4 Tips to Write Yourself Out of Writer's Block
Do you ever have to write web copy, e-mail, direct mail, collateral or other marketing materials? Then you know how easy it is to get stuck and waste time staring at a blank screen or piece of paper.
Perhaps I can help with some suggestions. You see, when you write as much copy as I do, there's no time for "writer's block" or head-scratching. How do you develop fluency as a writer?
An old joke answers the question: A guy gets into a cab in New York and asks the driver, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The driver turns to him and answers wisely, "Practice. Practice. Practice."
Yep. Like anything else, technique comes with time, and a good, smooth, conversational flow should come quite unconsciously after a while. Yet there are a number of specific techniques that can bail you out of a tricky situation. Let's take a look at a few that can save you a lot of time and grief and improve your writing.
1. If you're really stuck, start over.
It happens to all of us. You're writing away, happy as can be, then suddenly it strikes. The problem paragraph. No matter how hard you try to fix things, the little devil just won't give. Things don't sound right. When you fix something here, something is thrown off there. Like that knot tied in your shoelace, you pick away at it and get nowhere fast.
Now, you can't throw away that expensive pair of shoes, but you can remove the shoelaces. Do it. Cut out that paragraph and start over using a completely new approach. You'll quickly find a solution that works. Trust me on this one. Starting completely fresh is the only way to go!
2. Don't forget the adjectives!
The best way to beef up flat copy is by adding adjectives. After all, nouns themselves don't communicate a heck of a lot: The book. The dog. The house. But one colorful adjective can sharpen things up considerably: The best-selling book. The mangy dog. The chartreuse house. Let's take a look at some typical lines spruced up with a few adjectives.
WRONG: Here's an offer you shouldn't miss.
RIGHT: Here's a special, limited-time offer you really shouldn't miss.
WRONG: Looking for incentive ideas? Send for our booklet.
RIGHT: Looking for exciting, practical incentive ideas? Send for our free 32-page booklet!
WRONG: We're a company you can count on for attention.
RIGHT: We're a small, friendly company you can count on for personalized attention.
3. Chop a long sentence into shorter ones.
This is an error I see all the time. People write these long, enormous sentences that seem to go on forever. Forget it. We live in a society that's speed-oriented. We eat fast food. We zap around television channels. Hey, who's going to stick around to read a rococo sentence?
The trick is to keep the pace sharp. One way to do this is to be a sentence-buster. Knock that long sentence down into two or more. Here, take a look:
WRONG: This fantastic, exotic flaring red Amaryllis grows nearly an inch a day indoors and bursts out with super-sized blooms 5 to 7 inches across.
RIGHT: (As it actually appeared in a Harry and David's catalog) Fascinating! This exotic, flaming red Amaryllis grows darn near an inch a dayindoors! Bursts out with super-sized blooms 5 to 7 inches across.
WRONG: We don't sell hardware or software and as a result, don't have any biases, vested interests, or hidden agendas.
RIGHT: We don't sell hardware or software. This means we don't have any biases, vested interests, or hidden agendas.
Better. Crisper. Sharper.
4. Kick it off with a question.
For a lot of people, the toughest thing in the world is getting started. They're all right after they're rolling, but getting out of the starting blocks is really hard. There are a million ways to get started but let me share one with you that's pretty easy to use. Start with a question. It gets the reader involved quickly (and gets you moving!)
Do you know the best way to buy inexpensive RAM?
Which hard drive gives you the most memory for the dollar?
What will chip speeds be in twelve months?
The take-away message this month? Writing isn't always easy, but if you practice and use proven techniques you, too, can create prose like the pros.
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for such companies as Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel and Microsoft. Levison writes direct mail sales letters, e-mails and ads. For a free subscription to his monthly e-mail newsletter for marketers, visit his website at www.levison.com. He can be reached at (415) 461-0672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.