We’ve been writing copy for years, but that doesn’t make us immune to writer’s block. Nor are we above using a few copywriting hacks to kickstart our work.
So here are the top hacks from our copywriting team. With more and more of our community working from home, we hope they come in handy…
Weird advice to give an aspiring writer—but it’s harder than it sounds. As Voltaire once said, ‘Sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to write a short one.’
But in a world filled with online distractions, being concise keeps your reader’s attention. Here are three techniques for keeping it short:
Never use five words when one word will do.
‘There’s a variety of ways’ = bad. ‘Many ways’ = better.
‘Due to the fact that’ = bad. ‘Because’ = better.
‘You are now able to select the product you desire’ = dreadful.
‘Now you can choose what you like’ = much, much better.
Don’t use a long word when a short word will do.
‘Use’ is better than ‘utilise’. ‘But’ is better than ‘however’. (And by the way, whoever told you not to start a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’ never wrote any persuasive copy.)
You’ll fail to do all of the above the first time you write it all down, but that’s what editing is for. Which brings us to:
Cut as much as you can until it’s as short and sweet as possible.
You’ll find after most paragraphs that you’ve repeated yourself at least once. Remove those repetitions and you can shave up to 50% off the word count, every time.
Keep it conversational
We’re taught at school to write formal letters with phrases such as, “I am writing with regards to…” or, “…at your earliest convenience.” Who speaks like that?
Even if your company deals with serious products, your language doesn’t have to be stuffy. While there may be a place for formality in certain situations, your customers may feel alienated if your language is aloof.
How about asking questions to make it feel like a conversation? Adopt a lighthearted-tone. Heck, you could even throw in an exclamation mark! (Go easy on those, though—you don’t want to appear manic.)
With such everyday language that your reader can relate to, they’re more likely to engage with your product.
Picture your audience
A good trick we use for getting the tone right is this: we always imagine we’re telling someone we know about our product.
Think of someone you know who is most like your product’s target audience. Then just write to them, and tell them about this thing they’ll love. Even compose it as a text message, if you like. This simple trick can make your writing much more direct, relatable and honest.
When you’re stuck, research
Don’t let your lack of knowledge put you off. No copywriter has proven experience writing about vanilla-flavoured doughnuts—until they do it.
Research is a great place to start. Read up about the topic. Ask questions. See what they’re saying online. The more you find out about your product, the more you’ll have to say.
Soon, you’ll feel as confident writing about sudoku as you are about smoothies.
Distance is your friend
It’s always good to come back to your work a few hours later, or even the next day. Seeing it with fresh eyes helps you spot things you might have missed, and make improvements much more quickly than when you’re staring at the same screen you’ve been glued to for hours.
Distance is also useful early on when you’re still thinking about what to write. John Cleese talks about the importance of letting your subconscious mind think on your problem for a while—by identifying the problem, then going away and ignoring it for a while. When you come back to it, it can all make sense very quickly.
To get distance, you need to be organised and plan for the extra time. If you do all your copy at the last minute, you’ll miss out on both of these important phases.
Trust your instincts
Sometimes, in Copywritingland, you come up with the goods in minutes. And when you do, you may feel a twinge of guilt—like you should dedicate more time to that particular part of the assignment. Especially when you took ten times longer to write half as much yesterday.
But relax. This is one of the rewards of regular copywriting. While some things can take hours, sometimes ideas just flow quickly. And if you’re happy with the copy you’ve produced, then leave it.
It’s still good to come back and look at it again after a break, but remember: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Read it out loud
Everyone knows you need to proofread your work when it’s done. What many people forget, though, is that reading out loud is also a key part of stress-testing your work.
Yes, you look like a weirdo to people walking past, and it might annoy your lockdown colleagues. But reading out loud really does help you spot where the rhythm feels weird, and figure out what you really want to say.
You could even ask your colleagues to listen, for a moment. Nothing like a real-life audience to expose the flaws in your work.