How to write copy Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t hate.
I remember sitting next to my first creative writing professor, Gary Dop, and watching him draw one big “x” over four stanzas of my poem. He then looked at me and said, “Sometimes, you have to kill your babies.” (I know that sounds a bit morbid, don’t worry, he’s one of the greatest people I know.) That was my first introduction to respecting the reader.
But what does respecting the reader mean? It’s realizing as the writer that the piece is not for or about you. This is not your journal; readers don’t have all day for you to go off on an emotionally fueled rant. For most writers, though, we get attached. Seriously, emotionally, ridiculously attached to our words. And when you move from creative writing to copywriting, the necessity to respect the reader further escalates. So how do you wean yourself off your own writing? Here are a few tips I follow on a daily basis;
Every word should have a purpose. Each phrase should harbor a treat for the reader. Every sentence should reveal, alter or clarify. In addition, all of these aspects need to tie the piece back to the overall strategy of the campaign. The only way to accomplish this is to be a master of tone and voice. One word can change the entire connotation of an advertisement, and a good copywriter knows that grasping this concept is vital to successful advertising.
Let me give an example. Let’s say, “Encourage the reader.” What type of feelings does “encourage” evoke? I think warmth and support. With “encourage” I, as the consumer, am still in full control of the decision to be made. Now try, “Influence the reader.” What feelings do you associate with “influence?” I think of sway and manipulate. With “influence,” I, as the consumer, am not in full control of the decision to be made. See how that works? Two words with essentially the same definition but with opposite connotations for consumers.
Finally, when editing your draft ask yourself this series of questions:
What is being conveyed to the consumer?
Can I say this in less words without losing the integrity of the piece?
Am I being pretentious in my word choice?
Did I choose a voice that accurately connects with our target audience?
Then ruthlessly edit and rewrite your piece with as little emotional attachment as you can muster.
There’s a famous quote in the advertising world that says, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” The best way to hold this interest is to respect the reader and their time. Basically, just Ernest Hemingway the crap out of every word you write.