July 16th 2015, posted by

How the Great Gatsby can make you a better business writer

You might not write the greatest novel of all time, but you'll nail that finance report

You’d be forgiven for thinking there aren’t many parallels between The Great Gatsby and business writing in the 21st century. And unless you work in the kind of place where drinking gin rickeys at your desk is the norm (i.e. you’re a freelancer), you’d be right.

But we’re not ones to let a zeitgeisty novel-turned-film go by without a blog. So here we’ve rounded up five techniques you can take from Fitzgerald’s masterpiece to jazz up your next office opus. Typewriter optional.

1. Choose a great title
What Fitzgerald did: Would a novel called The High Bouncing Lover be considered one of the greatest of all time? We’ll never know. What we do know is it was one of several titles Fitzgerald played with before settling on The Great Gatsby. Really.
What you can do:

Try out a few different styles for your title: a question, a bold statement, a play on words.

Copy the styles of the headlines you see in the news that day, from straightforward and factual to intriguing and creative.

Some will sound ridiculous. But by churning through the wrong titles you’ll give yourself a better chancing of finding one that’s just right.

2. Grab your reader with a great opening
What Fitzgerald did: In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” These famous first words appear regularly on ‘best opening lines’ lists. Want to read on? You’ll just have to buy the book.

What you can do:

We pay much more attention to the first words we read. And if we don’t like what we see, we stop. So make your first words count.

3. Get a great editor (or be one)
What Fitzgerald did: The Great Gatsby is less than 50,000 pages long, a mere tweet in novel-writing terms. Its finely-tuned style owes much to Fitzgerald’s editor, Max Perkins, who also helped Ernest Hemingway to craft his famously sparse novels. Interestingly, Perkins was a fan of epic novel War and Peace, which he had read “six times”. Which perhaps goes to show that it’s not how much you write but what you write that matters.

What you can do:

Read your writing out loud.

Does it sound like a real person or a robot?

Did you run out of breath anywhere?

Are there words that don’t add anything?

If so, chop them out until it sounds natural. Just don’t get obsessed. If the writing starts sounding like a machine gun, you’ve gone too far.

4. Have great expectations
What Fitzgerald did: Fitzgerald was one of the era’s most highly-paid magazine writers of fiction. But none of his magazine stories matched the literary heights of The Great Gatsby. And Fitzgerald willed it that way. He wanted this book to be “the very best I am capable of in it or even as I feel sometimes, something better than I am capable of”.

What you can do:

So much business writing is… so, so. It does the job, but not much else. And if the writing is done with low expectations, the reading will be similarly underwhelming.

So over-reach yourself. You might just produce the best piece of writing of your life. Or at least write an HR update that people actually read – not quite as ambitious as writing the defining-novel of the jazz age, but not far off.

5. Write a great ending
What Fitzgerald did: Fitzgerald ended The Great Gatsby with a beautiful line. If you haven’t read it, we won’t spoil it by quoting it now. These words weren’t just the novel’s last, but Fitzgerald’s too – they’re inscribed on his grave.

What you can do:

Make your last words count.

End on a strong statement, link out to more information, add a call to action.

Link back to your first words to tie up the message and emphasize your original point.

Whatever you do, end on a bang not a whimper.

What writing tips do you take from your favourite novels?

September 1st 2020, posted by

Learning to love webinars

Read More

February 4th 2020, posted by

Customer service clichés to kill for 2020

What better time for a declutter than the start of a new decade?


Read More