Dead willow fence sprouting life

The message of the dead sticks

When walking my dog last winter, I saw a fence going up around a construction area at the side of a big box store. What grabbed my attention immediately was the fencing material and style: willow sticks woven through basic horizontal fencing slats. The overall look was rustic, but polished. I was surprised and impressed that a bunch of dead sticks could look so sophisticated, and counted it a life-lesson learned: what is old or seems dead can still be useful. But there was more to learn from this simple fence. Summer hit, and when walking my dog in the area again, I was stuck by the sight of green shoots sprouting from the sticks in the fence and soon it was completely covered in green leaves, making a colourful backdrop. From death can spring life.

Editing the dead sticks

So what do dead sticks have to do with editing and writing? Well, let’s look at the first life lesson: What is old or seems dead can still be useful. If you’ve ever tried to write an article, brochure, white sheet, training manual, presentation, website, or produce any other form of creative writing, you know that the first draft is never the last. If your  piece has gone to someone for approval and  returned looking nothing like it did when it left you, don’t be disheartened. Not only will it remind you of where you started, but it may help generate ideas and spring you forward to something more effective. Clearly label and save that and each subsequent draft as a new file. Go back and read earlier drafts to stimulate new ideas and to pull out valuable information for other projects.

Updating your marketing pieces can also bring them to life, especially in this media-heavy environment. For example, while a particular document may not be useful for a website, the style and framework may work well as a white sheet, a video, a PowerPoint presentation, or as a company information portion of a pitch or proposal.  With a little creativity, you can use your old versions and presentations to launch your business beyond your competitors to lead the way in innovation.

The cycle of life: Recycling material for the World Wide Web

From death can spring life. Death, we’re told, is a part of life. But if you’re trying to take a printed piece and re-use it by posting a pdf version on a website, it’s likely to be dead document. Writing for the Web and writing for print materials require completely different styles. Web readers are referred to as “users”; they read for specific information they need and then get out as quickly as possible. Often, companies will simply scan and post brochures, training manuals, and manifestos online without giving much thought as to how the documents will be used. If users are directed to a 50-page pdf guide (or even a 4-page guide for that matter) to find one or two bits of information they seek, chances are they’re not going to read it. This type of document is dead. It produces no traffic and serves little use. However, if rewritten and edited by a professional, the otherwise lengthy print-style publication can be turned into a more user-friendly piece, keeping your information relevant and accessible to your potential clients. And that’s what writers and editors do; they rework the words in an innovative way to create an effective piece, bringing your words to life.

To stay current and relevant in the marketplace, companies need to update their dead documents and be creative in repurposing their marketing tools. Don’t just use the old to build a new fence; bring the fence to life.

To learn more about rewriting material for the Web or repurposing documents to be effective, contact me at or visit www.