Is Writer's Block the New Stage Fright?
The way we communicate is changing, and more of our professional conversations are shifting toward the written word. When conversations start on a blank page even the greatest communicators can freeze up. Ready to improve those writing skills? With these five writing tips you'll be slinging ink in no time.
To say that people have had to make a lot of adjustments over the last few months would be the understatement of 2020. There are upsides (no more dress pants!) and downsides (let’s not get into that here) that have been discussed ad nauseam across every online platform I’ve ever heard of.
But for me, the most obvious shift has come in the way we communicate. Video chat technology was an immediate salve for people craving personal interaction, but now we’re so far passed Zoom burnout that we can’t even see it our rearview mirrors. As a result, more and more of our personal and professional communications have shifted again: to writing.
As a career writer and marketer this is business as usual, but for those of you who are used to peddling your wares in person this make come as a bit of shock. So many people are used to having one-to-one or one-to-few conversations – at lunch meetings, on the golf course, even handing a drink across the bar. And you’re good at it. But when that conversation starts on a blank page even the greatest “people” people tend to clam up. The salesperson who can sell ice to an Eskimo in the winter is suddenly at a loss for words.
It’s true that crafting truly persuasive copy takes some practice, but it’s not a skill reserved for “writers.” Even if you don’t remember a single word your high-school English teacher said, you can still communicate effectively using the written word. With these five writing tips and you’ll be composing copy masterpieces in no time.
One | Picture Your Audience Naked
Well, maybe don’t. But do remember who you’re talking to. It’s the same person you schmoozed at that conference in January. It’s the patron you poured a glass of wine for, the colleague you co-hosted a networking event with, and the customer you sold services to.
In those conversations were you super salesy? Did you throw around statements like “best in class” or “five-star”? I hope not, and so does your audience. People don’t like to be sold, but they do like having their problems solved. So, focus on that. Delete the jargon and the superlatives and just talk to them like you would if they were standing in front of you.
Two | Length Does Not Equal Quality
This is a tough one for me, so I remind myself of it every time I sit down to write an email. (Thanks, LinkedIn Publishing, for giving me the platform to be my loquacious self.) There are plenty of alarming statistics about the precious seconds you have to capture someone’s attention online. Spoiler alert: It’s a matter of seconds. Start with a headline that highlights your value, or the problem you are going to solve, and follow up with concise, punchy copy.
“Start with a headline that highlights your value, or the problem you are going to solve, and follow up with concise, punchy copy."
Not sure what to include? Start with an outline. Winging it may fly in a face-to-face conversation but writing clearly requires organizing your thoughts in advance. And make sure you are only asking the reader to do one thing. Have one bold promise, clear destination or core emotion in mind when you’re writing. Have more than one way to help? That’s great! Put it in a different email.
Three | Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Have you ever received an email rife with typos? Or maybe you know that person who still abbreviates “you’re” as “ur”. (Cringe.) Did it give you the impression that the writer was a professional?
After writing an important piece of copy, resist the urge to click send just to get it off your desk and off your mind. Instead, walk away. Sending an email to pitch an important client? Write it, then go grab a cup of coffee. Writing an article or a proposal? Give it a day if you can. Coming back with fresh eyes will make all the difference. When you do return to your piece, read it out loud. If you’re confused, stumbling or out of breath, your reader will be too.
Finally, do the “cross-eyed” check. Does sitting back and looking at what you wrote make your eyes go wonky? Break up big blocks of text with spaces, bullet points and subheads. Remember, people are likely only scanning your carefully crafted words to decide if they want to take the time to actually read them, so give their eyes somewhere to land.
Four | Follow the "Golden Rule"
I don’t mean “do unto others,” although you should probably follow that rule too if you want people to like you. In marketing the golden rule goes something like this: send the right message, to the right person, at the right time. Sounds easy, right? I promise you it’s not. It turns out, the hardest part of crafting truly great copy isn’t about writing at all.
"In marketing the golden rule goes something like this: send the right message, to the right person, at the right time."
In copywriting there is no small talk. Short attention spans, remember? You don’t have the luxury of bringing someone around to the point you’re trying to make. You need to be on their page before they even crack the book. Before clicking send, ask yourself if what you’ve written is relevant. Does your message meet your reader at the right stage in the buyer’s journey? The easiest way to alienate a prospect is to send them a bottom of the funnel offer when they are still gathering data. And, if you’re writing a one-to-many piece, for the love of all things marketing, segment your list.
Five | The "P" Word
I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s time for some tough love people. If you want to become the sexy, ink-slinging persuasive copywriter I know you can be, you have to practice. Blargh, right? Stick with me. You know how hard it is to drag yourself out of bed to go to the gym after taking a week off? Writing is like that, too. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Heck, you might even like it.
Developing a writing habit is the best way to beat the fear of the blank page, defeat writer’s block, and improve your skills. The best part? No one even has to read what you write. You are under no obligation to publish every word you type. (Please, please don’t.) But if you get comfortable writing, when it comes time to send that proposal, or to publish that social post, you’ll no longer feel that tingle of unease in your lizard brain. With enough practice, you’ll even be as comfortable at a keyboard as you are a happy hour, no cocktails required.