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You don’t see me, but you may read my words everywhere and I may have played my part in the last house you bought or sold, the new personal development blog you’re following or your latest crush for Scandinavian style decoration! Whether you’re a blogger, digital marketer or a business owner who wants to write about your brand, here are the techniques I use to write about completely unrelated topics for 12 to 14 hours a day, 6 days a week.
I’ve been writing for nearly two decades now, and over the years, I started thinking of myself as an interpreter when it comes to my profession. Not a regular language-to-language interpreter but rather, a rational-to-emotional communication one: my client has something to sell or to show but doesn't know how to say it to his or her customers. Enters the copywriter with her magical wand that translates the client’s needs into something desirable for the customers, something they relate to and that will trigger specific emotions.
But, how can a boring topic be turned into a killer article?
Guess what, even mashed potato can be sexy into a copywriter’s world. The magic happens when you trigger the readers’ emotions rather than their rational mind, who are, by the way, already over-polluted and over-stimulated by the massive amount of information they have access to in nowadays connected world.
We used to sell solutions. Nowadays, we sell experiences.
Coming back to the potatoes, look at the difference between these 2 ads for instant mashed potatoes:
- Mrs Potato – Ready in 5 minutes!
- Mrs Potato – It feels instantly like home.
Which one would you buy?
You may get to this kind of result in an automatic way once your brain has been trained enough to think the process through and implement it fast. The step-by-step process is always the same (for me) and then, the pace at which my brain decides to work on a specific topic depends on a lot of factors!
To start with…
Research work is the key: No one is asking you to be some self-made genius with the whole of universe’s information hidden inside your head. You can’t just “guess” things. Do A LOT of research about your topic. Like, really a lot and when you’re done, do some more research work! Verify your sources and compare articles, figures and statistics. This is, in my humble opinion, already 70% of the work.
5Ws+1H, the great problem solver: you probably learnt it when you were in primary school and started essay writing with your teacher. This is a winning formula that I always use before starting any text – yes, even 15 words social media posts. The 5Ws+1H stand for the questions Who, Where, When, Why, What and How. When you’ve answered to these questions, all the information that you need to convey is gathered in one place.
Bedtime stories are assets: Remember the time when your mum was reading you bedtime stories? These moments were my favourite ones, and I was looking forward to bedtime so that I would finally know what happened next to my favourite character in the story. This is exactly the feeling that you need to trigger with your reader: what’s coming next. This is the part of the job when you’ll have to set a voice, and turn your factual research work and information gathering into a vibrant story. While doing this, put yourself into the readers’ shoes: is your content interesting and substantial? Are you providing an important, relevant, practical, coherent information? Or are you putting nice and trendy words together to reach the requested number of words for the article? If the latter is the case, you’ve lost your reader after the first three lines.
Time for some cosplay: When you're writing about a brand, an object or a concept, you need to BE the brand, the object or the concept, you have to feel it in your guts. Ask yourself “If this brand was a character, who will it be? How would it be? How would it behave towards people, the environment, or children? Which kind of player on the business field would it be? What are its values and how does it look like? It may seem weird, but this technique really works and will set the tone for your text immediately.
The long road to inspiration: also known as P.R.O.C.R.A.S.T.I.N.A.T.I.O.N. I always see articles about how to stop procrastinating, how bad it is for your production process etc. Now, I will be straightforward on this topic: depending on your individual circumstances, procrastination can be your best friend, your worst enemy or both. I was working on a heavy project with a tight deadline with a colleague copywriter when she told me “We have a lot of work and since this morning, I’ve been gardening, and subscribed to an Italian course for which I already reached level 6; as if I had all the time in the world!” To which I replied, “ Well, I’m shopping around for cushions and my only focus now is on which type and colour I should get for my couch…” What happened next? We sat down, wrote everything we had to write and met the deadline. Sometimes, you brain “shuts down” and it just won’t function anymore. You are sitting in front of your laptop, trying to work and nothing happens while deep inside, a softer version of a panic attack is in the making. When this kind of situation happens, the only thing you can do is to procrastinate. Procrastination then becomes your friend because, anyway, you don’t want to do it now, you’re bored and you’re scared. Procrastination then becomes your best friend because you’ll go and plant your trees, learn Italian or shop around for things you don’t need and in the meantime, at the back of your brain something is happening: while the stress, the boredom and the fear is slowly melting away (because you disconnected); it’s being replaced by the creativity; and you're actually thinking about your writing job, but from a distance.
Sit in a silent place, close all the unnecessary tabs on your browser, get off Facebook, give yourself a deadline; and write for god’s sake!
After all this turmoil comes the time to polish your text.
Wake up the journalist within: whatever the type of articles you’re writing, you should never, ever underestimate the power of headings. Headings include titles, subtitles, captions and catchphrases. These are the most important part of your copy as they set the tone of the paper and are used to draw your readers in.
A note about writing for social media: The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal famously wrote: I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one. It’s clear that the idea is that writing shorter doesn’t necessarily mean that it will take less time. On the contrary, writing shorter is harder. Your secret weapon? Rich vocabulary to write something more condensed and polished.
And finally: Read it out loud before sending it as a final version. If something’s weird, you will hear it.
Being a copywriter is a great profession. It requires imagination, fantasy and the ability to juggle seamlessly between worlds to write about tax in the morning, protection of animals in Alaska in the afternoon and social media posts in between selling the latest laundry soap, the most famous travel destination for holidays, and the event that one shouldn’t miss under any circumstances!
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