I’ve met lots of other creatives and writers since becoming a freelance copywriter 8 years ago; during that time, I have shared experiences with many of them and gathered some pearls of wisdom. Here are a few pieces of advice – along with some tips on how to apply them to your own writing.
Master the blank page. Whether it’s for the web, print, social media or a blog, writing doesn’t always come easily; people often laugh when I tell them that by the end of my working day, writing has left me feeling totally exhausted. Composing copy takes mental energy, commitment and dedication to meet the objectives of a brief. Couple this with the fact that everything I write is going to be judged by someone, often less qualified to do so than me. If that isn’t tough enough there is always my struggle with that first draft. The tallest of hurdles is the blank page; common advice I’ve heard from peers is to “just get on with it”. Staring at the expanse of white does you no good at all, so don’t procrastinate and simply get on and write your first draft, regardless of the media it will finally be published on. The first draft may well not hit the spot, but don’t worry about that; it’s the first draft and not the final item you will submit for your client’s (or the world’s) approval. Fill the page, even if it’s mainly full of drivel, there will more than likely be some valuable content in there to work with.
Avoid clichés whenever possible. The word cliché is, in fact, onomatopoeic; and was originally used to describe the sound made by early, hand-operated printing presses. I bet you didn’t know that – but the link between the context in which it is used today, and its’ origin isn’t so tenuous when you think about it. Avoiding the use of a cliché isn’t always so easy, but these bland, overused phrases fail to excite, motivate, or impress readers, (most importantly, they will fail to compel prospective customers). Because we hear them all the time, they are often the first phrases to come to mind when aiming to make a particular point, but the fact that they are often so generic, makes them ineffective. Use different language (no, I don’t mean French – if you’ll excuse the pun), to explain familiar concepts. Think about the voice and language of the target reader and what will excite them or convince them to read on; audiences need to feel that content is new and credible.
Try to make your writing sound a little like the spoken word. Remember the reader and what is important to him or her! Telling a great story is by far the best way to remain in your audience’s mind and to convey a strong sales message. If your writing sounds like writing, for the sake of writing – re-write it! Writing in the right tone, particularly when describing a value proposition, is not easy, so think about how it would be conveyed within a story. I often imagine that someone is in the office with me as I type, and I write as if I’m talking to them. Try this technique for yourself.
Keep it brief; short words, short sentences short paragraphs. It’s pretty easy to fill an entire paragraph with just one sentence; I do it quite often. Getting the words out this way is alright when producing your first draft as it may well be how the words flow when telling a story. Luckily when you’re writing, you have the opportunity to edit your work; split these long sentences up into smaller, more digestible chunks. Web readers are usually put off when faced with a tome, and are way more likely to take notice of short copy that they can scan. Unless you’re producing a technical white paper, it’s good practice to keep each piece you write, to less than two pages if you can.
Less is more – so don’t be afraid to edit. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I have been given (and have shared) over the past 8 or so years is that being as good an editor as you are a writer, is vital to the process of successful copy writing. An ex- colleague of mine once told me “Once your draft is down, remove as many words as possible without losing any of the messages you want to convey.” I often write my first draft and leave it for an hour (unless I’m working to a tight deadline). Then I usually print it out, take my trusty red ball-point in hand and begin reading. After a little while, my draft will look like a car crash, but soon afterwards it takes shape and my edited version begins to appear. Pretty quickly, (and usually more quickly than if I attempted to write a short piece from scratch), I have copy I’m happy with. Asking someone to review your work or reading it out to them (or even asking them to read it out to you), is a great help before your final revision gets sent to your client or gets published online.
Don’t stop writing; even when it’s a drag. Finally, (and possible the most important piece of advice), is
keep going; all writers suffer from the dreaded block and some of us will often lose interest in the subject we’re being paid to write about. If this happens to you, even when you’re running out of worthwhile ideas, you must keep on writing and see what comes, (it can always be edited afterwards, remember?). If you want to produce really compelling content you must practice and be have the discipline to hit the keyboard even you don’t really want to. Keep it up and you’ll soon find your creative juices flowing.
If you have any tips or advice for writing successfully, why not share them here?
Peter Stephen is a Surrey based freelance creative copywriter to hire, call 07917 36 01 01 or email firstname.lastname@example.org