In the spring of 1880, John D. Rockefeller called the board of Standard Oil to an emergency meeting.
“Our company is doomed,” he announced, “We need to find another business.”
The directors were flabbergasted. Rockefeller’s company was the most powerful corporation in America. It wielded so much clout that it dictated terms to the rail monopolies. Standard Oil had just negotiated a rebate on every barrel of oil shipped by rail, whether the barrel was owned by the company or not.
Yes, you read that correctly. Standard Oil had such a grip on the railroads that they paid Rockefeller a rebate on every barrel of oil shipped by his competitors.
After a long uncomfortable silence, a senior director worked up the courage to ask the obvious. “Who could challenge our position in the oil business?”
Rockefeller eyed the man the way a hawk would eye a gopher.
“We are not in the oil business,” he thundered, “we are in the illumination business and that upstart Thomas Edison has threatened to make lighting so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”
In those days, most of Standard Oil’s profit came from selling kerosene for lamp-oil. When the board grasped what he was telling them, panic ensued.
Rockefeller was many things, some downright evil, but at least he knew what business he was in.
So.... as a writer, do you know what business you are in? Don’t say writing because the only people in that business are scribes.
Think about it.
The first time you published your work, even by clicking the submit button on Gather, you became a member of the entertainment industry. You may not sing or act -- or tell jokes but you are nonetheless an entertainer. Your medium happens to be the written word.
Readers are attracted to articles and authors for what seems like many reasons. They want to be charmed by stories, informed by essays or beguiled by poetry. but all of that is just another word for entertainment.
It raises an interesting point. We spend so much time learning to write that we sometimes ignore the business we are in. The sad truth is, if you are entertaining, you can get by with minimal skills.
Your topic might cause a fish to snore yet still be popular. Your sentences might sag like boiled spinach and your mechanics might clatter like bolts rattling down the stairs.... but if your words entertain - readers will flock past gardens of beautiful prose to gawk at your writing.
That doesn’t mean you can ignore the basics. Few people are that entertaining. You still have to master grammar because flaws distract the reader - but to be successful, you need to become a skilled entertainer.
It isn't all that hard, just a twist on what you normally do.
Before you begin to write, ask:
Who entertains me?
How can I be more like them?
While you create your first draft, ask:
Will readers enjoy this?
Will they like the way I structured it?
On the second draft, ask:
What is it about this piece that is entertaining?
How can I focus on that?
When you revise, ask:
Does the writing flow well?
Do my verbs snap?
Do my nouns crackle?
Do my paragraphs pop?
Are breakfast cereal metaphors appropriate in this situation?
Just one more thing....
What if you are not actually in the entertainment business, like when you write a memo at work, or record an entry in your journal or freewrite for exercise?
Well... you are still more than a scribe. Focus on the business at hand. When you create a memo, you are in the information or perhaps the persuasion business - so be informative or persuasive. If you are freewriting - be creative and if you are exercising - push your limits.
So... when you write, be like John D. Rockefeller and try to conquer the world, but always keep in mind what business you are in.
This week's challenge: entertain us.
The theme for this week is entertainment. Here are some ideas:
- Write about a pet who performs tricks... but write it from the pet's point of view.
- Write about a failed comedian who discovers the secret of humor (think Twilight Zone).
- Write about the consequences of a small town reporter who puts story before fact.
- Write about a forgotten star's last chance to shine.
Post your article to Gather Writing Essentials.
BE SURE TO TAG your submission with MWE. Note: I search for articles using the tag "MWE" If you don't tag it right, I will not find it.
Include "Monday Writing Essential" in your title.
- Try to post by next Monday but don't worry if you don't finish in time. I will be glad to include your post the next week.
Last week's MWE challenge was write a scene and drew the following responses:
Weekly reminder: don't forget to recommend an article that you like (to learn why, read Ann Marcaida's article Attract More Writers and Artists to Gather!).. Also try to place a comment on at least one article and say more than you liked the piece. Tell the author what worked and what needs work.