before this incident, he was on the verge of cracking a deal with one of India’s biggest telecom giants. All of that fell apart but in the writing, I had to proceed with the conviction and arrogance that an extremely successful and rich man will have to treat women as the dust beneath his shoes. I am not him but I had to become him to write what had to be written. Two mindsets had to be imbibed for this:-
- Remember the villain from Murder 2
- Act from a place of false manhood where you don’t give a damn. It was easy. I don’t give a damn about botoxed Kardashians. I replaced their “Booties” with the “World” and replaced “Not giving a damn” with being a macho asshole who “Doesn’t care about anything which resembles a cunt”.
Once this mindset was there, the apology letter got done. For the confession statement, I had to act from a place of strength even though I had lost most of my accomplishments. The client had lost, I mean. That was the kind of strength which effortlessly comes to men who love boasting about their long dicks even when theirs is not so long. I got into that character and words flew seamlessly and there was no problem in writing this. There were visuals in my head about the client’s upbringing in a house where his mother was taking away his father’s and his dirty utensils from the dining table to the kitchen sink. Oh man. I have written a lot on sex education and acceptance and consent and other things like that so I could imagine what exists on the opposite spectrum. Now let’s move on to something more interesting than this.
I got a call from a friend of mine. I knew her but our life trajectories went on different routes once school got over. So when she had asked me to work upon her application essays, we talked for about 90 min where I spoke for 50 min and she did for 40 min. Of course, I was not noting the time in between our conversation but I talked more than she did. That’s because I had to prime her into thinking what she had done in her life because no as such brag-worthy stuff was coming out from her mouth. It was good to see someone who doesn’t project themselves as an over-achiever but at the same time, it was difficult to figure out what should be written in her essays. By the end of our phone call, the following things came out which even she was surprised to know about herself. I’m a badass at getting information. Are you listening CIA interrogators? James Bond gives a high five.
She spoke about the books she reads and the one which she went on to talk passionately was Miss Obama’s autobiography. I have no interest in such books but since my friend could relate to her at the level of a woman who aspires to bring change in the world around her and also has a fair share of struggle associated with her aspirations, I got my clue. We had to use Miss Obama’s vision and values because that’s what the client seeks inspiration from. I brought up the topic of Malala and she knew about her life journey also. Another clue. Her role models were identified.
She considers herself an ordinary woman who goes to the office, writes code and returns home. But after poking into her office life I realised that she is in so huge of a software company that you and I have used at least one of their software. In that company, there is a software for which 7 people in the world are allotted the responsibility to code. In the whole fucking world, she is one of those 7 people who gets user feedback and then removes corresponding errors. The users being Boeing and other such companies. I was stunned beyond comprehension. Why didn’t you tell me this before? This has to go in the essay. How many people who are applying parallel to you have the background of working with international clients and that too in a team of 7 people across the globe? A handful. After giving more attention this thing we concluded that in her essay she’ll be the “One and only in a specific category” and “Not better than other applicants in generic categories”. All sorts of competition automatically eradicated. That’s simple marketing. Don’t bother by being better in an overpopulated category but be the first one in a new category and doing this, you’ll be the best.
There were more things that rose to the surface and I got a pretty good hang of her as a client who is not achievement heavy but cares more about qualitative change which can be experienced and not measured in numbers. On top of it, she has to make a career change from the coding and tech field to a different one. You remember the LinkedIn guy? She is more or less the opposite of him. The negative of an asshole. Essays won’t be hard now because I know the client. Or better said, I can be her when the situation demands me to write for her.
A brand whose Instagram captions I write, it sells customised fragrance perfumes to people who have a lot of money to spare for such things because you and I can change our underwear and wash our face. Since the owner is a person who has a cap-wearing “Chauffeur” and I make my sweaty ass feel the cool from AC while commuting in metro rail, there was more to be done than simply “Be Yourself”. I had to be what she is. Here’s what happened:-
I saw all her previous posts on Instagram. She doesn’t care about fragrance and sensuality because there are a lot of perfume brands out there for that purpose. The reason why she’s doing what she’s doing is probably because she wants to have a choice. The choice to pick your own fragrance. People like her who are very particular of the material which their watch’s strap is made of, those people have a thing for choice. I don’t buy hand-stitched leather bags because I got no money to spend on them. But if you have money, you don’t just want to spend it like others. You can afford to be and feel special. Unique little snowflake drama. Once I got to understand this, I was getting to see the world as she does. Her perfume brand is about giving freedom to get your customised fragrance in your hand. Plus, there are fragrances categorised into men and women, as per the seasons and based on adjectives which are used in a human context. This is serious shit. After writing a few captions for this brand, I thought I would run out of material but this perspective pushed the saturation point a little beyond. I don’t think the saturation point is coming anytime soon. I can see her perfume bottles having a life and merging two or three into one, a new character evolves.
Expanding on the above line of thought, I had to use the kind of words which belong to a certain age group and social demographic. I use cuss words but a lady who is getting invited to speak in women entrepreneur events, she will avoid such slangs. Maybe she’ll use different slangs. Like “Bae”. So I created a post where there was bae. It got instantly approved by her and had more impressions on the newsfeed than previous posts. That’s when she and I were on the same track. But we didn’t become bae.
Whatever you’ve read till now is very basic but often an under-looked aspect of working with a client. People talk to a client to learn what “They” want to be done but that’s one piece of the puzzle. The client might be operating in the “Sunk cost fallacy” and asking you to do what they falsely believe should work. But going a level deeper, you can navigate through their persona and find what their trigger points are. Then one by one hammer those trigger points to reverse navigate how the client came to where they are. And then assess on whether they are in sync with their objectives and goals?
It was hard to do this but I’ve accepted that I can’t say yes to every client. Last month I turned down an offer to write a self-obsessive introduction for a lady who practices salt therapy and occult nonsense. Merely looking at the information she had sent me to expand upon made me stare at my laptop for 20 fucking minutes. To write 500 words. I couldn’t do that. My fingers didn’t move and my belly was making so much noise that I almost thought there’s HCL boiling in my stomach. A client can make you physically sick. In that case, turn them down without any doubt. I’ll open your chakras so that wealth can enter your materialistic existence. Yeah miss thera-pseudo-pist, why not. You know what? I have one of my chakras opened. It is called anus. Invite me to any your navel gazing sessions and I’ll use my already opened chakra to release semi-solid energy on your crystal ball. Oops. I digressed. Let’s get back.
I was saying that layer after layer of complexity comes up when clients share stories and facts with you. That’s what fun is when you’re ghostwriting. You become the client. You also are an effective writer, unless you’re the Quora type. The hand of a client is writing what you have learned about them. Lovely, no? If this is not making the hair on your arms rise, throw your laptop in the dustbin and spend your life scribbling in your bedside diary in the hopes of becoming Anne Frank. You’re an average writer. Not an excellent copywriter.