I blame Dostoyevsky…
Even his name is difficult to read.
Is that even how you spell bloody Dostoyevsky?
Who knows? Who cares?
OK. OK. Yes, I accept – he probably was one of the greatest writers that have ever lived…
And yes, his novels are deeper than a deep thing that’s very deep.
But here’s my problem…
People too often believe only difficult writing is good writing.
For years we study the classics, we build our vocabulary, we learn how to craft our sentences and paragraphs.
All through this period there is an unspoken suggestion – if you don’t understand what you’re reading, it’s your fault. It’s not that the book is difficult to understand, it’s that YOU are too dumb to understand it.
So you read more, you learn more, you waste your time working through impossible literature that means nothing to you.
I’ve done it.
He’s done it. (I’m talking about the imaginary guy sat next to me)
And if you’re a writer of any kind, you’ve probably done it too.
Don’t worry. Shit happens.
Only problem is, if you decide after all this that you’re going to work in advertising – you’re buggered.
The first thing I had beaten out of me – and the first thing I beat out of any trainee copywriter – is the misapprehension that only difficult writing is good writing.
The crappy flowery language that ‘writers-to-be’ adopt in their early days (to prove themselves as ‘an artist’) needs slapping down.
In fact, it needs to be slapped down, taken outside and then stamped on repeatedly until it resembles a Jackson Pollock painting.
When you’re hoping to sell something to someone who doesn’t really want to be sold to, you need to speak as simply and as directly as possible.
You need to write as though you’re explaining it to a mate.
Be casual. Be long-winded if you need to be. But be natural. Because if you can be yourself in your writing, your message – whatever it may be – WILL shine through, trust me.
Pretentious language slain…
It’s time to spit in Proust’s face.
Hold up. I know Proust was a weak kind of guy and I know he hasn’t done anything to you, but here’s the problem with Proust…
His sentences are too long.
(Glenn, what’s wrong with you – first you’re dissin’ Dostoyevsky… now you’re pooin’ on Proust? What have these poor geniuses done?)
If you printed out some of Marcel’s sentences in standard sized font they could wrap around a bottle of wine fourteen times.
(I may have made that up, but I think I read it somewhere. And look, neither Dostoyevsky nor Proust are going to get upset with me slagging them off. They were brilliant writers – just not copywriters.)
Short, easy to follow sentences are the key to good copy. Really: it’s as simple as that. Don’t get me wrong, use too many choppy sentences and you’ll sound like a robot.
But you should always be conscious of sentences that are getting a bit too long and don’t give the reader chance to breathe and consider what they’ve said because you keep adding new points to your argument and sentences like this mean people get lost and they have to keep resetting themselves to remind where they go and Joyce-like stream of consciousness does not make for good copy, so don’t do it.
And yes, that was one of those long sentences. Avoid anything similar.
In fact, the point is very simple…
When it comes to writing copy that sells, you must write in the simplest and most direct way you can. Speak as though you’ve already had two pints and you’ve got to make a point.
Get out of your mind this strange idea that good writing – and by extension, good copy – should be written in a way that would be well-reviewed by The Guardian.
Speak how you feel and write how you speak and you won’t go far wrong.