Listen for the Lexicon

A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.
— Mark Twain  

When people ask what I do I say PR or maybe marketing. Pressed, I say content development, which I understand as the current way of saying writing. I always hesitate to say that I am a writer, although it’s what I do the most of every day. Maybe because most of the time I write for others. I write for my clients.

For me, writing for others is about finding a way to express their ideas with language and tone of voice that are recognizably their own. Only better. What I love is the process of discovery. Who are these people? What matters most to them? How do they talk among themselves?

Curiously, even the most seemingly inarticulate people say intriguing things. If you listen, really listen. Organizations, and here I am referring to those I know best, design firms, will have the most banal descriptions on their website and in other materials. Worse, they will have hired someone to write copy and then it’s over the top, inflated and basically not credible. But it should not be that way.

While authenticity is over used and now over determined, I love the original meaning and work to find that in the writing that I do. Asking questions and listening to people talk is a revelation. Especially when they talk about what they care about. There’s excitement, odd locutions, surprising words emphasized. There’s a clear point of voice. And then there’s cadence, the way the words are strung together in a distinct rhythm.

I never can capture it all but at my best, when I am really listening, I discover the special lexicon that belongs to that firm alone and put it use. Part psycholinguist, part ethnographer, part scribe and full tilt storyteller — it’s a great gig.