If you feel you’re writing beautiful masterpieces, odds are you’re turning out ineffective copy. Here’s why … and what to do about it …
As a writer, you have a very specific job — to persuade readers to take action.
Your copy’s sole purpose is to get the reader to act. To buy the product. To make a contribution. To join a crusade. To vote a certain way.
To accomplish this goal, you pour your heart and soul into your writing. You craft words and ideas so they’re absolutely perfect. So they’re masterpieces of persuasive prose.
But if you think what you send off to your client is a masterpiece of writing, your copy will probably fail.
Let me say that again in a different way: If you feel your writing is stunningly beautiful or perfect, it’s not strong enough to make your prospect want to act. You’ve concentrated too hard on the writing and not enough on what you need to say to get your reader to take action. You’re thinking too much about the words … and not enough about your prospect.
William Faulkner succinctly explained how to avoid this mistake and how to make your copy stronger and compelling:
“Kill your darlings.”
In other words, look for the words, phrases, and sentences you think are outstandingly great. These are your darlings. These darlings are getting in the way of communicating clearly with your prospect.
Faulkner was not the first writer to say this. Over 250 years ago, British literary lion Samuel Johnson said the same thing:
“Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”
This seems like odd advice, I know. But, think about it. When you’ve fallen in love with your writing, you’ve missed the bigger picture — your story as a whole. The need to sell. The need to convince. The need to get your prospect to act.
And you’ve forgotten that you need to speak in the simplest, most convincing, direct way possible.
If your writing is self-consciously good, it cannot do that. If your reader notices how well you’ve written, he won’t see the benefits you’re trying to convey.
So here’s the plan: After you’ve written your first draft and are editing for length, strength, and power, anytime you come across copy that makes you smile because it’s so clever or perfect, look at it super-critically. If your writing gives you that warm feeling when you read it, it’s one of your darlings.
Rewrite it more simply. Or get rid of it entirely.
Now, if you’re a typical writer (as I am), it’s going to hurt to kill your darlings. So here’s an effective strategy I used when I first started freelance writing. When you come across one of your darlings, don’t delete it. Instead, use the “cut” function of your word processor. Then paste the darling into a separate file labeled something like “Great Copy To Be Used Later.”
When you do this, it’ll be much easier to eliminate “masterpiece” copy from your writing. You’ll have it ready to use in a file on your hard drive. So you’re not really killing your darlings this way. You’re sending them off to a safe island where they can live happily until you need them.
And do you know what you’ll find in a very short amount of time? The only reason you ever open that file is to paste your darlings in there. You’ll probably never use any of them.
And because of that, your writing will be stronger.