10 tips for young copywriters

Following yesterday's post on tips for art directors, here's one for my fellow writers.

I asked copywriter/creative director Dennis Greeley to pen 10 Things Every Young Copywriter Should Know. 
(This is probably one of my fav posts. Not only because it's so in depth and ridiculously useful, and not only because I love Dennis, but mostly because cws just do it better. Yay words!!)

10 things every brand, spanking new Copywriter should know.

1. Go beyond the first idea.
Your first thought often pretends to be the answer. But don’t be fooled.
I’ve seen lots of people come up with one idea, and just kind of take it easy after that. Sure, sometimes that one idea a good idea. Rarely is it great. And mostly, there are one or two other better thoughts that are going to come your way afterwards.

Sure, I still get excited when I work on a project and come up with that first idea that doesn’t totally suck. That sigh of relief that I’ve actually got something. But moving past that idea is the pro thing to do.

Here’s a tip: if you are falling in love with your first thought, write it out. Hang it up on the wall, and just forget about it for a day. Come up with other ideas. If nothing beats the original, then okay. But getting it on the wall sometimes just lets it out of your system. 

2. Can you solve it with a visual?
Okay, I know you’re a writer. But advertising is an interruption. So let’s make it simple and easy to get, right? When you can tell the story without words, and twist a visual or present it in an arresting way, it’s the express lane to getting your message seen. While I dig good headlines, I LOVE a great visual solution.

Here’s a tip: when you have a cool visual solution (photoshopped picture etc.) the line just needs to answer the question “why are you showing this to me.” It should close the loop for the viewer.

3. Headlines—Quantity over quality.
When I first got hired, I was not a great headline writer. I had to learn on the job. Fast.
What did I learn? To write lots of them. Single spaced. One page’s worth. Two pages if I could. Sure, a lot of those headlines totally suck, but the point is to start emptying your brain of all sorts of associations. The discipline of having to fill the page drives you to start looking for new idea connections. And try not to cheat with simple variations on the same line. When you look at the bunch afterwards, certain ones will just automatically rise to the top. Or you’ll see a little more clearly what you’re missing. 

3b. One Liners aren’t funny
As a CD, when writers bring me just one line for a project, it has to be good or it’s crickets. It’s important to show more lines because they show that you’re making an effort, they let me in on your thinking, and potentially, gives both of us more options to spin off a few more lines.

4. Headlines—Change the construction
Feel like your line is close to being good but just isn’t yet? A great line sometimes comes from the right construction. Flip it around. Put a period before the end. Comes. Put it in the past tense. Whatever makes it have a little more oomph, a little more drama. Rhythm and pacing of lines can make all the difference. Sometimes the content of the line is there, it just needs a new construction.

5. Headlines—Stuck? Write the body copy first.

One CD I know had great advice on when you can’t seem to get any good lines going.  “Write the body copy first. Write the stuff that you know you have to say.” This gets you in the flow of the ad. Gets your confidence going about solving it. And, takes care of the body copy for later. #Winning.

6. Handle that Body Copy
Keep it short. Otherwise your ad will visually repel people. Which is kind of the opposite reaction you’re looking for. Body copy gives people just a little more info. A little more clarity. A little more sell. Leave the rest to the website.

One of the biggest pitfalls of junior books is too much body copy. Just give a sense of the product or service (“The Red Cross is more than just our blood supply.”) why it matters (“it’s a lifeline.”)  and then, get out of there. (“Find out where you can donate at www.redcross.com”)

7. Don’t be afraid. Of fragments.
You want body copy to have attitude. You want it to be clear and concise. And you/they want it to be over quickly.  Fragments are your friend. I’m not sure if they’re grammatically wrong. But emotionally, they just feel so right. Fragments are how people talk. Why not make them a part of your body copy, too?

8. Concept alone before you concept together
Everyone’s different, but I think concepting works better when you can bring something to the table. Get a handle on knowing what’s in your brain at the moment. Sit down with a coffee, a beer, whatever. Get a pad and pen, and work for 30 minutes on it. Come up with total crap if you want. But getting the wheels in motion is critical. Because we’ve all been in the concepting sessions where you mostly talk about Mike Tyson and then YouTube his greatest knockouts. And sure, that’s fun. But honestly, better work will come from being better prepared.

9. Accept lines without ego

Sometimes, the Account Person will riff a line, “You know, it’s the ‘Best thing from Best Buy.’” And you know this is a way better line than you’ve thought of. You get a little uppity. You get a little ‘tude. We’ve all been there. But here’s what I’ve learned—

There will be many lines you will write in life. Take this one, compliment them on it, and move on. It shows that you’re willing to work with people, they feel a little more involved, and let’s be honest, a good line is a good line. So be a slave to the work and take it why don’t ya?

10. CA. ASAP.
Get the Communication Arts (CA) December ad annual. No you don’t need to memorize the names. But memorize the work. Memorize the solutions. See how other people solved the problem. What they showed in the visual, and how they handled the line. Did they explain it fully, or just give you an emotional take away? That to me is what is great about it, to see a collection of some the best choices by CWs and ADs in that year. To me, it’s a great, great annual. The quality level is high. It’s invaluable if you are new-ish in the business. Or old-ish. Oh, and write your name on the spine. Otherwise I will borrow it and never give it back.

Yours truly,
Dennis Greeley