Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So You Want to be a Copywriter?, Part 1

Welcome to the club. Seems like almost anyone who can hold a pencil or tap on a keyboard fancies him or herself a writer. Of course, there’s a huge difference between dabbling in writing and living by the written word. I’ve been a professional writer since the age of 21, and I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with those who aspire to the writer’s life.

First, you should know that the secret to good writing is dogged persistence. Good writing does not mysteriously well up from some cavern of creativity deep within the soul. Nor does it only happen when the muse strikes. In fact, waiting for inspiration paves the way for starvation. Simply put, good writing comes from facts and the ideas that spring from them. Facts provide the who, what, why, when, where, and how that fuel the imagination. Once the creative candle is lit, old images and familiar feelings are seen in a new light. When that happens, all things are possible, because they’re just a flight of fancy away.

That’s true even if you’re a commercial writer, as I am. I write about Baby Boomers, so my ideas and vocabulary tend to focus on Positive Aging and Individualism. To sell Boomers with the written word, you must envelop them in facts about your product or service, but you can’t bore them into buying. The facts you present and the way you present them must be captivating, involving, interesting, engaging and important. They have to turn the Boomers’ imagination loose in a way that eventually helps them convince themselves that they need whatever you’re selling.

The hallmark of all good writing is the use of concrete language. The kind of language that gets Boomers really close to your product or service. It’s the kind of language that let’s the Boomer touch it, taste it, experience it on every possible level, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It lets the Boomer dream about your product or service, fantasize about it, fall in love with it.

Finding the most important facts about your product or service isn’t always as simple as it may seem. You have to dig, not just deeply but widely. You have to flood your mind—every level of it—with all the facts you can discover. Then suddenly “Pop!”, something creative will happen. You’ll discover a new relationship that no one else ever saw. Or you’ll transform a banal feature into an important and exciting new benefit. With the right touch, a good writer can light up the sky with a meteor shower of new ideas derived from the same old dry facts that everybody else takes for granted.

What you do with your newfound insights will demonstrate if you’re a really good creative writer or not. To see how you measure up, fill a blank page with all the facts you can dig out of your product or service. Build a big list without stopping to critique along the way, then sleep on it. If you’re a real writer, you’ll hit the ground running the next morning with lots of new permutations and combinations of the stuff you wrote the day before. New ideas and themes will flow through your fingertips and onto the page. If you find you get stuck along the way, don’t give up. Real pros know that Writer’s Block is more an excuse than a reality. Keep writing, and you’ll overcome every obstacle. At least that’s been my experience over the past forty years.

In my next blog, I’ll talk a little bit about what it takes to be an effective Direct Response copywriter.


Quinn said...

Great post. As a copywriter myself, I often lose sight of the fact that being a good copywriter takes persistence and's not something we're born with.

Julie Arnsdorf said...

Another suggestion which is important in becoming an effective copywriter is READ, READ, READ. I'm not talking about books on how to write, but all types of literature. My favorite journalism prof had us reading everything back when I was in school. It expands a copywriter's writing range, not to mention increasing one's vocabulary.

And, Vince is right. . . you have to write, write, write in order to master the craft.

Once last comment. Don't become discouraged when a client edits your well-written prose. It comes with the territory.