Ask an Anchor: PART 2 - How do I keep my copywriting succinct without becoming generic?

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Hi Sarah, 

I have a product business, and I am struggling with a copywriting question: How do I keep the copy succinct without becoming generic? 

Writing isn’t my favorite thing to do, but I know it’s an essential part of my business, and I want it to help me, not hurt me. And when I run out of time to write, the end product seems boring.

Thanks,

Wondering about Writing


This week Sarah asked Devin Pope of Kindred Word Studio to answer from her expertise as a writer.

Hello Wondering,

The fact that you're questioning your writing means you're already doing so well. You're tackling the most crucial part — honoring your audience by working internally to get clear on what you want to say. Congratulations! Yes, writing for your business takes a lot of time and thought, and that can get heavy. But, there are ways to build momentum and set yourself up for a happier relationship with writing.

First drafts almost always include some scaffolding, which is the writing that gets you to the point but will be removed later. So, when I hear you say that you want to be succinct, but you end up feeling like the writing sounds generic, it makes me think that you're trying to make your first draft brief. Let go of that! Get all of your thoughts out (3 pages? 10 pages? Who cares!), then you can edit and refine. First drafts rarely need parameters except to get them done so you can move on to the fine-tuning stage.

Urgency v. Spaciousness — AKA: The writing time vortex

Some of us (myself included) like to imagine that procrastination makes writing better...and occasionally you do get streaks of inspiration when you're behind. But rushing to the finish line doesn't end up being a sustainable plan long-term. 

I agree with what Sarah mentioned last week, that dedicating weekly (or monthly) time to copywriting on your calendar is essential. This time is a container to catch all the pieces of writing: Research, note-taking, first draft, edits, second draft, proofreading, implementing, link checking — all before pressing publish or schedule. Let's all take a deep breath because that's just too much to do last minute. 

Another phenomenon is that you could spend hours and hours writing something and still not be happy with it. So blocking your week with endless hours of writing isn't something I advise. Writing is subjective, and there is no real "done" or "perfect." You can merely do your best, get the words out, and try again. 

Really what I'm trying to say is that a healthy balance between urgency and space makes for really good writing. 

Practical stuff!

What Sarah said about having a writing process is pure gold (go reread it, if you missed that part.) Building a process that supports your business goals and takes into account your reality is the #1 thing I practice and recommend. Without a process, the writing won't happen reliably. 

Pre-writing reminders:

  1. Establish the one thing you want people to remember from the piece of copy (write it at the top of the doc!)

  2. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, write to one real person who you know (a client, a friend, your past self)

  3. Create an "extra" doc and use it to store any writing that strays too far from the outline

  4. If stuck: Ask friends (or social followers) for input on the topic

  5. Set a word limit if the piece is getting too big and you feel lost

  6. If you struggle with writing rules and grammar, are still learning English, or have difficulty reading, be patient with yourself. Lean on Grammarly, seek out a writer collaborator, and local writing groups or workshops

  7. Finally: Remember that writing a little bit each week is kinder to yourself than writing only in sporadic, anxiety-fueled bursts

Writing the first draft: 

  1. Block time on your calendar for writing (I know Sarah likes to get some cardio or a hike in before projects like this — it helps her focus if her body has gotten all the "wiggles" out)

  2. Write an outline in bullet points covering everything you want to say

  3. Word dump without caring too much about succinctness, flow or grammar

  4. Leave notes for yourself in the doc if you can't finish, or the words aren't what you envisioned

  5. Take a break (24 hours or more is fantastic) and work on something else

Editing:

  1. Fix grammar, add or delete things

  2. Read it out loud repeatedly to hear what needs to flow better

  3. Mix up your word choice (using the same words over and over can = boring)

  4. Look at sentence length and vary it (writing is a conversation, and sentences that are all the same length can sound monotonous)

  5. Break the rules a bit, if it's right for you (I use too many em dashes because I just — really — like them!)

  6. If you have time, take another break

Finalizing:

  1. Read the text out loud again: First as you, then as your client/customer

  2. Send the copy to a collaborator or friend to give it a quick read (preferably someone who knows your audience)

  3. As Sarah said last week, SHIP THAT SHIT

Embrace your writer self

You also mentioned that writing isn't your favorite -- that's fine! You don’t have to like or love it, but at the very least you can fine-tune your skills, so you're more comfortable. The secret weapon you possess is knowing your business, customers, and purpose best, so you can get to your voice faster than a stranger. 

Another myth is that writing is nebulous and based on the whims of inspiration. So not true! This especially sets up "non-writers" and business owners for failure. It's not a practical strategy, and you have a lot of other things to do besides write. Writing is hard enough. Doing it entirely alone, in a rushed state, or expecting the process to feel ~creative~ increases the difficulty.

Also, what does 'generic' mean? 

Do you truly feel like what you wrote is dull? I bet it isn't! Some of the most brilliant ad campaigns and web copy are frustratingly simple. Through the process above, you'll distill what you are genuinely trying to say to your customer into clear, inviting, and readable words. My hunch is that what you do is not at all boring.

Sending all the encouragement,

Devin

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