January 10, 2013
I’ve recently been working on some marketing copy for the website I manage; I’d estimate I’ve written about ten pages of pretty solid, reasonably-well-thought out stuff that’ll go up fairly soon. It’s not perfect but it took me, overall, less than a day to get it all written.
I use a method which is just as exhausting as real writing from scratch, but much faster and highly suitable for marketing copy which usually does not need to be groundbreaking or a particularly religious experience. But really, a disturbingly high percentage of the copy you write doesn’t need to be incredibly high-quality so this method may come in handy more than you’d expect.
The first step is to grab some content that isn’t yours. When I was in high school and college, this meant dropping in quotations from the fiction or non-fiction I was writing an essay about. Just going through, grabbing quotations, and putting them in a document. Today, this means Googling whatever I’m writing about, and doing basically the same thing. Drop in a quote from a book here, or a forum post there, verbatim. Starting with content that isn’t yours makes it much easier to get something on a page.
After I’ve written down everything that’s interesting once, I start organizing it into themes. For example, if I were writing a short piece about the history of Brooklyn, I’d start grabbing all the stuff I copied about important events in Brooklyn history and organizing them chronologically. Perhaps there’d be a separate section with interesting observations or notes related to geography. For marketing copy, I start organizing it around the talking points I need to cover. Our product is a great floor polish (move points related to floor polish here) and a wonderful dessert topping (move points related to dessert toppings here).
The next thing I do is write garbage to connect all the quotations. That’s right, garbage. I give myself permission to write really bad prose. I actually try for bad prose because that’s usually faster to write and the key in this step is speed. I try to talk about whatever I already have in my head but I don’t worry at all about how it sounds. (Although actually, I do often find that things sound much better when I read them later than I thought they did when I first wrote them.) Writing garbage is good because:
You don’t worry about the quality of what you’re writing (you know it’s garbage),
So you get much more content onto the page,
Which is important because the more you have, the higher the chance that you have written things worth preserving during the edit phase, and because in keeping your keyboard moving you’ll remember lots of interesting points as you go along.
Once that’s done, I edit. I’ve always found editing the easy part, and actually kind of fun, because I like to organize and criticize and I pretend that I’m fixing someone else’s work. When you’re writing marketing copy, one of the things you obviously have to make sure you do is delete all the verbatim quotations you used as scaffolding. But that should be pretty easy because you replaced it with lots of original content in step 2.
Maybe this is all really obvious, but it’s a method that’s worked well for me.