There’s a piece of copywriting advice that gets thrown around a lot.
I think it’s about as helpful as being represented in court by a hysterical, drunken crab in a case where you’ve been accused of employing crustaceans in inappropriate positions and intoxicating said crustaceans, particularly decapods, against their will.
To be clear: it is not helpful.
The advice in question?
You’ve seen this said, right?
Copywriters often advise their fellow word-nerds to do it.
Once upon a time, I might have advised it myself.
When stuck, or ‘blocked’, the general suggestion is to just hit the page with whatever comes to mind.
The thinking—I presume—is that unshackled by the pressure of writing something worthwhile, your subconscious (maybe your unconscious? or even the ghost of James Joyce) will kick in and guide your failing hand to magically craft a few winning lines.
Or maybe it’s like the ‘morning pages’ thing and by spewing out a load of inane brain-waffle, the seas of confusion will part and you’ll charge forward without fear, screaming ideas into the ether like a mad Moses writing pure copy gold onto your tablet.
Trouble is. It doesn’t really work like that.
Sure. It’s good to get rid of brain funk sometimes, and scratching out the nonsense on the page might help some.
But to write good copy, the idea that you should ‘just write’ can actually get you into deeper trouble. It can get you into an even more confused and hopeless situation.
Thinking. Planning. Drafting.
These are the things that lead to good copy.
But these things are a bit harder. They’re slow too, and they take work.
Still, it’s what’s necessary.
If you ‘just write’ and don’t know where you’re going with it, how do you expect the reader to follow?
But, Glenn. That’s why we edit the brain dump!
I hear you. And I realise that the more noble writers who offer the advice of ‘just write’ do so with the often unsaid caveat of ‘and then edit the fuck out of it’.
But still, this approach is dangerous.
On the one hand, many who blindly follow the ‘just write’ mantra will not bother to edit and leak more bad copy into the world.
We don’t need that.
On the other hand, those that do come back to edit the magical improvisation they’ve just erupted willy-nilly onto the page will often find that it’s such a muddle that it takes even longer to edit—and craft something of worth—than it would have if you’d stopped and thought about what to write in the first place.
Of course, I hate the idea that there are any absolutes in copywriting—and advertising in general—and I’m sure sometimes the ‘just write’ method will yield a serendipitous surprise.
But most of the time you’ll only get drawn deeper into the quagmire.
Better then, when you’re stuck in a rut, to not write.
Better, in fact, to get away from the act of writing altogether.
Read. Research. Explore the idea. Chances are the reason you’re not sure what to write is because you don’t understand what it is you’re supposed to be writing about.
So figure it out. Then figure out how you might break down the blog, the sales piece, the report, or the deck—whatever it is you’re struggling with—in a way that communicates what you’ve figured out.
Don’t write too much, just begin to jot down bullets that might guide you.
Before long you’ll not only know exactly what needs writing…
You’ll be eager to get it down on the page.
And you’ll do so with much more authenticity, authority, and energy than you would have if you had chosen to ‘just write’ your way through a mulch of muddled thoughts.
So, when you’re stuck…
Contrary to popular opinion, my advice is to do anything else but actually write.