Every freelance writer wants to be known as a witty wordsmith. You’re no exception.
At least I hope you’re no exception.
There are benefits galore associated with being a witty freelance writer. Popularity is the biggest one.
Popularity as in everyone wants to hire you.
It’s completely understandable why there would be demand for witty freelance writers. They craft writing that is engaging, challenging, rousing, and satisfying.
Witty freelance writers deliver for their clients copy that gets read. And copy that gets read – start to finish – is copy that stands a better chance of generating response from target audiences.
WHAT IS WIT?
The problem for many freelance writers is they don’t know how to be witty.
Or, more precisely, they don’t know how to be witty because they don’t know what wittiness is.
Over at dictionary.com, they define wit as “the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure. Synonyms: drollery, facetiousness, waggishness, repartee.”
You’ll notice that missing from the synonyms list is the word “snark.”
Dictionary.com defines snark as “rude or sarcastic criticism.”
That’s totally different from “amusement and pleasure.”
My friends, I’m here to tell you that snark is to be avoided in your freelance writing – especially if you’re churning out content for a corporation or other entity that needs to speak temperately.
(I make an exception for snark in an autobiography or Hollywood tell-all. It’s OK in those settings for the reason that readers are expecting rude and sarcastic.)
Notwithstanding that lone exception, you don’t want to peddle snark because it’s a turn-off to a lot of people. My sense is that the ranks of those hostile to snark are growing. (Why are they growing? That’s a discussion for another day.)
If you’re writing to help your client gain friends, attract customers, win buy-in, and so forth by showing how cool and hip your client is, then you can’t afford to write to alienate – and snark alienates.
Show cool and hip by instead being witty.
AN EXAMPLE OF WIT
Right about now you’re probably going, “Hey, Rich Smith, quit stalling. Give us an illustration of witty writing.”
You want it, you got it.
NBC News at its website posted this story March 9. Here’s just the first three elements.
Headline: “Lawyer’s Pants Catch Fire During Florida Arson Trial”
Lede: “It seemed like a set up to a tired joke: A lawyer’s pants caught on fire in court.
Body graf 1: “But on Wednesday, it was Stephen Gutierrez’s reality when the Florida defense attorney’s pants began smoking during an arson trial, Eleventh Circuit Court Public Relations Director Eunice Sigler confirmed to NBC News Thursday.”
Some blogger somewhere reposted the headline and lede but teased them in what I consider to be a reasonably witty way:
“WELL PLAYED, UNIVERSE. WELL PLAYED”
This was witty because he created amusement in and pleasure at the poetic justice served upon a lawyer – a guy in a profession with a reputation for making the most outlandish claims.
But although the blogger’s tease was good, I think the writer of the original post at NBC News blew a chance for some potentially very witty writing.
RICH SMITH PROPOSED HEADLINE REWRITE:
“Lawyer’s Pants Catch Fire as He Pleads His Client’s Innocence”
The NBC headline laid an egg because it left out a crucial piece of information readers needed in order to derive amusement and pleasure. I imply that missing info in my rewrite – it’s that the lawyer’s pants caught fire while he was engaged in the very act of spinning his yarn about the cops catching the wrong guy.
Bottom line: Freelance writers need to know the difference between wit and snark, and to strive to infuse their writing with wit, not snark.