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Thursday, October 19, 2006


Good Bait Hurts

Brian Clark is writing about link bait again over at Copyblogger.

Link bait is any blog or article or flash page or virtual publicity stunt designed to make people link to it. From white papers to ebooks to advice lists.

Which reminds me of the classic writing tip: Good writing hooks the reader.

Annie Dillard tells a story in The Writing Life that has become a kind of mantra for me. Here is my version:

During a particularly hard winter, an Eskimo village died of starvation. The last two survivors—a woman and her baby—fled the village looking for food. Near a lake they found an emergency stock of fishing supplies. A hook, a line, a knife. But no bait. Her baby was crying.

What else could she do? She took the knife and cut a piece of meat from her own thigh. She used a piece of herself for bait to catch the first fish. After that first fish, she had guts leftover for more bait.

But the woman will always have a scar on her thigh.

Whether I'm writing ad copy or business copy or editing someone's introduction for an inspirational essay about spirituality and work, I know that good hooks have good bait. And good bait comes from the writer's own flesh and blood and guts.

Good writing leaves scars.

Good bait hurts.

(Why do so many people keep writing?)

Maybe because so many do not use good bait. Just a few flakes from the outer layer.
We write with the same hope that Annie Dillard describes. Our writings are our prayers for emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and perhaps even physical sustenance. And perhaps he will deliver we who are already scarred, maybe even disfigured, by our own hand. Shep

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