These little ‘tip’ things seem to be all the rage. So here is how I’ve made a living for the last decade or so.
1) Research. I don’t enjoy writing. It’s painful. But I do like ‘having written something’, so spend 80% of your time researching and thinking. Get the story straight in your head and your copy will almost write itself.
2) Music. Most creatives have music on. When I’m writing it has to be a song I know ‘inside out’ otherwise I get distracted. Put it on repeat if necessary. I’m currently listening to Will Young. Each to their own.
3) Don’t lose any sleep over ‘SEO’. If content is well written, contextual, socially enabled, linked and relevant you will win. If you try to write 7% keyword density, you are about 2 years behind Google anyway. They are far cleverer than any new-fangled SEO kak-wizard.
4) Start strong, end stronger. Now, far be it from me to say that you can take dry copy and simply top-and-tail it, but you’d be amazed at the effect a strong opening sentence can have. Camus started L’Etranger with ‘Today my mother died’. Beat that.
5) Short copy is good. So is long copy. People read books, and they’re quite long. The human race does still have an attention span. And the same goes for sentences. Sometimes a long sentence can be perfectly justified assuming that it is easy to read, well punctuated, well typeset and lastly (remember, this is a long sentence, so I have to stretch it out) interesting. Short ones are good too.
6) Read it out loud. Not quietly. Not to yourself. This is a good way of spotting typos (I make loads of those, there are some in here if you look hard enough) and it is the only way of making sure your writing flows. If you stumble reading it out loud, a new reader will stumble too.
7) You are a copywriter, not a novelist. You are not writing for you, you are writing for your client – so pay attention to tone of voice. I find personifying brands helps. I recently gave a bank the ‘Obama’ tone of voice. Short statements of fact. Not saying too much. But saying. Just. Enough. (See what I mean?). Get the personality of your brand right and you can write effortlessly in their ‘voice’.
8) Drink tea. This has no basis in science, but I swear it helps. Earl Grey works best. Clears your head.
9) If you are stuck after a paragraph or so, delete the whole lot. All of it. Do not waste your time polishing your own turds. Clients will give you plenty of their own that need a quick shine. Select all. Delete. If any of it was worth remembering, it will come back to you when you start again. This is a tough discipline, but it works every single time.
10) And, lastly, don’t be afraid to break grammatical rules. Communication is what language was invented for. Satisfying a few grammar addicts might get you kudos on special interest websites, but your copy needs to be read by your target audience. They start sentences with ‘and’. They make stuff up. They split infinitives, damn them. Don’t be afraid of Mr Gates’ wiggly lines. Think of them as rebellious bunting.