Is Your Writing Evergreen? I hope not.

Well, it finally happened.

After years of collective child-birthing, child-raising and “When is this child ever going to leave the house?”, the first member of my family’s next generation – my 11 nieces and nephews plus my own three children – has finally gotten engaged.

Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, my nephew, Travis, is poised to break the tape at the single man finish line, on a date not yet determined.

This is big news. Unlike during the late eighties and early nineties when Linda and I attended more weddings than Larry King’s caterer, I don’t think I’ve been to one of these events in at least 10 years.

Back then, however, we and our friends were so caught up in the engagement scene that shortly after ours was over, I ended up writing a book about it: The snappily (if not briefly) titled, Congratulations … Your Girlfriend’s Engaged. The Ultimate Survival Guide for Grooms To Be.

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And so, knowing that Travis was about to enter the engagement zone himself, I went down to the basement and unearthed one of my few remaining copies, to send.

Naturally, I first had to give it one more read.

Was it still funny? Please. I spit my coffee out several times from the sheer hilarity of my own decades-old wit.

Was it still useful? Pretty much. Even 25 years later, weddings still involve tuxedos, in-laws, cake and strippers (hopefully not all at the same time).

congrats book
But you know what really stood out the most? The outdated cultural references that I made within:

People like Lee Iacocca, Evander Holyfield and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

TV Shows like Star Trek and Miami Vice.

Songs like Smoke on the Water and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

And, of course, the conspicuous absence of online anything when discussing the various logistical tools and tactics of a successful engagement.

Without question, that book feels ancient today.

And yet, the very things that make it feel so outdated are precisely what made it feel so relevant in 1992 … a fact that relates directly to your own writing.

Here’s what I mean…

Consider Evander Holyfield, for example. Today, I doubt that many people under 30 have even heard of him. But in the early nineties, he was heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Everybody knew of him, whether or not you followed boxing.

And so by mentioning him, along with all the other now dated specifics, the book came to life. It wasn’t just information, it felt timely and relevant.

Try this in your own writing to achieve the same effect:

  • Mention well-known people. Compare your swimming skills to those of Michael Phelps. Describe something big as “Shaq-like.” Make a joke about Larry King.
  • Mention current events. For example, you’ve got two months left to bring the U.S. presidential race into the conversation. After November 8th, the opportunity will be gone (along with, possibly, civilization itself, but that’s the subject of another newsletter).

Here’s the bottom line. Business writing stopped being about information 10 years ago.

Today, with everything you’d ever want to know just a Google search away, lead generation is dependent upon making an authentic connection … with newsletter readers, web site visitors, e-book downloaders or social media followers.

Real-time specifics are a key to cutting through the blah blah and being remembered.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever jumped out of a cake, wedding-related or otherwise? (Send photos for extra credit.)
  1. Don’t you wish your name was as cool as Evander Holyfield’s?
  1. How do you keep your writing fresh and relevant?

Share your comments below!

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38 thoughts on “Is Your Writing Evergreen? I hope not.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Jim!
      Yes, that was one insane song. And while I did reference it in my book, I think even then I may have been thinking about hits from my Bar Mitzvah event as opposed to my wedding. It’s all a blur!

    2. Joanne Meehl

      Right, Jim!
      While with friends soon after that song was popular, and probably with a blue haze in the room, we were all playing charades (is that dated or do people still play charades?!). We were inventing topics as we went along, and our team was particularly stymied by our friends’ team “song title” clues.
      We struggled with it and struggled with it, to the joy of their hyper-competitive team leader, until our time ran out and he revealed, “The name of the song is ‘In a gadda da vida!’ Bwahahhahhhahaha!”
      We screamed, Are you serious? That’s not even ENGLISH!”
      We hated him for it then, and I have to admit, still do…

  1. Diana Eastty

    First of all, Congratulations to your Nephew!
    1. I would never, ever, admit to jumping out of a cake.
    2. I met Zbigniew Brzezinski once. And I remember when it was, so yes I am old.
    3. I love the idea of using current events in newsletters. Thanks for the reminder to do that to help breathe some life into the topic.

    p.s. Happy birthday (tomorrow!) – see, this comment is already dated!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. Can’t say that I blame you.
      2. Wasn’t there an SNL joke about “Zbigniew with Za Big News” or something like that?
      3. Thanks for the birthday wishes!

  2. Barbara Johnson

    Love this post Michael. And discussion question #2 is for me.

    I became aware (envious to be precise) of names when I first wanted to start a writing business. At the time, your name would be the best way to go. Then when I joined AOL in 1995, many manipulations of my name were already taken!

    My name? Are you kidding me? Barbara Johnson. You may not realize this, but every other woman in America is a BJ. No matter where I go: doctor, stores, anywhere, I have to give my date of birth as they have a long list of BJs.

    I don’t live in Chicago, or New York City. I live in a small town in Southern Indiana.

    Any suggestions for me?

    Barbara Johnson

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Barbara!
      Can’t say I have a good solution. My name, while definitely less common, still results in at least one email a year from another Michael Katz wanting to know if I’d be willing to sell I’ve occassionally considered having a michael katz convention at a hotel somewhere, just to drive the front desk people crazy.

      On the flip side, I’m sure there are many people out there who are tired of always having to repeat and/or spell their less common first and last names!

  3. Susan

    A bit of trivia; did you know that In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was actually supposed to be titled “In The Garden Of Eden” – the band member was drunk when he provided it via phone to their record producer. (I wasn’t there so this tidbit could be urban legend…).
    I would have spit coffee over your prediction regarding civilization’s end, except that I don’t drink it.
    Have a lovely weekend! Susan 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Ha! I did not know that. Now, if someone could tell me what the words to Louie Louie are, I’d appreciate that as well.

  4. Edgar Valdmanis

    Here you go delivered to you by Google (and me…)
    Louie Louie, oh no
    Me gotta go
    Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
    Louie Louie, oh baby
    Me gotta go
    Fine little girl waits for me
    Catch a ship across the sea
    Sail that ship about, all alone
    Never know if I make it home
    Louie Louie, oh oh no
    Me gotta go, oh no
    Louie Louie, oh baby
    I said we gotta go
    Three nights and days I sail the sea
    Think of girl, constantly
    On that ship, I dream she’s there
    I smell the rose in her hair.
    Louie Louie, oh no
    Me gotta go
    Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
    Louie Louie, oh baby
    Me gotta go
    Okay, let’s give it to ’em, right now!
    See Jamaica,…

    p.s. never jumped out of a cake, nor had strippers at my wedding. Otherwise great newsletter, as always

  5. Ken Pierce

    Michael, Thank you for this post. I’ve been following you for quite a while. I read the post along with listen to the audio. It makes it much more fun especially while 4 American Swimmers are in deep doo-doo after an event in Rio. (Relevant info). I write blog posts and shoot many videos for our golf training products and try to make them timely like, “I just saw a video by so and so and thought of a great way to expand on blah blah”. I have always wondered if that was a bad idea…because I would be dating the piece. Thank you for the validation. I look forward to your next post/audio.
    All the best.
    Ken Pierce

  6. Dianna Huff

    1. Nope — haven’t done that one. Bucket list item?

    2. My name is cool — I have two sets of double consonants!

    3. I pay attention to my son. One day about six years ago, he was taking photo after photo of himself while I was driving him somewhere. I said, “What are you doing?” That’s when I learned about this new sexting platform called Snapchat . . .

    This is the first time I’ve been able to use that anecdote in writing. Thank you! 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. never too late
      2. never noticed that
      3 agreed. i get all my up-to-date info from my offspring

  7. Leona

    “After November 8th, the opportunity will be gone (along with, possibly, civilization itself, but that’s the subject of another newsletter).” That is hilarious and as a Canadian I worry about the same!

    Great article! I had not considered that how we connect today can leave us looking a little dusty in the future. It seems that if we run content long enough we can make what feels old feel new but updating some references.

    Great post and many thanks!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I think that’s correct about easy updates with new references.

      On a related note, I wrote a newsletter for a national company for several years. We did 7 or 8 variations each month, slightly tweaking the content to make it sound more local. All it took was mentioned Red Sox in Boston and Cubs in Chicago, for example, to give it a local feel.

  8. Terry Matlen

    Love this and your James Taylor/Jackson Brown post.
    Guess what? I met Paul McCartney on stage this past Monday in Grand Rapids, MI. The story has gone viral (well, for the last few days, anyway).

    And I’m stuck with trying to figure out how to write about this incredible experience so that it makes sense to my readers/followers.

    Maybe it’s because I’m still in shock. Not only did I meet Paul, I got to touch his tush. Twice. And his famous Hofner bass.

    How did this happen? He liked the sign I was waving to him: “Can I Touch Your Bass”? (and I crossed out the B in BASS).

    There’s a great story here. I’m just trying to figure it out. Here’s the 1 minute video if anyone is interested.

      1. Terry Matlen

        Ok, I figured it out, thanks to this excellent article of yours. Since my audience is mainly adults with ADHD, I’m going to write my blog post/essay on how my own ADHD helped in meeting Paul McCartney on stage.

        Paul (and of course, The Beatles) are timeless. So it will be an Evergreen piece (right?), plus I’m writing about a current event- the concert I attended on Monday.

        It hits all your points: a current event, a well known person, and a personal experience. Viola! I’ll let you know if I get people commenting on this piece, which is another challenge for me: how to engage readers so that they’ll post comments!

        You’re the best, Michael!

        1. Michael Katz Post author

          Yep, that works perfectly. The formula of “random story” leading to business lesson works really well!

  9. Cindy

    Discussion Questions:

    Have you ever jumped out of a cake, wedding-related or otherwise? (Send photos for extra credit.)
    Don’t you wish your name was as cool as Evander Holyfield’s?
    How do you keep your writing fresh and relevant?

    Hmmm, I’ve never jumped out of a cake–I always jump in (darn sweet tooth!).

    Interesting, I’m currently thinking about changing my name to a “balanced name”. Did you read my mind? Quite the quwinky-dink that your discussion question asked about names.

    As far as writing, I’m just getting started and love the idea of making a true connection with your readers. I can see how being real and sharing pieces of who you are with your readers can help with that.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Speaking of which, Cindy, are those cakes that people jump out of edible, or are they just plastic or something (I’ve never actually witnessed this)?

      1. Cindy

        Good question. I’ve never been to a bachelor party. I bet it’s a plastic container with icing and decorations but nothing to eat.

  10. Doug Johnson

    1.) No, the best I can do are pictures of my cat jumping ON a cake (Any extra credit for that?)
    2.) Yes, but my parents weren’t as creative. My name was so common growing up in Minnesota that in my class at the University of Minnesota there were 17 other students and 3 professors with the same name as me.
    3.) I read Michael Katz’s newsletter!

  11. Barbara

    Great post Michael! Interesting for me to read since I’ve only heard about the importance of writing “evergreen”. I appreciated hearing “the other side” to this debate. Thanks for writing!

    I see there was another Barbara that responded. I was a BJ in grad school and that I was the coolest person ever to think of that name LoL. Seemed so much edgier than Barbara Jean, but looks like I had a lot of company!!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Evergreen is good for certain things. Information products, certainly. But the loss of immediacy that comes with it definitely take away from the writing juiciness!

  12. Allen

    I didn’t know that Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly songs were dated. Doesn’t everyone still listen to these (especially the 17 minute version)?


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