Copywriting: Warming up to cold work

There is a belief that writing is a peaceful, contemplative existence in a wood cabin à la Henry David Thoreau. Or perhaps it’s a wild, passionate pursuit à la Jack Kerouac, where masterpieces are written in folkloric single sittings. And I would not like to dispute that sometimes, at the best of times, it is just this.

Why we love hot words.

It’s the pay off. Just like the applause at the end of the premiere a new stage work. You’re working hot. Everything feels simple, obvious and connected. You touch a wildness inside and the outside accepts and even celebrates it. This is the way we idealise most creative careers to be. Easy, fluid and feel like they’ll go on forever.

But the truth will always out: it is not always like this.

In reality, there is a need to sometimes, perhaps often, write cold: to be pragmatic and logical and workmanlike. And no less in copywriting.

Writing cold

Now this could be taken as a negative but, in reality, it’s not. It is simply part of the practice. The hard work. The arriving at the desk each day regardless of whether it feels that conditions are ideal or not. We all know that to master a practice you have to work at it – it is not all blazing glory and passion.

Say you’ve been handed a brief, a blog post of 500-words say, and it doesn’t exactly blow your head off with excitement.

You’re a professional so you begin to work – cold.

You research, find out the information that’s needed to complete the task – all cold, all just matter-of-fact I-can’t-wait-for-the-weekend kind of work.

Then you start to write it. You get it out. Structure, headlines, call to action, keywords, etc. You get something tangible, evidence of your work, on the page or screen. It felt like a workmanlike exchange and little more.

Good. Now the fun can begin.

Take time to edit and reflect

Tom Albrighton states that writing isn’t writing, it’s rewriting. And he has a valid point.

The process of editing and rewriting is the process of cutting off the crap: the redundant sentences, the repetition, the stuff you wrote because it sounded nice but has no real relevance. It’s cathartic, or should be, as you ‘bring light into dark places’. Done properly, this can help start to reveal something of interest in this piece.

So you’ve edited the piece down; it’s clear, simple and to the point. And if you’re not feeling enthused yet don’t worry, you will be.

Finding your tune

Time to make it sing. Writing is read as music as much as words.

Now dive back into the piece and find the poetry, find the humour and find the rhythms that make the work readable – even irresistible. Look for opportunities to turn this from a task you ticked off to one you’ll want to talk about.

Now you have a piece worth putting out there with your name on it.

The point is you will have to work cold. But there is heat in the practice – otherwise why are you doing it. In those moments of low motivation, ask yourself why you wanted to do this work and then feed your answer into the next brief.

+ Love the challenge of writing succinctly? The next piece should have your tightest copy ever!

+ Passionate about making all writing readable? Invest in storytelling or the music of your words.

+ Motivated by the craft of writing? Let each project be an invitation to you to explore your voice.

There will always be a need to work cold. How you approach it, and whether the coldness remains with you long-term, is up to you.

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