8 Lessons Creative Writers Learn from Copywriters
The copywriting world is parallel to the creative writing one. Most copywriters and published authors would probably disagree, but I beg to differ.
The two fields target the same concepts, pursue the same people, try to enact the same emotions, and deliver the same experience.
I mean let’s be honest.
How often have you watched a commercial and thought, “Well shoot! If I had the money, that car would be mine NOW!” Or maybe, you’ve read an email and thought, “I am buying this workout package today!!” How about this one, “The blog said to do it, so hey, why not?”
The only difference between the copywriting and creative writing fields, are the “styles” of writing and the target market. I believe there is much creative writers can learn from copywriters.
I strongly believe in the fusion of the two fields. I’m going to share 8 things creative writers can only learn from copywriters.
1. Crafting A Powerful Title
All headlines have a major commonality: they contain UCI’s which are vital to a writer’s work!
Has it ever occurred to you, in mere seconds, 3-5 to be precise, you’ve decided whether or not a book or article is relevant, by checking off the UCI in your mind?
I mean my peeps, for real.
In a matter of seconds, the title you read (if it’s a good one), sparks your interest for what you're going to read, entices the imagination for the storyline and gives a sense of how you can't find this kind of story anywhere else. The power of a title is not its ability to simply draw you in.
I don’t care how great of a title you think you’ve written (I hope I don’t sound mean because I’m really not trying to be), but let’s be honest, if you’re not converting anyone from it, then who cares?
Yes I totally get it.
We write to educate, we write to empower, we write take people on journeys and on. But facts are facts. We also write to make money -- you’re lying to the world if you say you don’t because, with each sale, your story spreads and so does your bank account -- and if we're not profiting, there is something seriously wrong.
Copywriters understand what it takes to write titles that will generate an action.
They know how to write in a specific manner to cause readers to whip out their checkbook, buy a novel without thinking about it, and better yet, cause the reader to move their mouse over to that “Subscribe” button and plug in their information for their email.
Talk about literary persuasion!
Creative writers know how to captivate, guide, reveal, entice, seduce, and display. But copywriters know how to do the above AND get you to drop a hefty amount on a wild shopping spree without you breaking a sweat.
I bet you'll think twice when you go to write your next title huh?
Imagine. Something so short and simple can make or break your work, your audience, your bank account and your career! Creative writers should always consider copywriting concepts when it comes to putting the main seal of a title (whether main or sub) on their work.
2. Succeed Despite Pressure
I'll admit it: I am such a procrastinator, it might as well be my middle name. I don't think there's ever been a time where I didn't wait till the last minute to get my writing work done. Ever.
**** Side note: This is a terrible habit! Break up with it as soon as you can, run in the opposite direction and NEVER look back!
With the air all clear, in all seriousness, I was (and still slightly am) a diabolical procrastinator.
Besides the tears for not having the time to review my work more, the shame of producing something mediocre and the anger directed to myself for not being more responsible, procrastinating developed something else in me: the ability to work under vehement pressure and not crack for a moment!
No matter what they say, pressure actually produces some of the best work! And if there's a concept copywriters understand, it's this one. Much of copywriting work gets done with tight deadlines.
Copywriters will start a project, and a client will change their minds halfway through, or if not, at the very end. And they want the changes done -- are you ready for it? -- tonight! Yeah you read the statement right.
They want the changes done ASAP! Now I know you writers are thinking, “Yeah well duh Stephanie, we deal with the same deadline pressures too.” Well, I hear ya.
But is it the same as coming up with a piece that will cause people to empty out their wallets, for years to come, in a matter of days? With a client demanding excellence at a faster rate than can sometimes be provided?
As novelists, we work for ourselves, so if we have pressure it's because we need to keep ourselves from being slack. But this is not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about having to produce perfection that requires the most amount of time in the least amount of time to an expectant client who has demanding customer needs to satisfy (man that was a mouth full, yikes!).
Creative writers understand pressure. Staying up late trying to put together a plot you want to become a best seller. Working your carcass off in the midnight hours while everyone else is asleep because the first 15 chapters of the novel should have been done by now.
I get it. I totally do. But this is self-imposed stress.
Copywriters go through it for another person, and in the end, they dish out pure gold. Do I sound redundant? I hope so. This is my goal.
Taking the lesson of producing despite the pressure, I think is something we all should take notes and advantage of.
3. Mastering Word Economy
Ever read a blog article, a piece in the daily paper, or a novel, and thought to yourself: “This could have been said in fewer words. What a waste of time!”
If you’re shaking your head right now, I’m glad. I’m shaking my head too! Nothing, is more ridiculous, than reading the work of a writer that thinks writing extemporaneously is wise. Am I right?
Salman Rushdie had this to say about copywriting and keeping things on the minimal side:
In copy, one has to get to there point rather quickly. Yes, many words are used, but only the amount needed to get to the ever-lovin’ point.
Nobody cares about how vast your vocabulary is.
All they care about is: “What the heck is the point? Why should I give you my attention?” Keep your words short, simple, and to the point. The greatest teachers, teach simply. The greatest writers, write simply.
Every opportunity you get to run away from fluff, do it! There is no room in your work for fluff. This is a concept that all copywriters (if taught properly) have to learn from the get go.
Never overwrite. Never try to be high-sounding.
When I was first learning how to be a copywriter, it blew my mind how base the writing had to be. One of the greatest concepts I learned was to write simple and be okay that it is simple.
Believe it or not, getting a strong hang of word economy dictates if you’re a master writer. Who would've thunk it right?
It’s actually easier to write in big words, and rather difficult to keep it common enough for all peoples. The test of a copywriter is how simple he can write a piece that will convert to millions.
The test of an author is how simple he can write a story that will change someone for life.
4. Every Word Matters
No matter what anyone says, the bottom line of copywriting is one thing: discipline.
When you display discipline in your writing, you display you don’t have a problem with order in your life. You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with writing?” It has everything to do with writing!
Your level of discipline determines the level of excellence your writing will execute.
You have to write daily. Read daily. Immerse yourself in the world of writers daily. If you don’t work on your craft each day, it will eventually turn to dust.
We don’t come out of the womb with this instinct; we do it, establish it, maintain it, and never change from it. I dare say:
There are no “off-days” most times for copywriters. There are no “I don’t feel like writing today” days. There are no “opt out” options either.
They wake up and get stuff done, as soon as possible. Period. This requires strict self discipline because as creative writers, we can easily talk ourselves out of writing for the day.
“I don’t like my plot. Maybe if I leave it alone it’ll get better.” “I’m not in the mood for writing today. Seriously.”
And on the excuses can go. We are our main force of persistence and drive, so it’s easier for us to talk ourselves out of getting our writing done.
Salman Rushdie had this to say about taking his writing as serious as a 9 to 5:
This is a paramount lesson creative writers can learn from copywriters.
Writing your novel shouldn’t be a hobby. It shouldn’t be a side hustle. It shouldn’t be a second thought. Writing your novel should be your second full time job until it makes you enough so you can quit your first full time.
I mean that.
Copywriters know they have one responsibility, and it is to provide copy that will change perspectives, minds, and cause action. This is a great lesson to learn as your writing should be just as focused, driven, and purposeful.
5. Refusing Rejection
Whew! Nothing burns more to me than having my writing rejected. Nothing. It literally stings so bad, I have to take a moment from my day, and take a deep breath to process what the actual heck happened!
When my work is rejected, guys, I literally shut down for a few hours. I feel like a dunce. A completely failure. What I realized though, is I’m not the only one, and neither are you my friend! Many of the greats before us have gone through the same thing.
Rather than wallow in their sorrow and keep from moving forward, they picked themselves up by the bootstraps and tried again.
They refused to stop writing.
The more their work got rejected, the more determined they became. I’ve learned in the copywriting world, there is no such thing as accepting rejection.
That is the beauty of copywriting. There is this sense of “I will write again and I will continue to revise until my work is irreplaceable.”
When publishers reject your work, think like a copywriter. Go back, revise, edit ruthlessly, and refuse to accept rejection. Rushdie put it this way:
Rejection can actually be a beautiful thing if you look at it as you should. I strongly believe rejection is a catalyst for splendiferous work.
I mean think about it, when have you produced your most powerful writing? Out of your quintessential days? Or the nights when you felt like your world was falling apart and so the only remedy left, was to write?
Rejection is the catalyst to inimitable writing.
Don’t let the rejection of your writing cause you to think twice about your gift.
Copywriters have mastered one thing: understanding the beauty of having someone look at their work and say, “Yeah, no. I don’t like it. I want something else.”
Granted, that is about as strong a rebuke as a dagger to the heart. But, the fire of rejection can only mold your work to pure gold.
I’m so passionate about this because, I know firsthand how little people think of writers and our craft without realizing how vital it is to everything else they see as “valuable” or “worth it”.
I know firsthand how awful it feels to offer top-notch work and have people scoff as though your writing is nothing but peanuts.
It sucks. It sucks. And I dare say again, it sucks.
But something about the rejection fuels my fire. It pushes me to write better, clearer, with more passion, and relevance.
Rejection has caused me to read, study, observe, research and write more, therefore I have honed my craft like never before. Being a copywriter showed me the other side of the coin for my creative writing when it comes to rejection.
I used to fall apart, cry for hours, and break down. But then, I began to study the work of legendary copywriters, and legendary creative authors. They both had one thing in common: they were rejected for their work numerous times, and they still kept writing.
Today, the works that were rejected are some of the world's best-sellers! Don’t ever let rejection stop you. Like a copywriter, let it propel you!
6. “Writer’s Block” is a myth
I can’t even count, just how many times I’ve opened my mouth and said, “Guys, I have crazy writer’s block. I can’t write a single comprehensive sentence.” I would go through these dry periods where literally nothing would come to me.
I would sit there, and my brain would be blank. It was like staring at a white wall. With scribble all over it… In crazy colors… And it stretched for endless miles. Can you see this picture?
If so, have you been there? Nothing sucks more. We get pumped up, do our happy dance, get ready to write some bomb.com content, and then? BAM. No inspiration.
Creativity juices are gone. Not a single idea flows through. NADA is produced. In the past, I would blame this on the oh-so mysterious, writer’s block. I was so sure this block manifested whenever it pleased and just took over my mind, hindering me from being able to write.
And after years of writing creatively, you know what I’ve learned?
Please allow me to apologize if this statement offends you. Offense is not my intention, insight is.
There just really is no such thing as writer’s block. All there is, is a lack of work on our part.
Not everything is sparked from the random magical juices of our imagination (though wouldn’t it be awesome if they were?) Most of the time, our greatest work is produced from mundane everyday effort.
It comes from reading, researching, studying, looking up what we don’t know, learning more and more, and just plain old fashioned, daily writing.
How can you expect to constantly produce, if you are not constantly learning something new to produce? It’s kind of like a marketer.
How can they keep a company or client ahead of the game, if they are not current with the trends, what is going on in the market, what is relevant and what no longer works? They have to always be researching, learning, and keeping themselves plugged in to their niche while understanding the demands of their field.
And so it is with copywriting and creative writing. Vigorous work must be executed daily.
This is something crucial a copywriter can teach a creative writer. It’s more than just what your mind can conjure up.
It’s more than just what you think is cool, or what the latest movie you saw sparked in your imagination and now you can write another chapter from it. It’s so much more than just “going with the flow”.
You have to put in the work regardless of how early, or late it is, how much energy you do and don’t have.
This is how imagination sparks, and new ideas get produced.
Legendary copywriter, Eugene Schwartz had the most mundane yet efficient way of combating writer’s block. He understood the brain can only stay focused for so long. When it comes to writing, our minds typically check out at about 33.33 minutes, and so, this is how long he wrote for.
He would set a tiny little kitchen timer on his desk and set it for 33.33 minutes. In front of him were a clear desk, pen, a cup of coffee, all of his notes from his research, and blank pieces of paper with a skeleton of the copy he was going to write.
He knew he couldn’t allow himself to doze off, let his mind wander, nor sit there and do nothing. So, the moment he set his timer, he began to write. Whether it was crap or not, he wrote.
Once the timer went off, he took a 5 minute break. He would stop everything he was doing, and do something completely random: go for a walk, turn on the television, walk the dog, etc. Whatever the case, for 5 minutes, he let himself do random activities.
Once the 5 minutes were up, he reset his timer for 33.33 minutes, and began the process all over again, continuing from where he left off with his copy.
I mean seriously, when I look at his discipline, all I can think is WOW. No wonder he’s a legend! He’s published 9 successful books, written dozens upon dozens of successful ads, and numerous articles for some of the most-well known publications all around the world.
All, because he said, everyday, for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, he would write nonstop for 33.33 minutes until his project was complete.
This is why I say, writer’s block doesn’t exist. You either keep writing, or you allow your mind to be blank. Honest to Pete, I don’t care if you write “I love dragons but hate chickens” repeatedly for hours. Eventually, something will spark and your pen will begin to write on it’s own.
7. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid
It takes away from your credibility. You might think, “Oh but I’m saying so much, and it looks like I’ve written so much.” Readers are wiser than you think. They know quantity does not equate to quality.
What your readers care about and want, is quality.
If it’s said in one paragraph and yet dives deep, this is the best accomplishment for your work. You don’t want to be caught rambling. You want to produce substance.
You want your plot to make sense. You want your characters to have meaning. You want people to read it and get lost in it.
Not because they’re chasing rabbits with all of the extra verbiage. Your readers trust you, know you, support you and care for you. Don’t ruin the attachment they have to you by offering them a cheap story.
Take them deep and take them far, but never take them hiking down rabbit trails. I know you’ve heard of it before:
It’s not nice to call people stupid (even if you want to because it might actually be a true statement), but the point is clear. Make your point and move on. There’s no need to drag it out.
A copywriter’s number one rule is to: Get the message across with as few words as possible. Don’t sacrifice simplicity for long-windedness. It will never be as wise as you may think.
Over doing it has terrible consequences.
It takes someone days to share present praise for a piece they have read, but it takes them only one moment to text their friends, “I read such and such and frankly, it’s absolute garbage! Dude, pass!”
Here goes the concept again of your reputation being tarnished because readers no longer trust you, think you’re credible, are worth their time nor their money.
Don’t let your readers turn into Winston Churchill’s, “This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put!”
Think about it, the less there is, the easier it is to see the meat and substance of your work. It’s a scary thing to think of, considering as creative writers, it’s generally the opposite. The longer the better!
But I beg to differ, shoot for shorter.
And if it does end up being longer, every ever’ lovin’ word better have a purpose for making the cut.
A copywriter’s job is two-fold: write and then trim, till they die! I say that jokingly, but not completely fooling around. It’s true.
Once the “original masterpiece” has been written, the refinement process begins. A piece of copy which may have started out with 5000 plus words ends up as 3000… if that.
I advise this for your novel writing and even your blog writing if it is a part of your literary endeavors. Write your heart out on the first draft. Celebrate. Drink some hot chocolate. Do the boogie.
Once the celebration is over, whip out your clippers and start trimming.
8. Providing Answers
I know you can relate. We’ve read novel after novel and come across the same nonsensical foolishness: A novel which leaves you asking more questions going out then coming in.
I can't even begin to express how much this burns me up inside!
Now of course, if it's part of a series than you expect to have the cliffhanger. But if it's not? Oh no. Have you ever come across those coffee addicts who start shaking and become really cranky until they get their cup of coffee?
This is precisely how I become when the end of a series or single novel, leaves me with a cliffhanger. It boils my ever lovin’ blood y'all, and this is exactly what readers go through when YOU do the same thing.
Some authors think it's for the better of their novel but to me? But to many others? It ruins it even more.
Copywriters understand this theory and do everything in their power to make sure their copy doesn't just raise questions, but it also provides thorough answers. Their job is to take you on a journey, bring your mind to places you thought you couldn't go, have you dream for something you didn't even know you wanted.
But also? They have to provide you with exactly what you need, why you need it, and just EXACTLY how to get it. This is a principle creative writers need to learn from copywriters.
There’s a reason why you’re writing and putting your work out into the world. You had a specific goal in mind, and your passion drove you to keep going after it. Don’t forget it.
There is a reason why when reading your work we start asking questions. Make sure to answer us. A copywriter understands, the first half of their piece will raise nothing but questions, but if they’re not answered and proven by the end of the piece, they will lose the reader and tarnish their reputation as a writer. This makes them look bad, and the company they’re representing.
If you think about it, you do the same when you don’t follow through with your work. If you raise questions or get people attached to your protagonists, but then you fall short and not provide answers, you’re letting your readers down.
In turn, they will never read your work again, and they will make sure their friends and loved ones don’t read your work either. There goes your hard work and reputation. Two birds with one stone.
Don't forget you're taking people on a journey and at some point it has to come to an end. Leaving the doors open for wonder is one thing. But not answering main questions which rise from the plot? That is just unacceptable. Answered questions make for happy readers. At the end of the day, this is the ultimate goal.
These concepts are some of the greatest principles I believe as creative writers, we can learn from copywriters and really grow in our field and craft. I believe with a little bit of application, we can be much better creatives and literary artists. Our work can truly get to a place where it makes a big difference.
Which of these principles will you start applying to your writing?
Stephanie BwaBwa is an Author and Infopreneur. She's passionate about helping budding writers become successful novelists with their stories. Her heart is full with running: Story Creative HQ, a community for writers. When she's not writing, you can catch her watching Disney or nose deep in a fantasy novel.