Writing is hard.

Much harder than I ever gave it credit for.

I’ve worked alongside advertising agency copywriters for years. A lot of them are gifted writers that I love and respect. But a part of me felt like I could create some magic of my own. I felt like I was capable of looking at a blank page and filling it with the perfect blend of effectiveness and wit.

Wow, was I wrong.

When we started Union Code, I was writing soulless product copy and dry blog posts. Every word my fingers managed to type stabbed another hole in my confidence. But, I kept at it. As a result, I kept improving. Each painful blog post and frustrating piece of copy made me a little bit better at expressing myself through words. I started reading more books, both fiction and nonfiction. I also outlined my goals and direction before I started writing.

It took a lot of trial and error, but I learned two important lessons that have helped me level up my writing.

1. Clearly defined goals lead to clear and effective copy

Everything that gets written has a goal. When we built our roadmap and started focusing on product development, I was writing with the goal of crossing tasks off a to do list. No real deep meaning, and one of the main reasons why my copy read like a boring task list.

Now, I try to identify the specific goal of each sentence, and write copy to support that need. This sounds so simple, but it was a big step forward.

2. Rich, emotional copy comes from a defined brand and personality

It seems really basic, but I didn’t start writing this way until recently. When I didn’t define the personality up front, the result was forced humor and lots of incoherent references. No one wants to read copy that’s trying to hard.

Once you have a personality, thinking about it as a real character has been helpful. If you want to have a hyper intelligent, sarcastic, and pessimistic style, think of Marvin from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. He epitomizes those traits and is easy to picture. Having some reference material made my writing instantly better. You can tell when you are missing the mark or when you are stretching.

Two seemingly obvious things have helped me become a much stronger writer. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself a borderline-illiterate hack. Happily, that is a step up from where I started just over a year ago!

Photo by Aaron Burden.

Originally published at blog.unioncode.com on February 4, 2016.