What My Jewish Mother-in-Law Can Teach You About Writing Headlines

Mildred

Mildred

The Truth About Being A Great Writer

While standing on line at the local butcher, Mildred, my mother-in-law, leaned over the counter and said softly, “So Bernie, how does Mrs. Fisch do her pot roast?”

His answer changed my life.

 

Bernie bellied up to the counter, his heavy lidded eyes rolling sideways before pushing over a scribbled piece of butcher paper with his grubby finger.  “What do you think of that, Mrs. K?”  Mildred adjusted her glasses and peered keenly at the note before her.  With a dismissive sniff, she slid the paper into her purse and smiled innocently.

“The best cooks are thieves,” he winked at me.  “Julia Child stole her sauce recipes from the French, Martha Stewart practically copied her Christmas cookie book from Good Housekeeping and Mrs. Krakauer here, let’s just say she borrows from everyone.  And so should you.”

 

Me?

I was stunned.  From the very first time I sat down to dinner cooked by my mother-in-law, I believed she was making everything from time honored, secretly guarded recipes handed down from generation to generation.  Someone else with a better recipe for brisket?  Are you meshugah or what?

Yet, here before my eyes was Bernie, the butcher, telling Mildred  that the key to great cooking is grand larceny.  And from what it sounds like, she has some pretty fancy partners in crime.

 

Who benefits from all this stealing?

I certainly do, as well as the rest of the Krakauer family.  Our dinners are exquisite culinary experiences.  I suppose dinners are just as fabulous at Mrs. Fisch’s, at Mrs. Murray’s, at Mrs. Cohen’s as well as every house in Rockaway that participates in this ecosystem of theft.  Or borrowing, as Mildred would quickly say.  Like a Robin Hood and his Merry Men, there goes Mildred, borrowing from the rich to give to the poor, only in her case, all of Bernie’s loyal customers are swooping down from the trees in Belle Harbor to fatten their recipe files and to share the wealth with their hungry families.
No easy task to keep knocking out great dinners night after night for these ladies.  No wonder they flock to Bernie for a tip or two, an unexpected ingredient, a twist to make their husbands turn their heads and say, “Wow, honey!  I love your kashe varnishes!”

If you have to turn out momentous meals every day, coming up with your own unique original ideas is gehackte tsuris – who needs it!

And its not because Mildred is lazy, she’s busy.

The only way to survive, look fabulous and stay in control is to steal a secret from Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Mildred P. Krakauer.

 

Copy from others knowing that true genius stands on the shoulder pads of others

What About Writing?

I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could it be possible I am needlessly killing myself trying to be original all the time?”  Of course  I am.  And so are you.  We are stressing, worrying and inwardly freaking out each time we come face to face with the blank page because we want so badly to write something fabulous, something that will transform a reader by the simple experience of reading our words.

OK, here is what I think, after being in the trenches for twelve years as a professional author & illustrator, grantwriter and blogger:

You can mistakenly believe you are the most original, prolific and constantly amazing writer in the world and sputter into a fit of depression when it becomes impossible to maintain these high standards for yourself.

Or,

You can steal.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because I know that if you are serious about your writing, you will see very quickly that there are better ways to write better and more efficiently.  Many successful writers like, Shakespeare, Jefferson and Wilde have perfected the art of copying, or as Bernie would say, “borrowing”, from others because they quickly understood that true creativity is seizing the genius in the ideas of others and making it your own.

 

Let’s Look At Headlines

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”

A great quote from Simone Weil.

How do you attract and earn someone’s attention?

Let me borrow a great word from Mark Ragan, the force at Ragan Communications: Cosmotize.

I just adore that!

When you are standing on line at the supermarket, you know your eyes go right to those riveting covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vogue and GQ.

Did you know those headlines are over half a century old?  The ideas behind them are basically the same, the wording or the language changed over time, and yours to steal for your next piece.  The raison d’etre for a headline is to get you, the reader, to read the first sentence.  And then the next sentence, and so on.  If you can’t get someone to read your headline, you can forget about them reading your article.

Everything starts with the headline.

Look at any great headline carefully and you can see its bones, its architecture, its template that will work for any topic.  Just like the recipes in Mildred’s trusty collection, I am building a swipe file with hundreds of headline templates on my computer where I can scan them whenever I need to craft a killer headline of my own.

 

A Shortcut To List Headlines – Snack Size Content that Readers Will Eat Up

Everywhere you look,  there’s a headline like this, “43 Ways To Drive Your Man Crazy In Bed.  Be Sure to Check Out #7”, or “101 Killer Resources To Make Money As A Mommyblogger”.  You see them on magazine covers, on the blogs you follow and on morning and evening news shows.

Why are they so popular?

They work.

 

After attending the Boot Camp for Nonprofits!  Power of Giving Forum an exclusive event for Con Edison partners presented by Ragan Communications as well as the Corporate Writers and Editors Conference  (hashtag #raganCWE) the following day, I have a new respect for the power of headlines.

To help you write something that has the power to be a transformative experience, like Mildred’s pot roast, let me square my shoulders and become one with Bernie, the butcher.  I will share what I learned in a roomful of PR and marketing professionals from experts in their industry that earns its right to exist by how well their communications can create profit from attention.

Mark opened the session by inviting us to ask ourselves, “would I pick this up at the newsstand?”,  or “will people want to read this and do I love producing this?”.  At the top of his list of tips was this: List story.

List story: organized thought with a teaser title.  This is hands down the most popular and most powerful headline and story one two punch combo in the history of writing.

 

Here’s What I Have For You:

 

I did a little research project in the magazine section of my local bookstore and analyzed the most frequently used list headlines into a short list of templates.  These templates are shortcuts that you can use to fill in the blanks and jumpstart your writing with a great headline.

1. 5 Ways to (do something)

Give people a little selection, not too much, and some meat on the bones for each way so that they feel they can make an informed choice.

Example:  7 Ways to Write a Better Grant

 

 

2. 52 Killer Resources for (audience)

This is a great way to dominate a narrow subject with a long list of bullet points.  Readers will shake their heads in amazement, “Wow!  There’s so much I didn’t know!”

Example:  101 Dumpling Ideas For Your Next Party

 

 

3. The Top 10 (techniques, resources, tips, you name it)

People love this.  They want their options reduced, reviewed, rated and presented to them in a tidy list.

Example:  The Top 10 Holiday Offers Your Customers Will Love

 

4. 11 (topic) Secrets Every (audience) Should Know

Curious about what secrets you are missing?  Your readers will be too.  This is one of the most effective and irresistible Cosmo headlines.

6 Sexy Secrets Every Cosmo Girl Should Know About Her Man

 

 

5.  7 Surprising Reasons (topic)

Instead of creating curiosity, tap into the curiosity that is already in your reader with this provoking headline.

Example:  15 Surprising Reasons Why You You Need Memory Boosters

 

 

6.  The 9 Laws for (topic)

Some people love being told the rules of the game.  Others want to study the law, figure out how to get around it and rebel against it.  For both, they will still want to read  what those rules are.

Example:  The 5 No Nonsense Laws of Nonprofit Fundraising

 

 

7. 5  Things your (audience) Needs to Hear You Say

If you are like me, you wonder a lot about if you said the right thing or if you just put your foot in your mouth.  Pick someone important to your audience to make the headline even more compelling.

Example:  Want a Raise?  7 Things Your Boss Needs to Hear You Say

 

 

Why kill yourself?

Mildred pulled a stubby pencil out of her purse, scribbled something on the butcher paper and pushed it back over the counter to Bernie.   She smiled.  He winked.  Then he looked up at me and said, “And what can I help you with today?”

I thought for a moment.

“I’ll have what Mrs. Krakauer is having,”  I held his gaze and said, “Theft and pot roast.”

 

Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

Check out Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

See what’s going on at Nonprofit Knitwear for all things nonprofit and knit

Get some very cool Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

 IMG_0076

Can a Poem Save the World?

 

We are all in love with the written word

The annual LitTAP convening draws people out of their insular silos and into a space where we are startled by the presence of so many others just like us – lovers of the written word.

Actually, I am hopping around in the space where text, image and  restless thought live at the center of the Venn diagram of my life.  I wrestle with each demon that fights for center stage.

 

It is a stage as gracious as the head of a pin.

This recent convening took place on another kind of stage. A sound stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios at the intersection of creative industry, Queens Council on the Arts, fabulous food, the Museum of the Moving Image and the flagship performing high school created by the Sinatra family and Tony Bennett, Astoria’s home boy.

A perfect place to make visual how one board member’s passion for the work of the Queens Council on the Arts became the site of a statewide discussion on how we and our board members can be better champions of the literary world. H

Here are some things I heard that stuck with me:

  • Mission gives you the power to say no.
  • Don’t be afraid to make the ask. Think of it as a chance for someone to invest in something they care about.
  • “No” is often code for “not yet”.
  • Say “Thank you” a lot.
  • I don’t know what to do first. Maybe I should eat this cookie.

 

Love those Poets in Unexpected Places!

I captured what I could with my Flip video camera.  Watch the magic here!

 

Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

Check out Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

See what’s going on at Nonprofit Knitwear for all things nonprofit and knit

Get some very cool Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

 IMG_0076

An Arts Career Without Paper Or Pen

purple me

What to do when you are at a loss for words

Today was the first day I realized that my obsession with paper is over.

Now think about that.

How can you claim to be an artist or have an arts career if you don’t use paper?

I was raised in a papered world where writing meant one thing: putting a pencil or a pen to paper. Reading was an activity that involved books, newspapers, magazine that were printed on paper. Writing and illustrating my picture book, “Rabbit Mooncakes” was a daily dance with paper, ink and gouache. My ancestors invented paper way back across the ocean in China – what is going on?

Loss sharpens priorities

Huuricane Sandy wiped out twelve cartons of my books which we had to unearth from a waterlogged basement in Rockaway, Queens. The only thing heavier than those endless ruined stacks of books was my heart. The superstorm also swept away many of my photos and sketchbooks. Once we were able to focus on saving what photos we could, I promised myself they would be scanned, restored as best as possible and sent upwards into the cloud.

Perhaps it is that fear of losing perishable things that has inspired my determination to master the art of creating text and image digitally.

Easier said than done.

How many of you love freshly sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks in September? And what about that box of Crayola crayons that greeted you on the first day of school? Oh, and the pictures we would carry home for the refrigerator gallery…

But where are you going to put all of that at the end of the year? What are you going to keep? I know. You do the same thing I do – you just keep stashing the paper away in a box, why? Just because. Because you don’t want to throw your past away or admit that you really don’t want to keep the stuff in the first place.

New baby photos

When we realized all of our photo albums were gone, my wise third child said, “Don’t feel bad, mom. We needed new baby photos anyway. I looked terrible in the old ones.”

Well, that inspired me to start looking good for my new baby photos. I am watching what I eat, running everyday and making new memories that we snap with our phone cameras, write on our computers and me, I am loving my simple sketch program on my iPad. People cannot help but smile and peek over my shoulder to watch me doodle and draw. Sometimes we get into friendly conversations and I actually email them the sketch.

I suppose I could have had a similar experience with an actual sketchpad and pencil but to be quite honest about it, I don’t miss it. I really like working on my iPad.

 

A Twelve Step Guide

Maybe you need a little help?

Here’s what worked for me in kicking the paper habit.

1.  Give yourself a gift.  I got myself a drawing program for my iPad and phone called SketchBook Pro which I used to create the image for this post.  It has a text function that I like.  I also have Art Set – they have cool paper choices and their paint really looks like paint.

2. Treat yourself to a nice stylus.  Most come with a spongy tip that, to me, feel a little weird when you drag it across the screen.  I admit, I haven’t found my dream stylus but I am doing OK with one that actually has a brush tip that you can adjust.  It makes me feel a little better when I am using paint.

3. Keep your iPad and stylus handy.  You will be surprised how quickly you will begin to grab them to write or sketch something.

4. Save your best sketch of the day as your desktop image.  It is a great visual reminder of what you drew or wrote yesterday and that you should be doing more of it today.

5. Send emails to your friends with a sketch.

6. Post a sketch to Facebook.

7. Tweet a sketch.

8. If you have a blog, create a post with one of your sketches.

9.  If you don’t have a blog, offer to guest post for a blog you like with one of your sketches.

10. Do a self portrait and assign it to your contact so it pops up when someone calls you.

11. Add the self portrait to your email signature.

12.  If your mother wants a copy, you can always print one for her.

 

 

So, yes. I confess. I am putting away paper and pen and I am fine without them.

Fine, and you?

 

 

How A Single Blog Post Can Double Your Audience

Crowd (Colour)

photo by Wayne Large

So you’ve written your monthly post, clicked the Publish button, yawned, muttered, “Thank God that’s out of the way.” and now you’re thinking about lunch.

Chances are, the lack of comments and interest to your post are not disturbing you as you scan the take out menus.

If you are a creative person working in a creative organization such as Queens Council on the Arts, high-quality content on our blog is our most potent form of marketing.

You may be writing about how to get a grant to attract more artists to the Queens Arts Fund. You may be putting out a call for artists for an upcoming show. You may be promoting a workshop series for emerging writers.

Did you know that at the same time, your post can serve as an incredibly persuasive point for people to do something further?  Blog posts can do double duty as landing pages for Google Ads.  They can be places where people can sign up for a newsletter, RSVP for a workshop, donate, answer a survey, join a discussion….

And become active and engaged members of our community.

Valuable!

When you publish content, you want your reader to do something.

You want the work you put into your content to get your reader to take a specific action.

There’s a “secret” to making this work better … a secret that great copywriters have been using for more than a century.

Let’s talk about highly effective and compelling content

To create great content — the kind that gets shared, that attracts more readers, and gets people to take action — you need to do three things.

1. You need to write something incredibly useful.
2. You need to write something that’s easy to understand and easy to digest.
3. You need to make specific calls to actions for your readers.

Now, a couple of copywriting hints:

1. How are your headlines?
Are you uncovering the pain points of your potential customers?

Challenges of Working in the Arts vs. Tired of Being a Starving Artist?

2. Are you zoning in on the benefits of what you have to offer or are you still blithering on about features?

QCA Offers Professional Development Workshops vs. Eight Surefire Ways to Sell Your Artwork

3. Do you use the language of your audience?
No jargon.  Say things in a simple, clear and direct voice.

Instead of “building capacity”,  say “grow a business”.

4. Make your call to actions easy to follow.

Sign up here for immediate access to the coolest events in Queens.

 

In a nutshell, here’s the “secret” for content that works for readers and furthers audience building goals:

Create great, useful content that is enjoyable to consume, and that lets the reader know exactly what to do next.

Here’s a quick punch list for QCA power posts:

  • Write a dynamic headline
  • Always include an image or photo
  • Write about things that are useful to the reader
  • Include a link or two back to an older post on the QCA website or to featured artist or student
  • End with a clear call to action

Got your own power blogging secrets? Link them up for us in the comments!

 

Dreaming of Dragon Ladies

 

March 15: In the Year of the Dragon at the Old Stone House

On Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 8 PM, Brooklyn Reading Works at The Old Stone House presents: IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON: A Celebration of Asian and Asian-American Writers.

Curated by author Sophia Romero (The Shiska from Manila), IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON includes a Brooklyn Poet Laureate, a playwright, and three novelists and a childrens’ book author/illustrator, all of whom will read excerpts from their latest work. A Q&A will follow the reading.

You won’t want to miss Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, Novelists Susan Choi, children’s book author Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer and Sabina Meyer and playwright Linda Faigao-Hall.

A $5 donation includes light refreshments and wine.

The Old Stone House

336 3rd Street Brooklyn, NY 11215
(718) 768-3195

Between Fifth and Fourth Avenues.

Due to construction in the park, enter from the Fourth Avenue side of the house.