Jan 122012
 

The other day, one of my Twitter pals — Kevin Monroe from X Factor Consulting – asked me what copywriting tips I like to share with fellow consultants. It wasn’t something I’d actually considered much before he asked, since a) I work in my kitchen and b) I’m usually on the receiving end of writing advice.

But his question did touch on something that I have been thinking about off and on over the last couple of years. During the course of my 14-year copywriting career, I’ve dabbled in other kinds of writing, including publishing several feature articles and neighborhood profiles in The Oregonian and having a short story appear in VoiceCatcher.

During times when multiple deadlines were looming, I wondered if that moonlighting was hurting my main money-making endeavor, and I have downplayed my extracurricular writing in my professional life.  But I now think all that second-guessing was a mistake.

In fact, I think one of the reasons I have been so successful in my copywriting is because I have a richer web of writing experience to pull from.

Fight the formula

I have written hundreds of direct mail letters, and there is definitely a formula for the successful ones. But in following a formula you should never become formulaic. The minute you do, the letters you pen become stale, lacking the passion and verve that are absolutely necessary to convince people to give their money to your cause.

When I feel myself treading an all-too-familiar path in my copywriting, I know it’s time to fight the formula. So I take another look with my fiction-writer’s glasses on. Are there themes I can weave through this letter more effectively? Is there a character begging to leap off the page?

Then I put on my features-writer glasses. How can I make my descriptions more vivid? Are there sights, sounds, tastes and smells that would make the issues in this letter come alive for the reader? Perhaps I’m rambling and need to tighten everything up with a journalist’s editing eye.

Let’s face it, there is a LOT of writing advice out there, and good writing is good writing, whether you’re penning a direct mail letter, a slick advertisement, or the Great American Novel. Sure, there are degrees, but the rules are the same: use action verbs, aim for clarity, be as specific as you can, tickle all the senses…

But knowing the rules and using them well are two different things.

Tap into a different part of your brain!

Try writing poetry to hone your ability to use imagery to make a point. Write a short story to put yourself in a different person’s shoes and sharpen your storytelling. Become a blogger to learn how to encapsulate big ideas and personal feelings in 500 words. Try your hand at literary criticism or movie reviews to learn how to identify weak spots in your writing and in others’.

Above all, love writing, all writing. Play with language, revel in how words get put together, rejoice in how they can connect, inspire, educate, and move.

And don’t just write. Read! Starting with this article about the business benefits — it’s scientific, people! — of reading fiction.

  3 Responses to “Fighting the Formula”

  1. Richelle – really appreciate this article and am amazed at the power of one question. Nice to see how my question inspired you. Your answer inspired me and I took your advice and wrote a couple of different kinds of pieces this week (none published anywhere) just to stretch my brain.

    Glad we connected on Twitter – @kevin_monroe

  2. Your answer lifts the intellingcee of the debate.

  3. Thanks Kevin, I really appreciate your comment and the fact that you asked the question in the first place. Love that one question inspired both of us to try something new! I look forward to many more conversations to come!

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