The Lazy Woman’s Guide to Copywriting

brand building with good copywritingI’m not a writer. I’m just pretending to be one here at the Big Brand System, and around the web wherever I manage to convince people to publish my posts. (You can see the sidebar for links to some of the places I’ve guest posted.)

As a matter of fact, I didn’t do any copywriting at all until 2010 when I started this blog. Since then, I’ve written thousands and thousands of words. It has become easier over time, as anything does with practice.

Lately people have started asking me how I manage to churn out so much writing. They want to know my system, and hear my secrets.

Well, a tall cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a good place to start. ;-)

I have developed a few tricks and habits I can share. They form my Lazy Woman’s Guide to Copywriting.

It’s not really a system, just a series of habits that seem to work for me.

Forget About Writer’s Block

I believe “writer’s block” is just a fancy way to procrastinate. (There, I’ve said it.)

You may not be especially inspired one day. You may not know what to write about. You may not feel like writing.

But you can certainly sit down and start typing. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your keyboard at first. It’s the physical act of writing that counts, because getting started is the difficult part.

Sometimes getting a few paragraphs of pure drivel out of the way clears a path for inspiration to get through. So just start typing.

Open with a Bang

Whether you’re writing an article, a post or a press release, you’ll need a headline.

I guarantee they’ll be the most important words you’ll write. Why?

Because social media is how things are shared nowadays. Facebook, Twitter — and now Google+ — allow people to spread your writing far and wide. And email gives you the ability to send out your writing to the masses.

Your headline will become a link on Facebook, a 140-character tweet, or an email subject line. Those few words represent everything about your piece.

People will decide whether to click and read your writing based solely on your headline. (Kind of scary, huh?)

Jon Morrow has confessed to spending up to four hours writing his headlines. Could that be the secret to his traffic numbers?

For great headline-writing training, the best place to look is Copyblogger’s Magnetic Headline series. It’s loaded with information about how to structure headlines that create interest.

I typically write a long list of potential headlines, mixing and matching pieces of one with parts of another until I hit on one that sounds intriguing enough to click.

Starting out with a strong headline motivates me to continue. Once I have a good one written, I can’t wait to see how the article that goes with it turns out.

Subheads Pull Your Reader Through Your Piece

After the headline, the most important part of any article is the subheads. That’s the next thing I tackle, and here’s why.

Subheads serve as signposts that guide a reader through your writing. If you’ve managed to intrigue them with your headline, they’ll glance at the rest of your piece to decide whether or not to devote time to reading it.

Subheads that arouse curiosity will make them want to read further.

And here’s a little secret: writing out your subheads forces you to think through the structure of your piece. It helps you decide the beginning, middle and ending. It’s a little like outlining, that dreaded skill we all had to learn in elementary school.

The difference is that no one is looking over your shoulder to check your form and grammar. So write those fascinating subheads and plot your path ahead.

The Art of the Introduction

The next area to tackle is your introduction. The very first sentence of your piece has one job: to convince the reader to continue reading.

If they don’t like your introduction, they’ll move on before you’ve had a chance to state your case.

Spend some time writing your first sentence — and then first paragraph — until you’re sure it will pique your reader’s interest. Tell a story. Make a controversial statement you’ll back up with your writing. Say something that stops people in their tracks, and makes them think, “I’ve got to read this!”

Fill ‘er Up

If you’ve followed these steps, you have a strong headline, compelling subheads, and a good introduction. Now you have to fill in what’s missing within this structure.

Flesh out the major points you want to convey under the subheads you’ve written. Develop your information, provide examples and tell stories whenever possible.

I like to use short paragraphs, especially when writing for the web. Have you noticed?

It makes my posts easier to skim, and provides multiple points of entry for the reader.

Don’t Edit. Yet.

One way to stop progress is to start editing your writing before you’ve finished it.

I find it works best if I just let the words flow without going back to nitpick them. Editing is more efficient once you’ve seen how the parts fit into the whole.

So don’t edit yet: just write until you’re finished.

Write Here, There and Everywhere

There’s no rule that says you have to write from start to finish in order. If you’re typing away and get inspiration for a great way to end your piece, drop what you’re doing and write the ending.

If you think of the perfect words to explain the information under your third subhead but you haven’t written the first one, just go ahead and write them.

My rule is, if inspiration strikes, go with it! You can clean up everything in the editing stage.

Don’t Stop Until the End

The ending of your piece is another important touch point for your reader. Try these techniques for a strong ending:

  • Refer back to something you mentioned in the introduction.
  • Writing for a blog? Pose a question and ask for comments.
  • Writing sales copy? Add a call to action.
  • Reiterate the main points to help your reader retain what you’ve communicated.

A Recipe for Good Editing: Let it Sit Overnight

Some of you may have an editor who reviews your writing, but I’m betting most of you don’t.

We all have a built-in editor, however. To activate that editor, step away from your piece and let it sit overnight.

When you’ve gotten away from it for a while, you’ll go back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll see all sorts of mistakes that weren’t apparent in the heat of writing.

Fake it Until You Make It

That’s how I write, and it works for me. Even though I’m not a writer, I’ve used these techniques to do all sorts of copywriting, including blog posts, eBooks, a 20-week course, sales pages, and guest posts that have been very popular. My “pretend” writing career is off to a good start due to the habits I’ve adopted.

How about you? What tricks do you use to make writing easier? I’d love to hear about them: share your top-secret techniques in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pedrosimoes7 (Thanks for the perfect photo!)

Comments

  1. says

    Awesome tips, Pam! Are you sure you’re not a writer?

    One strategy I use when I have so-called writer’s block is mindmapping. It forces my mind to “release” any related ideas I may have, makes it super easy to organize them into a coherent whole, and then — if I’m using a mindmapping software — I can export everything into a text document. Voila! An instant outline. Makes writing the rest of the piece so much easier.

    Hope that helps!

    • says

      I’m so glad you mentioned this, Alexis. Mindmapping is a technique I use all the time: I used it to write this post, as a matter of fact!

      I do just what you do: dump out my ideas, rearrange them and then export to a text file so I have it in outline form.

      What software do you use? I use MindNode. They have a Pro version, but I’ve been using the free version and it works great.

    • says

      Another vote for mindmapping! I use the Free Mind app, which is free and does the job. But I also recommend the analog process — for me, something about the physical act of drawing those circles and rectangles and lines on paper triggers deeper thinking.

        • says

          Totally agree about using pen and paper! Something about the physical act of writing stimulates our brains in ways typing on a keyboard just doesn’t do.

          I’ve made mindmaps with sticky notes, too, Pamela. It was for a very complicated project with a client. I filled up one wall in my basement. The other cool thing with sticky notes is, you can use different colors. I keep some walls in my home “blank” for this purpose ;-D

  2. says

    Great stuff, Pamela! Lots of content marketers struggle with the actual CONTENT part of the equation, I know. For those of us for whom writing comes easily (well – ahem – most of the time), it’s the other stuff that generally confounds us. But even so, we struggle with different aspects of the process. I wrote about this recently on my blog — I really think the solution is systems. Even a simple system can reduce stress and, interestingly, increase creativity over time. It’s as if our creative minds need a little framework, some kind of structure on which to grow, like wild rose vines.

    • says

      As soon as I developed this approach — which happened gradually over time — writing got much easier.

      I love systems, too … just have to keep them pretty flexible or I start to feel too boxed in.

  3. says

    This was a really helpful post. I’ve been doing it a bit backwards, writing content, then coming up with Title (and not even using sub-headings). I’ll give it a try starting today.

    One technique I use to sort out the flow, is to write out the “idea” of a paragraph on the front of a 5×7 index card, and then supporting content ideas on the backside. For a lazy writer like me, this helps me stay on track.

  4. says

    Pamela,
    Just tweeted this, saying, “Could have written this myself.”
    You’re preaching to the choir and it’s music to my ears.
    Great post that captures some of the best writing tips I share with my non-writer friends who come to me looking for “the magic.” ;)

    So glad to have opened your email today.
    :)

    • says

      I love it when the comments go off on new tangents. With so many smart people hanging out here, there’s bound to be good stuff in the comments!

  5. says

    Hi Pamela, You say you’re not a writer–but you write. Therefore, you are a writer ;)

    Joking aside, all those are good tips, especially the one about so-called “writer’s block.” I do think some people really freeze up, though, but getting going with the writing and other tricks can help.

    For me, I tend to write stuff in my head first, sometimes all the way through. The way I do that goes back to some composition classes and then teaching freshman comp: the good ol’ 3 part essay: what’s my topic? What’s my main point (thesis statement)? What are the main points (3 or 20 or whatever) to support it? Then when I sit down to write, it all sort of pours out. And I often edit as I go along, especially when it’s in my head crisp and clear, as I formulate my thoughts and see they aren’t coming out right. But that final edit or proofreading–absolutely, a day away is great. It’s especially good on something longer or something I didn’t develop a lot in my head or when I’ve gone on way longer than I want to. It’s easier to cut stuff out that’s not that important when my eyes and mind are fresh.

    Also agree on referring back to the intro in the outro–and it’s often good to at least nod at it throughout. Like the saying in writing classes goes: if you introduce a gun it had better go off :)

    • says

      Love the gun analogy! There’s a nice sense of putting a bow on the piece of writing when you end it with a nod back to the beginning. Sort of like “here’s where you came from, and look where you are!”

  6. says

    Hi Pamela! :)

    I love what you said about writer’s block just being procrastination. ;) It’s definitely true for me! I get hung up on, “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t want to write” or “whatever-other-excuse-I-come-up-with” – and really, they are all just excuses. I love your approach of just sitting down and writing, even if the first few paragraphs are just drivel.

    Thank you for the reminder to just frickin’ do it! ;)

    • says

      I knew “writer’s block=procrastination” sounded harsh, but I’m speaking from personal experience.

      I know if I just force myself to start writing … anything … that’s when the flow starts. It doesn’t seem to work if I just think about writing, or worry about writing. I have to be actually writing. ;-)

  7. says

    I tend to write like Leah, I think. I use articles I’ve seen around the web as my “inspiration” pieces to give me something to riff on. So, then I have my general topic in my head, and start writing to see where it goes. Then, when it’s done I put in the subheads and lastly I create the title (although I’m mulling it over the entire time).

    To me, it’s really important to leave people with a clear call to action of some sort in everything I write. I want people to walk away knowing exactly what to do with what they have just read – whether it’s solid tips to help them feel better, a product to buy, or a link to click. Building my piece around the idea of “what do I want the reader to do this this” helps me stay on track and keeps me from rambling too much.

  8. says

    Everything you’ve said, Pamela, has been said before–but it’s good to be reminded. And done in an easy-to-read, fresh way. Many thanks.

  9. says

    Hi Pamela,

    Wonderful article. I like the keep it simple approach. I use most of these tips but it’s nice to have them in an outline. :-) After reading your article I worked on my next blog post and used your tips and it came so easy.

    Thanks for a great article.
    Stephanie

  10. says

    Terrific tips Pamela! One trick that I use when I just don’t feel like sitting there writing is taking a pad and paper away from my office or computer, usually into the backyard. The change of scenery is often enough to snap me out of it. And it’s usually not hard to convince myself to sit in the garden :)

    I also really recommend having someone else read over your work, especially if it’s copy you’re using to describe your business, say on your website. We’re often so ingrained in what we do, that we think we’re being clear, but other people don’t get it.

    • says

      That’s a great idea: sometimes a location change is all the inspiration you need. (By the way, how did we get work done before laptops existed?)

  11. says

    What a great set of tips, Pamela. I’m just getting started in blogging and so far my poor website is looking pretty bleak. Your process makes a lot of sense, so I’m off to give it a try. Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. says

    I really enjoyed reading this! I think the simplistic approach is great. I have a hard time writing the headline first but I like the idea of coming up with many headline ideas and then mix and matching them. I read this quote by Ernest Hemingway recently that I thought was pertinent (to me especially, whenever I do have “writer’s block”): “Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t.” Thanks for the helpful tips!

  13. says

    Pamela, thank you for sharing these wonderful tips, I just started a new site and have been soaking up so much information about writing, I certainly knew about some of these and use them myself. For my personally I need to edit along the way, as I have OCD, and it will drive me crazy to see a typo or grammatical error and stop my writing all together.

    I didn’t really know how important sub-heads were, I saw a few other people do it and didn’t know what it was called even, but I tried it a couple times and it seems to really help, giving a fun or crazy factoid about something in the post allows a sneak-peak into the post that you then want to learn how it happens; where it shows up in the story, etc.

    Thank you for this wonderful post, I am bookmarking it for reference!

  14. says

    “Writer’s block is just a fancy way to procrastinate.”

    Hahaha! I claim “writer’s block” when I procrastinate for anything, not writing, not grocery-shopping, not doing laundry. Thanks for calling me out…

  15. says

    Hi Pamela, thanks for this article. I am a freelance writer and I maintain several blogs at the same time; I do not have the luxury of writer’s block. But I do know someone (a very talented writer) who has suffered from it for some months now, I’ll send him this article to read ;)

    I like the tips on mindmapping and I’m definitely going to check them out. Definitely!

    I agree with Jen about using other articles for inspiration…that’s what I do mostly. But I also like to write from my heart and since I read like crazy, and research even more, that’s not very hard to do.

    Some writers make use of PLR articles for inspiration and often use them to spin off new articles. I provide such for those who prefer that approach.

    I like the fresh and concise way you write – OH, and you ARE a writer. I’ll definitely be visiting here more often.

    • says

      Thanks, Sharon. It’s great to have you as a reader.

      I don’t mean to minimize writer’s block: I know it’s a terrifying feeling! I’ve found that when it starts to creep in, it’s usually because I’m trying to get everything worked out in my head before I start writing. If I just start to write, it sorts itself out.

      Sometimes it’s a sign you need to take some time off, too. :-)

      Thanks for visiting!

  16. says

    Thanks Pamela! This was very useful. Looks like I’m finally going to start work on that novel that’s been occupying some mind-space for a while…

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  1. [...] The Lazy Woman’s Guide to Copywriting – We often beat ourselves up over copywriting and whether we’re doing it properly. That’s why I like this straightforward rundown by Pamela Wilson explaining a few of her tricks. Above all, it’s important to note her point about just getting started and making writing a habit. [...]