Content Writers, Copy This – Ten Tips to Take from Creative Writing
By Michael Botur
I’m a freelancer/contractor working from Whangarei, Northland as a professional writer of, well, whatever pays – blogs, newsletters, websites, interviews, advertorials etc. I also do a lot of unpaid creative writing, usually at night- putting out short story collections, opinion columns novels, performance poetry and the like.
The people I work with by day tend to have nothing to do with the people I work at night.
Partly that’s because of the culture, worldview and audience of the professionals versus the dabblers.
However, here are ten tips which the pros can take from the amateurs to get better word stories.
- Looking Away Pays.
We all have blind spots in which we are convinced we read words on the page which sometimes aren’t there.
Tip: Have a quick break from the words, then change the font to something plain like Courier (very large size) so you’re looking at your words with fresh eyes and lots of white space.
- Checking A Name In Time Saves Nine
Never assume you know the spelling of a name which hasn’t been definitively spelled for you by an authoritative source. Tip: If it’s possible to write somebody’s name on paper and show it to their face so they approve it, that’s ideal; or look at their email address, if available.
- Have Your Computer Monitor At Eye Level
You don’t want to associate writing with discomfort. That could put you off the job. Tip: have your head up to one metre back from your screen. Hunching over your laptop is easy and convenient, but can make you feel cramped.
- Things which may seem obvious to you might not be obvious to your audience
Don’t forget to specify a person’s position, proper full name etc. In most pieces of writing, the who/what/where/why/when/how may seem self-evident to you, but perhaps not to the audience. Tip: Professor? Doctor? Associate Professor Dr? Check the conventions of where the subject works to see if the person’s name is actually Dr _______ . And did you know hospital surgeons typically are Mrs/Mr instead of Dr? I find that weird…
- Hit The Save Button Frequently
Obsessive, yes, but valuable. I was taught ‘Jesus Saves, and so should you’ back in 2008 and I’ve only lost two files since then (both terrifying events, seared into my memory). I don’t trust auto-save to be quick enough to capture everything on Microsoft Office. The cloud is better.
- Trust The Instructions, Not Your Feelings
Once you feel you have completed what you were assigned to write, park it – then don’t trust your feeling. Go back to the brief and look for those little things the client asked for which may seem fussy, but can be a big deal for the client. Check again to see if when you set out to write your piece you were supposed to
- Stick to a certain word count
- Write it in a particular font
- Include images, logos, watermarks etc
- SEO instructions – like specific hyperlinking, headings and bullet point instructions
- Double-check what byline is supposed to be on the piece (I have a bad habit of occasionally putting my own name on a client’s work, or vice versa).
- Make Your Title Captivating and Distinctive
The best titles for a fiction piece should be lifted out of the work itself. The best title for a content needs to tie in with SEO instructions. Often the copywriter should make the title a call to action or a question eg. ‘What is essential car maintenance for autumn?’
- The Best Writing Is Done Early In The Morning
You cannot create optimal work in the evening, no matter what urgency is placed on you. At the very least, try and space your drafts by a number of hours. Do a night draft then a morning draft. Tip: Draft firstly on the screen, then print a version to read, then do a final on-screen draft in a different font before sending.
- Write With The Door Closed; Edit With The Door Open
This means the first draft should be created with 100% concentration; then the final edit can be done while there are distractions in the background. This latter is a test of the readability of the words. If the words resonate despite distractions, you’ll know you’ve written something strong. Tip: Read the words aloud if you don’t trust your own eyes.
- Cut ‘That’ Out
Desperately need to trim a few words to get your 300 character Twitter announcement down to 280 characters? The word ‘that’ is often redundant – so change a phrase like ‘Ms Akenisi said that it would be released on Monday’ to ‘Ms Akenisi said it would be released on Monday.’
Tip: Finding it difficult to know where to chop words out? Usually start hacking at the first paragraph, as this is the place you have probably ‘warmed up’ and wasted words with ‘throat clearing.’