Three ways our infatuation with seventeenth pages can improve your writing.

ecclesiastes

We are Page 17, Inc.

Huzzah for us, right?

If you already know why we chose that name for our company, sorry for the forthcoming rehash. If you don’t, indulge us a paragraph of illumination.

The seventeenth page of our founder’s high school writing text, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White,  includes the sagest three words of writing advice ever typeset: “Omit needless words.”

For no particular reason, that backstory recently got us thinking: What Easter eggs might be found on the seventeenth pages of other favorite books on writing?

Here’s what we learned on the seventeenth pages of our Zinsser, our Thomas and Turner, and one paragraph earlier of our Strunk and White:

  1. You suck at writing and so do we. We paraphrase, of course, but the seventeenth page of On Writing Well by William Zinsser isn’t much less harsh: “Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style and how it obstructs what they are trying to say. If you give me an eight-page article and I tell you to cut it to four pages, you’ll howl and say it can’t be done. Then you’ll go home and do it, and it will be much better.” You might want to hit the delete key a few more times this week. We will, too.
     
  2. Simple ain’t easy. On the seventeenth page of Clear and Simple as the Truth, Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner lend support to Zinsser’s seventeenth page by confirming that “elementary does not always mean easy.” For you and me, that means we need to reread the rewrite of that important email we’re about to send—even if we feel it “wrote itself.”
     
  3. George Orwell nailed it. Earlier on page seventeen of our Strunk and White, the authors share Orwell’s sarcastic revision of a famous passage from the Bible. His intentionally overwrought version: “Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must inevitably be taken into account.” The actual passage may be archaic, but it clearly avoids the corporate-speak Orwell was mocking: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” How many of our blog posts and new business proposals would make Orwell, Thomas, Turner, Zinsser, Strunk, White—and our intended readers—similarly cringe?

Better writing will increase your influence. Let us know how we can help.

We’re not a verb yet, we stink at LinkedIn and we haven’t talked enough about you in this headline. Other than that, good month.

seventeen

If we can make this post interesting, we may just have a future with the whole word-sentence-paragraph thing.

This is our first written press conference, to be held on the seventeenth of every month, at which we’ll interview ourselves to let relatives — and anyone else who cares — know how Page 17 is doing and what we wish we were doing better. If that is you (hi, mom), this is for you.

And now, with two quick taps on the mic to make sure it’s working, let’s get this presser started.

Q: So how is Page 17 (raises voice, puts uncomfortable emphasis on next word) really doing?

A: We have had a good month of bootstrapping, which is what we’re supposed to focus on initially, according to Guy Kawasaki in The Art of the Start 2.0. Clients and cash flow.

The work itself has ranged from grind-‘em-out video descriptions for a sports website to a half-day workshop that helped healthcare execs craft their brand story. Fun work, great people.

Q: And what do you (snorts softly, smirks cynically) wish you were doing better?

A: When naming a startup, Kawasaki says never to use a number (oops) and to search for a term that could one day become a verb. And while we dream of some future client telling her cohorts, “Guthrie, we need to page seventeen our brand story” or “Dunwoody, let’s page seventeen the heck out of that brochure copy,” our bootstrapping selves know we’re not there yet.

To become a verb, we need to better spread the word about what page seventeening would mean to you or anyone else.

It means treating every writing assignment as an exercise in empathy and an expression of gratitude to those who will invest their irreplaceable time reading it.

Too lofty? Try this: To page seventeen is to have the meh surgically removed from writing – either by us or by us helping you to do it on your own.

Q: Anything else you wish you were doing better?

A: We’d like to be more generous on social channels, especially Twitter and LinkedIn. We’d like to create a one-hour webinar that shares practical tips on how to write better. We’d like to think of a third thing but will have our calendars full with the first two.

Anything else? OK, thanks for attending and caring about better writing. Next press conference: two days after your taxes are due.

The business benefit of subscribing to a pictureless blog.

We have nothing against infographics, stunning photography and embedded videos. We’ve spent decades partnering with gifted designers and directors. We plan to continue working with them.

It’s just that we’re geeks about the potential of the written word.

To surprise.

To influence.

To hold attention in a world that too often devolves into played-out expressions and polysyllabic passivity.

pictureless

To paraphrase our hero, Howard Gossage: “People don’t read blog posts. They read what interests them. And sometimes, it’s a blog post.”

How do we intend to do this? With story, metaphor, witticism, unexpected turns of phrase and the occasional rant.

And the business benefit? When we’re doing our job, you’ll experience just how much can be accomplished with the killer app of killer apps: the written word. And when we’re failing, we expect to hear from you. This is about all of us becoming better writers together.

This ship is about to leave the station. This train is about to leave port. Won’t you join us on this journey to come up with a long-overdue replacement for the tiresome journey metaphor?

The Page 17 Story

Page-17-Story

Sit back, take a sip of your traditional cappuccino with honey and two shots of soy milk then indulge us in this telling of the Page 17 story. Boy walks into sophomore English class. Boy gets thin paperback textbook. Boy can’t stop rereading advice on page 17: “Omit needless words.” Boy grows up, writes ad copy and leads creative departments before deciding to venture off on his own. You enter the story here. You’re looking for wow-worthy ideas and crisp copy. You get it. You need editing and proofing help. You get it. You could use a personal writing coach who tailors a 12-week mentorship to your specific challenges. You guessed it: you get it. You’re delighted. We’re happy. Boy’s high school English teacher is downright giddy.