Bad Habits, Bad Writing, Bad Business

We’re all guilty of bad habits. But when it comes to your copywriting, getting lazy will lose you money, motivation and readers.

In a recent post, Seth Godin discusses the concept that negative emotional responses are simply habitual:

“Angry is habit…Distrustful is a habit. Lonely is a habit.
Generous is a habit. When that stranger doesn’t do what you expect, is your response to assume that she’s out to get you, trying to make an extra buck, looking for a shortcut? Or do you default to the habit of giving that new person a chance to explain herself?”

In a wider sense, this all comes back to ‘story’. Your habits are formed from the stories you tell yourself, as Godin illustrates. Your success depends on the stories you tell others, and these can become habitual too.

And it’s not just individuals whose past stories dictate their current responses. Groups, organisations and businesses can be at the mercy of these limitations too. In a recent article on Ethical Business I wrote about how engrained habits in businesses can stop the adoption of healthier ways of working

The Copywriter’s Burden

Those of us who business-write for a living can succumb to the temptation to keep churning out the same tired old stories. This is a trap that is all too easy to fall into.

If one important element of organic SEO and content writing is to create such dynamic and compelling copy that other people want to publish, read and promote it, then the writer needs to be as engaged with their work as the reader. Whether crude and explicit, or coolly understated, the writer’s enthusiasm is the beating heart of any piece of writing. Authenticity is only possible if the writer is genuinely engaged with their subject.

It’s not rocket science; you may not be penning a world-changing tome, but no bestselling novel was ever written by an author who found his plot and characters dull.

So how can you stay engaged with the stories of your product/clients, and keep generating new stories that excite you and keep your copy vibrant?

Here’s a few tips that might help:

1. Explore the human element of your subject, client, or product: people, customers, staff, who is involved and what are their stories?

2. Go into the heart of your client’s vision and see things from their point of view, they will be passionate about their product even if you’re not! That passion can be infectious.

3. Go off centre, challenge yourself to write about the product, client, subject from a unexpected, radical or eccentric point of view, this can be achieved if you:.

4. Try to produce new ideas and angles by bringing two unconnected ideas together, as Roger Horberry says in Brilliant Copywriting, “creating new combinations of old elements depends on your ability to see relationships between unconnected ideas”.

5. Have fun with titles, be clever, silly, play with words – headings are the initial bait and need to be juicy, enigmatic and alluring, once you’ve settled on one that ‘fries your onions’ it will have the positive effect of feeding your enthusiasm, and helping you structure your piece.

6. Keep using fresh metaphors and analogies, these are stories within stories, and even if it’s hard to create a story around your product, these micro stories will bring your copy to life.

7. Challenge yourself to find five exciting things about your subject/product

8. If you’re re-working an article, find and use a fresh new fact or metaphor with each re-write.

9. Is there any way in which this story affects you personally? If you bring some of yourself into the copy, this will engage both you and your reader, good copy is about caring, if you give a damn this will make your work much more attractive.

10. Avoid clichés, your favourite phrases may have to go, but, keep in mind a certain tried and tested old platitude: it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.