“I’m still learning” Michelangelo (aged 87)
I’m passionate about learning and believe there’s always room to grow, no matter your level of expertise or length of experience.
Continuous professional development is important in the fast-moving world of communications and last month, I attended one of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s copywriting courses. Although it covered some old ground for me, it was still useful (partly because it covered the dark art of headline writing, which I am always grateful for tips on – this may be the subject of my next blog).
There were also a few new writers there, which gave the class a refreshing perspective. Things we take for granted as more seasoned copywriters seemed like alien concepts to them and it encouraged healthy debate about what best practice looks like.
It was a sound reminder that easy reading often only comes from hard writing and that, while we should always keep pushing boundaries to engage our readers, we can’t forget the basics:
We’re writing for the reader
It is oh-so-easy to forget this. We’re the ones writing (and possibly researching) the article/blog/news release. Surely being able to choose what’s in and what’s out is the perk of the job, right?
There’s no point wasting your time writing something no-one will read or understand. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about what they want to hear.
Stick to the point
Before you start writing, be clear on what your core message is. Take time to decide what the one thing you need people to take away from your writing is. Don’t worry if this takes some time, it’s important. Knowing this will help you stay on track if you lose your way while writing.
Choose your style…
and stick to it. We should strive to be conversational where appropriate, but some writing is more formal than others and that mostly depends on your stakeholders and your brand.
Be clear about this from the outset and keep that style throughout the document.
Learn from Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway famously said ‘the first draft is shit’.
He was right.
Even seasoned professionals don’t write perfectly the first time. Writing’s a process, so don’t let yourself be overwhelmed if you’re not sure exactly how your piece is going to look.
You have a blank page and roughly a million words (the estimated number of words in the English language – don’t worry, the average person only knows 20,000 to 35,000). Play around with it. You don’t have to know what the finished piece will look like when you start. Just start putting words on paper.
Edit, edit, edit
When you have everything you want to say on paper, start moving it around, delete bits…add them back in, delete them again. This is perfectly normal. Once you’re happy with it, save and close your computer.
Then come back the next day, re-read it and make any final edits. I can almost guarantee this will result in a perfectly polished piece of writing.
I love writing. Being able to communicate a concept or story to someone I may never meet is incredibly exciting. It’s a challenge, it allows you to be creative and it allows you to connect with people. So, just take a deep breath and enjoy…