A few years ago, readers were loyal to their newspaper. One reason was scarcity — often a town had only one newspaper. The same held true for early email newsletters. But today’s readers have options, and people won’t read poor content. Copywriting is a must-have skill. So let’s start with . . .
Getting to the point
Some email newsletters wander around, expecting readers to tag along. If you do that, you may be losing everyone but your mom, (and she hangs in there just because she loves you.)
Sure, it takes a few minutes of writing to get your creative juices flowing; ideas rarely never gush from my fingertips onto the screen. And my first idea is usually a stinker.
Tip 1: Delete your opener
So after you’ve written a few paragraphs and feel like you’re really getting into your subject — stop. Read your first sentence and ask yourself whether it is essential.
As you read down the page, keep asking that question until you find the first thing the reader needs to know. Everything above it probably can be deleted — like pruning a rosebush to make it healthier.
Tip 2: What’s next?
OK, you’ve identified the first thing the reader needs to know. What’s the very next thing?
It’s not easy to identify the very next thing; you may write, fail and delete many times until you finally get that oh-so-satisfying feeling of nailing it.
Tip 3: Cooperate with your brain
Computers operate sequentially. Your creative brain, on the other hand, likes to wander around.
So if you have trouble finding that very next thing, try starting with your ending and tinker with that for awhile. Or maybe write some benefit bullet points; (we’ll cover those in a future post.) Perhaps you have a great call-to-action in mind.
Write in any order that feels comfortable. Then trust your writing skills to make those seemingly disconnected thoughts line up.
Tip 4: Incubate your ideas
When you get used to the idea that you don’t have to write sequentially, pressure lifts from your shoulders. That’s when you’ll discover an interesting phenomenon.
If you distract your brain by working on something else, something deep inside you keeps tinkering with the idea that got you stuck. Stephen King calls it the boys in the basement — those guys somewhere deep inside you who keep on working while you’re mowing the lawn, taking a shower, and even while you sleep. They’ll come up with something interesting and pop it into your conscious mind the next time you work on the piece.
I know . . . it sounds spooky, and it is. But if you relax and learn to trust the boys in the basement, they’ll help you out.
Tip 5: Edit
When the first draft is done, your work is just beginning. Now your goal is to get your ideas in the right order, choosing the best words possible. One great writer put it this way:
Write drunk; edit sober. —attributed to Ernest Hemingway
Figuratively, of course Write freely, just to get ideas on paper. Then switch into editing mode, with ruthless attention to detail. You’ll know when you’re done when you find yourself deleting a comma then adding it back in the same place.
The copywriter’s responsibility
Your job is to think for the reader, or more accurately, to think on behalf of the reader — to put words, sentences and paragraphs in an order that is easy to absorb. Your copywriting skills enable you to literally enter the reader’s mind and change it. What a responsibility!
Writing isn’t a process for getting words onto the screen; it’s as a highly disciplined form of thinking. And if your thoughts aren’t clear enough to organize into sentences, paragraphs, and an entire newsletter, you’ve got a little more work to do.
So get to work — right now. Shut the door. Close your browser. Turn off your email. Ignore the phone.
And just write for 30 minutes.
I guarantee that at least one idea will come to you. And that idea will lead to another and another. With practice, your ideas — and your copywriting — will get better and better.
In a future installment of this series, we’ll talk about time-tested copywriting formulas that help you face the blank page fearlessly.
Stuck? Use the comment section to ask a question. We’ll be glad to help.