Copywriting is a balancing act. To succeed, you should have the resolve of the world’s greatest author and the insight of the company’s sharpest salesperson. But that’s not exactly an easy task. You want to get craft, but you need to make an impact. Your words need to resonate like poetry yet read like…well, copy.
There are a few ways to simultaneously be at your most creative and most persuasive. It’s not as hard as you think. You just need to be patient with your words and honest with yourself—especially if you’re fighting writer’s block or feeling stale. Our parent company, Column Five, wants to help you break your block and upgrade your copy, so they have a little challenge for you. Try these 7 exercises to help you write better copy. From Haikus to colorful language, these challenges will help you get out of your head, refresh, and dive in to deliver your best stuff.
1) Dump Your Thoughts
Distractions will always prevent you from reaching your creative goal, so take a cue from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, and try her morning pages technique. This challenge asks you to fill three pages of paper with stream-of-consciousness writing. The catch? You have to do it longhand. Per Cameron, you should do it first thing when you wake up. But first thing when you get to work will work too. It doesn’t matter how trivial your thoughts are. The goal is to transfer all that brain chatter and worries to paper and leave them there. Your mind needs to be empty before you can fill it with creativity. From there, move into one-person brainstorm mode, where new ideas will surely wander in. Put them all down with the same fury. There’s no reason to hold back if the brainstorm is just you.
2) Learn Just One More Thing
Whether you’re writng about a topic you’re thoroughly vested in or one fresh to your attention, challenge yourself to go one step farther than your existing knowledge. You never know what you might find, what perspective you might encounter, or what idea might spark your interest. (Case in point: This blog post was inspired by the exercise laid out in HupSpot’s post about generating fresh blog post ideas.) There’s always something more to learn, and knowing more will only sharpen your perspective. Additionally, by going through the works of others, you not only get a refresher course, you have the opportunity to see what angles have been covered before. Insight always, always helps.
3) Corral Your Keywords
When you’re getting ready to write a killer piece for SEO, keywords are key. But don’t render them tacky or useless by saturation. Before you start, write down 5-10 keywords you’re going after for SEO purposes. They definitely need to play a role, but they can’t be everything. Keep your list for reference, and make sure you’re not underusing and overusing them. You need to be confident in what you want your copy to be remembered and sought out for, while purposefully keeping your keywords from being the only selling points. There are few things that will make your audience cringe more than reading copy that’s frantically and obviously trying to attach itself to specific keywords.
4) Write A Teaser
While you should have a go-to collection of assets that inspire you, sometimes you need some inspiration from left field. To combat the horrific dilemma of writer’s block, or just get the creative juices flowing, try this tactic. Take a break and seek out one new thing to consume. This could be an ad, article, book excerpt, photo essay, video, etc. Whether or not you liked what you found, give yourself the following challenge: In a single paragraph, write a teaser for it. It doesn’t matter if it was an ad from the ’80s or a random comedy short on YouTube. Write 3-5 sentences hat might convince somebody to look at it. This will help spark the “selling” part of your brain by giving you something completely new to market.
5) Color Inside Your Lines
So you’ve written a great piece and you’re ready to publish. Not so fast. Take a quick lap away from your computer, then return to color your copy up. In every single paragraph, there are opportunities to enhance and make your copy more engaging for your readers. Insert more emotional adjectives; choose stronger verbs. The focus is to create live, powerful language that delivers your message. Warning: This totally, absolutely does not mean you bring in buzzwords. In fact, kill them. They’re hollow and should be avoided like the marketing plague they are. By leaning on them, you give off the appearance of desperately trying to fit in. You’re better than that.
6) Create Your Own Blacklist
In the same vein as buzzwords, be wary of the words, phrases, and sentence structures you constantly rely on. Review your recent posts and take note of what you’d like to eliminate or avoid when you write. For example, you might notice that the word “vital” appears 10 times in a single post, or that “In today’s marketplace…” has become your go-to intro. Create your own blacklist document to keep track of everything you want to avoid. Note: This doesn’t mean you can never use the word “vital” again. Just be mindful. Review your blacklist doc regularly to keep your copy fresh.
7) Try The Haiku Method
It may sound obvious, but it’s too often forgotten: Know your intent. What takeaway do you want to give your reader? Whether you’re writing a blog post or an infographic, you need to figure out how you might boil your message down to its beautiful, simple core. If that message is murky the next time you start a new project, try the haiku method. It’s essentially condensing your message and goal into the structure of a haiku. (If you need a refresher, a haiku is a 3-line poem in a specific format: first line as 5 syllables, second line has 7 syllables, third line has 5 syllables.) For example, here’s a haiku by one of Column Five’s writers:
Give you awesome tips
to write like a freaking boss
by trying new things
This is a fun creative challenge that forces you to identify exactly what you’re trying to say and provides you with a guiding thesis to craft the rest of your copy around.
We hope these exercises help you shake things up some. Let us know if you try any of them, and please share any of your own writing haikus. We love any and all of them.