Sometimes when I’m up at 11:30 p.m. I click over to PBS to see who is on Charlie Rose. It’s a mistake to do that because I’m supposed to be in bed at that hour, or at least on the way. About a week ago Charlie’s guest was author Scott Turow talking about his new book Innocent, a sequel to Presumed Innocent, the book that launched a legal-thriller career on the bestseller list.
I enjoyed the interview, and the next thing I knew it was 12:30 p.m. My main takeaway from Turow was that writers never really arrive. The goal is to just keep writing. It’s all practice, as he put it. The lawyer-author said he is still practicing and trying to improve his craft with each new book he writes. And now he’s trying something new—he’s writing a play.
Turow had no idea or expectation that his work would break out the way it did 20-plus years ago. I believe it took him by surprise. He had written four or five unpublished novels that were sitting in a drawer. That was the amount of practice he had when Presumed Innocent circulated and drew the interest of a handful of publishers. The rest is history, as they say. That book gave him the fame and financial independence to continue writing, although he still practices law part-time because he enjoys it.
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Even if you’re a writer or copywriter, thinking visually can be just the thing to generate a fresh idea or creative concept. I know this may seem obvious, but for some writers (myself included) words have usually been the way to solve a communications challenge.
And that’s OK. As writers, words are our creative playground.
There’s a saying I’ve heard that goes something like, “He has to talk to know what he’s thinking.” A similar thing can be said about wordsmiths: “He has to write to know what he’s thinking.” That’s been me much of my career.
For example, when developing concepts for B2B advertising and marketing projects, I’ve often just scribbled raw headlines, taglines and such in stream-of-consciousness fashion. Sometimes for hours at a time. I can usually come up with something. Add a complementary visual or image to a smart headline or slogan and it becomes a snappy ad or perhaps a campaign.
But there’s another way. It’s the way graphic designers and art directors think. Visually.
As the years have gone by, I’ve improved in this area. I’m not great, just better. Sometime I’ll suspend the writing and just think visually. This week, for instance, I came up with the above image idea for a direct-mail piece about a fax-to-email service. The creative director liked it, and after the art director rendered it, I worked on a headline.
I’ve also at times suggested that those talented art people come up with the concepts or a visual direction, and then I’ll write the headlines and copy. This approach can work quite well.
I picked up a copy of Jeremy Schaap’s Cinderella Man recently, the bestselling book about boxer James J. Braddock and his amazing upset of Max Baer to win the heavyweight title during the Great Depression. Cinderella Man was also made into a motion picture, directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe.
In the acknowledgements section, Schaap recalls a conversation with a colleague, friend and mentor who advised the author on the subject matter and the process of writing a book.
“He called it a forced march,” Schaap wrote. “Like most everything Ralph told me in the fifteen years we knew each other, his description was on the mark ….”
I, like Schaap, can appreciate that description as I work on various aspects of my first book and other writing projects. As much as I enjoy being a writer, producing words can truly feel like a forced march, especially on a Monday.
I’m encouraged when I recognize that it’s a challenging process for others as well. Thanks, Jeremy Schaap.
Writing persuasive copy is a challenging task, even for a pro. There are a lot of tips to consider, but today I want to mention one simple idea that will make every piece of your copy and each of your marketing communications (or other communications) marginally if not significantly better:
Write to one person.
Even though the size of your audience might range from dozens to thousands, think of just one person in your mind’s eye, someone who fits the key characteristics of your audience.
I gave this advice to a non-pro not long ago. The young woman had the daunting task of writing an appeal letter to raise her own financial support for a new ministry. A recent college grad, she is an extremely bright person and talented writer, but the prospect of writing a letter asking for money shook her up.
Let me give you one bit of advice, I said, a small secret. Write to one person. Immediately, her face looked a little more relaxed, and she thanked me.
I was reminded of this strategy today when I saw a post at copyblogger, Five Ways to Bulletproof Your Copy.
The five ways? Depending on the circumstances, Sean Platt notes that he writes to his (1) mother, (2) father, (3) sister, (4) wife and (5) his friend Marco.
By doing so, he’s writing to just one person. The result is more personal, compelling copy that can influence and motivate the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people who will read it.