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Writing tips from Daniel Day Lewis

July 17, 2020

Writing about your product or service is often a bit of a tightrope between talking passionately about what you do and boring the pants off your audience.

Sometimes you have to delete what you’re personally really pleased with and start all over again.

This is what they in the trade call Killing Your Darlings. It’s an ego-shattering moment, but it’s what makes great writing.

You have to put your audience first. Even if it means scrapping an exquisite detail that you’ve taken ages to hone.

So how do you get there without the killing spree?

I recommend going the full Daniel Day Lewis.

Day Lewis is known for getting deep into character by either living as them or learning new skills. To say he’s a method actor is an understatement:

🥄 He spent almost the entire shoot of My Left Foot in a wheelchair, demanding to be spoon fed

🛶 He learnt how to build canoes for his role in The Last of the Mohicans

😳 He went into solitary confinement and stayed awake for 3 nights in prep for In the Name of the Father

🇨🇿 He taught himself Czech for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, even though the film was in English.

👻 He may (or may not) have seen his father’s ghost during a production of Hamlet

His ability to believe so fervently that he is the character he’s playing is ensures that audiences are swept along with him.

And don’t knock it: he’s the only actor to ever win three Best Actor Oscars.

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Of course, you don’t need to be quite so extreme in your approach, but it does help to get into character in order to write for your audience.

Putting yourself in their shoes helps to dig deep, to tunnel past the jargon and get to ‘what’s in it for them’.

It doesn’t mean dumbing down, or losing the detail though. You can have both.

Take Sky Atlantic’s brilliant series Chernobyl, which has to include lots of potentially impenetrable chat about roentgens, dosimeters and protons, but brings this down a level by explaining: ‘It means this fireman was holding the equivalent of 4 million chest X-rays in his hand.’

Or for something more prosaic, look no further than the BBC’s helpful description of the Stamp Duty cut: ‘The threshold on residential property in England and Northern Ireland will temporarily rise from £125,000 to £500,000. This means almost nine out of 10 transactions would be tax-free as a result.’

It’s hard to do, but it makes what your telling people much more personal, persuasive and appetising. People only care about themselves, not about how much you know about a topic. So you have to think like them. Without disappearing into the role so far that you forget to come out the other side!

July 17, 2020

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