I get letters. Sometimes I answer them out loud, right here.
Today is one of those sometimes.
Let's pop the secret code into the keypad (beep-boop-beep) to unlock the Chamber of Reader Letters.
Slip through the door. Fill your lungs with that climate-controlled air. And enter now into this edition of... FAQs: Frequent
Note: Questions have been edited for brevity and clarity. And to cloak the identity of that guy one cubicle over from you.
* * *
💌 FAQ #1
I write a newsletter. I write to an audience that does X. I also do X.
When I write my newsletter, do I...
1. Say "we" and "our" because I am writing about "us" since we are all in the same boat. Or...
2. Say "you" and "your" so that my reader feels like I am writing specifically to them?
Which way do you imagine feels more
meaningful to the reader?
I started my career as a journalist. Writing with first- or
second-person pronouns like we, you, and I were banned in the newsroom—canceled and trash-talked with as much fervor as Swifties canceled Ticketmaster.
The reason: first-person writing siphons focus away from the issue or topic. It shifts attention to the writer experiencing the issue or topic. Neutrality is a tenet of journalism.*
*(Or used to be. We don't have time to get into all that now.)
Yet newsletters are not journalism. Newsletter writers like us are *meant* to share our points of view and perspective.
You are the narrator. You are the
tour guide, holding the flag aloft, leading your reader along a path.
Your audience needs to see you, hear you, feel your presence emanating straight off the page, and now you're sounding like a Halloween ghoul oops.
* * *
See what I did there? I switched from we to you in the last 3 paragraphs.
Why? Using we establishes a collective truth: "We need to share our views..." It puts us on the same, perfectly level field. Or the same boat... to use your analogy.
Switching to you in the next paragraph then invites the individual readers to align with a point directly. To see themselves in the story you're telling or the perspective you're sharing.
It's also less clumsy to use you in those paragraphs above.
If instead of "you are the narrator..." I'd written "we are the narrators. We are the tour guides... Our audiences need to see us, hear us, feel our presences..."
Presences. Hear the awkward?
It sounds like a madhouse of narrators scrambling
for audiences. It reads like the unsure steps of a toddler lurching all over the page, awkward as heck.
Here's the deal: Outside of journalism (and academia, I suppose), there are no hard-and-fast rules around we vs. you.
There's no science. It's all art.
So here's my advice... as someone who has thought more deeply than most people ever will (or care to lol) about we vs. you:
- Use we to express a collective experience or truth.
we to align an audience around that truth, or use it when you want to call them to a higher place. For example: "We writers believe..." says: I want you to identify as a writer.
- Use you to shift from the collective to the individual; when you want an individual reader in the privacy of their own inbox sitting on their own couch to feel something, to resonate
deeply... even if the story is about something only you experienced.
- Use you when it's clumsy to use we. (Read it out loud!)
* * *
One more point (which you didn't ask about but now I'm on a roll):
Use we instead of I as much as possible in your newsletter. (Also from the stage, if you're the type who speaks from one.)
Why: Again, that perspective shift.
You want to include others in the action and point of view as much as possible.
I is about the writer. We is about the reader and writer together.
In newsletters (and in life), let's affiliate
with others as much as we can.
* * *
💌 FAQ #2
Any tips for coming up with good metaphors?
It's something I've been paying attention to in my reading for a while now and adore what they do to the copy. In your newsletters in particular I adore how much they humanize (and humor-ize!) content but I feel a bit stuck when wanting to write them.
A Metaphorical Friend
Hello, metaphorical and actual friend.
This past week I gave a talk in Dallas to a fantastic group of nonprofit marketers. (Hiya, NIO!)
In Dallas, I told a story about my obsession
to make friends with ("convert") Bun, a wild rabbit who lives in my backyard.
I've told that story before on stage. Bun is a metaphor for a marketing approach. Anyone who's heard it might remember some of the marketing insights.
But EVERYONE remembers Bun. "How is he?" they ask when I bump into them later.
Good metaphors illuminate the new and unfamiliar. They help your audience grasp confusing ideas.
But in marketing, metaphors do something even more important:
Good metaphors make you and your ideas memorable.
So where do you start?
Keep your eyes open. That surly woman on the plane giving the flight attendant a hard time carries a tote printed with "Kindness Matters." A squirrel eats a slice of trash-picked pizza sitting in a spring maple. The Uber driver who calls his
6-year-old rapper son's agent while you eavesdrop in the back seat.
Be still and the world will turn itself inside out in an effort to entertain you, to paraphrase Barbara Kingsolver.
Your own world is a rich source of stories you can mine for metaphor.
Write them down.
Collect them. Hoard them. Over time, you'll start to see metaphors pop out and smack you in the face.
Signal belonging. If you're speaking to a Midwest audience, you might describe something huge as "as big as four Lambeau Fields, laid end-zone to end-zone."
you're a Taylor Swift fan, you might talk about cancel culture in the context of Swifties' beef with Ticketmaster. 😊
What would delight your specific audience? What analogy might signal "We get you. You belong here"?
👉 👉 👉 Go deeper: Chapter 22 in the new edition of
Everybody Writes gives you muuuuuuch more insight into creating surprising, engaging metaphors. Buy it from: Amazon. Bookshop.org.
* * *
💌 FAQ #3
Have you ever thought of charging for your newsletter?
Yes. But not anytime soon.
* * *