Writing for the Blocked, Bored & Balky

I don't get to work at 6:00 in the morning so I don't get to leave around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. If I'm not out at meetings, my late afternoons are a struggle between "I CANNOT begin a new writing project at 3:37!" and "I CANNOT putz around and waste time just because I don't have it in me to start something new right now."

What ta do, what ta do?

Submitted here in all their practical glory, are some of my late afternoon go to's for when you have to get stuff done, but can't BEGIN to get big stuff done...

Block. Outline. Plan. Maybe you can't plunge into your copy and get it all done in one fell swoop as you might at the beginning of your day, but you can certainly draft an outline and get a little good concepting time in. And when you're not forcing yourself to work a project from start to finish, this actually frees you up to explore some new ideas and get a little freakier than you might otherwise.

(SIDEBAR: "concepting" is a word, Word. Quit autocorrecting me.)

Headlines. Subheads. Callouts. You know that brochure that's due this week will need them. Consider this your copywriting amuse bouche. They are small, manageable and you'll be that much farther along when you come in tomorrow morning and start on that 16-page behemoth all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. See also, "get a little freakier …" from above.

Reach Out & Touch Someone. Not literally. At least not where I work, but I don't know how you roll where you are, so … maybe? What I'm talking about in my 1970s, AT&T metaphorical way, is tending to that correspondence you're always putting off. Set up some coffees and lunches with contacts and friends you haven't seen in a while. Get on LinkedIn and Twitter and comment. "Engage" as the marketers like to say. It's writing/work that needs to get done and if you can't be billable, you may as well be sociable and get yourself and your company out there.

What do you do when you start getting pouty and still have several hours left in the day, friends?

Lessons from the Master (#1)

The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.

(I received a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast for Christmas, in anticipation of an upcoming trip to Paris.)

The sentence leapt out at me. Some stories are like that. Letters, too.

Which makes it so unfortunate when personal preferences get in the way. Somebody's rules. Like:
• get the ask in by the third sentence
• repeat the ask at least three times
• focus on the one most important thing you want to convey
• I'd never say things that way

There's a delicate balance between the science and the art of fundraising writing.

Unfortunately, sometimes experience (not necessarily scientific) gets distilled down to the formulaic.

Which at best begins to sound artificial. And at worst, will stifle the story all-together.

Right Tools for the Job—The Right Words for the Copy

We have a blurb on our website that says "words have a job to do." There it is, on the right. When you're a copywriter that's the long and short of it . No trademark flourishes. No "do you see what I did there and wasn't it clever?" But make no mistake. It's not a matter of being utilitarian and tied to convention either.

This post is a build on what Bob wrote last month.

Good copywriting has a lot more to do with thoughtful, elegant editing than it does being cute or brandishing your flaming thesaurus at the world. Although I know a lot of cute copywriters … c'mon. I love you guys.

Also, I love the way the phrase "flaming thesaurus" sounds, but that's not exactly relevant here. (See what I did there?)

We've been talking about this around the office a lot lately. Here are some M&C tips for making sure the words in your copy get the job done.

  • Because you can doesn't mean you should. We had a detail for a story in a fundraising newsletter recently that was heartbreaking, weird and certainly memorable. But it was also uncomfortable, had the potential to trigger terrible memories for our intended audience and was right on the border of salacious. It got left out because it didn't serve the ultimate goal of the newsletter.

  • What is my job? If your copy could talk (and it wasn't a slacker) it would ask you this question every time you sat down. And because you're a good boss, you should be able to answer this question before you put your talented little fingers on the keyboard. Your answer to this question will quickly decide what goes and what stays as you write.

  • Sit down, data. The truth is, experience and intuition matter a lot with copywriting and creative. It's the dirty little secret that sends your data people shrieking into the night. You'll have to have many a subjective conversation with yourself as you're writing: does this matter? does this add credibility? does this make a donor feel closer to my organization and build trust (even if it's not 100% flattering, but it's true and human)? Get comfy with this exchange and have it often.