I’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.