My skills are constantly evolving as I mature and progress in my career, but there are certain things I wish I knew back when I was a Jr. Copywriter. Here are five of them.
1. Being clever is not always cute
Every writer gets that tingly feeling when they’ve coined a new metaphor or written a headline with amazing alliteration. But not every reader enjoys having to think twice before grasping a concept.
I once worked with someone who was obsessed with “clever copy”, as he called it.
If I would write a poster headline that stated, “Win a NEW car!” he would scoff and say, “Isn’t there a clever way you can say that?” I would revert with something like “Win a va-va-vroom prize!” and he’d eat it up.
When it came time to test the headlines to find out how many people would enter the competition, it turned out that people preferred to know exactly what the poster was all about by just reading the headline.
Straight-forward copy wins more times than not.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, but keep this in mind: just because you or your colleagues like a certain line of copy doesn’t mean it is conversion-friendly or that your audience will resonate with it. They’re not writers; they’re shoppers (or whatever the case may be).
2. Writing and editing are different skills
Don’t edit while you’re writing!
Trust me, you will miss little things because you’ll read past previously unspotted mistakes when you start to edit. This is because you’ve amended the same paragraph twenty times already.
Write the first draft from start to finish with no heavy editing. Then get up and make a cup of tea, go stroke your cat, open up social media; do anything else for five minutes before sitting down to edit your text.
The reason for the break is to get your mindset to shift from being a writer to being an editor.
Your focus needs to adjust because you will not be thinking about the content when editing, you’re going to be thinking about the quality of the content, your writing, and whether you’re getting the point across in the best manner.
3. Criticism is your friend
You need to develop a thick skin as a writer. Instead of being offended, you must remain open-minded.
That is not to say all criticism will be righteous. There will be times when you will need to defend your ideas. However, learning to turn a critique into capital that you can leverage to improve your writing is crucial, and quite powerful.
Some of my best work resulted from changes I made after a friend, colleague or parent gave me feedback – changes I would never have made on my own.
At the end of the day, you’re writing for other people, not just yourself. So, listen to what people have to say. But remember, you don’t always need to act on it.
4. There is no shame in using tools
In the beginning, I was determined to become a complete English savant in terms of spelling, grammar, vocabulary, style, form, everything.
I have since learned that although it is humanly possible to become an excellent linguist, it’s not a prerequisite to being considered a talented writer.
There are valuable online tools that have made me a far better writer, and which I continue to use daily.
I’ll write about all my favourite tools in a later post. Here are a few must-haves for anyone, writers or not: Grammarly or ProWritingAid, Power Thesaurus, and Hemingway Editor.
Use every tool at your disposal to improve your researching, writing, editing, marketing, or any other skills you need. It’s not a sign of weakness by any means.
5. Rather move a deadline than deliver crappy work
I am a real stickler for deadlines. But with tight deadlines come loose standards.
It is important that you are honest with yourself and your colleagues about the amount of time you need to complete a project to the best of your ability.
When you have the luxury of time, you have the luxury of change.
That means you have enough time to think, adapt your ideas, talk to others and brainstorm, experiment with a few rough drafts, edit as needed, and deliver something great.
But when you don’t have enough time, stress levels increase, brainstorming goes out the window and your first two or three ideas are the only ones that will see the light of day. Proper editing will take a back-burner and you will end up with something that’s just okay.
If possible, rather extend a deadline than settle for the result of a rushed job.