I got my degree in Literature.
In school, my days were spent waxing poetic about Russian authors and attempting casual leans with boys in skinny jeans and black turtleneck sweaters.
It’s understandable, then, that when I graduated and became a full-time copywriter, I got some raised eyebrows from the Foucault-worshipers of my alma matter. I’ve actually had some of my art-school friends tell me, in no uncertain terms, that being a copywriter is “selling out,” and that it’s certainly a “disappointing waste of creativity.”
I, however, respectfully (and vehemently) disagree.
While many people regard copywriting as a boring industry that’s as devoid of creativity as Joan Rivers was facial expressions, this simply is not true.
In fact, I’d argue that being a great creative copywriter requires an entirely different type of creativity – one that very few people master. Copywriting requires rabbit-from-a-hat sleight of hand, and it takes a massive level of creativity to muster that.
After a few years of writing marketing copy, though, creativity can atrophy a bit – especially for writers who haven’t found a copywriting niche they love. If we’re to succeed as creative copywriters, though, we need to find ways to continue being as creative as possible. That’s what I’m here to talk about today.
Creativity & the Copywriter: A Love Story
Without creativity, there can be no great copywriting.
While copywriting is synonymous with marketing, marketing is changing faster than the speed of light. Because of this, people who sacrifice creativity in the name of mass-produced, boring material risk getting lost in the stampede of companies, consumers, and search engines who want something different.
Today, more than 27 million pieces of content are shared online every single day, and there’s no sign that this trend will slow anytime soon. In light of this, the only way that marketers, writers, and brands can get noticed is to be creative.
Instead, they rose to the top by being creative in every aspect of their marketing – from their visuals to their copy – and it’s because of this creativity that they continue to stand out as some of the most unique brands in existence.
As brands like this prove, you can’t climb the ladder without creativity. People get bored and leave if you fill their pages with boring content, and your chances of staying afloat on the content sea decrease every single time you sacrifice creativity in the name of traditionality.
How to Be a Creative Copywriter: 5 Essential Tips
So…creativity matters. What next?
Even if you are a creative person with an artistic background and unique ideas, creativity suffers fatigue, just like everything else. Fortunately, these five tips can help you be a more creative copywriter, starting right now.
1. Channel Your Inner Don Draper
If you watched the hit series Mad Men, you know that Donald Draper is an idol to the marketing world. If you want to succeed as a creative copywriter, one of the best things you can do is channel him. Feel free, however, to leave the alcoholism and adultery out of the picture.
Instead, what you want to channel is Draper’s ability to identify a story in any campaign.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing ad copy for an insurance company or helping a startup build their website content – identifying the story within the campaign is the most essential thing you can do to keep your creativity alive.
Fortunately, there are dozens of ways to do this. Put yourself in the company’s shoes: why are they passionate about what they do? How do their products make the world a better place? If that doesn’t shake anything loose, put yourself in the customer’s shoes: how will this product help you enjoy your life more? What would draw you to the company in question?
Within every campaign, content order, and keyword sheet, there’s a story, and it’s up to you as a creative copywriter to draw it out.
Don’t believe me?
Consider this meme. It pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why channeling your inner Don Draper is so critical to good copywriting:
2. Take a hint from print copy
While many people believe that print copy and digital copy exist on different planets, they overlap more frequently than people understand. You can come out on top as a creative copywriter simply by taking some hints from the world of print copy.
Since I’m a lit major, here’s the example I’ll give you: the opening lines of major novels. And since I already mentioned my love of Russian authors, here’s the one I’ll call out: Lolita. Considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of all time, Lolita opens like this:
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms, she was always Lolita.”
Is that literary? You betcha. A little too clunky for marketing copy? Absolutely. But is it compelling? It is, without a doubt, one of the most compelling things I’ve ever read.
While Lolita is a great example, there are others like it. Consider “Call me Ishmael,” or “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Both of these are equally attention-grabbing, and there’s a lot that a modern-day copywriter can learn from them.
While we’ve all heard that the headline and opening sentence of a piece of copy are two of its most critical parts, too many copywriters bulldoze through these things with no style or grace.
As this selection of opening lines demonstrates, however, to take that approach is to cheat yourself and your reader out of some good material. And to smack creativity in the face as you do it.
While it’s true that times have changed, copywriters can still learn from books. With this in mind, incorporate some elegance, fantasy, alliteration, and magic into your opening lines. We’re confronted with so much short, harsh copy that fleshing out your opening lines and making them beautiful and informative is the ultimate gift to both yourself and your readers.
3. Write a “show up and throw up” draft
This term, while colorful, is not my own. It was coined by Ann Handley, in her book Everybody Writes. If there’s anything that gets in the way of creativity, it’s too much self-editing. Because of this, it’s essential that every first draft be a “show up and throw up” draft.
What’s this mean? It’s simple. You show up at your computer, you sit down, and you throw up all of your ideas, connections, and awkward phrases onto the page, and whatever you do, you do not go back and re-read, edit, or alter until it’s all done. You don’t even stop to correct your spelling. You just write.
This approach serves a few purposes. First of all, it’s incredibly freeing. In an industry where we’re often under immense pressure to deliver professional, shareable content, giving yourself permission to just show up and write is the ultimate act of kindness. Secondly, it removes all of the artificial roadblocks, barriers, and obstacles you put in your own way and allows your real creativity to escape.
The next time you sit down to write, give this approach a try. Once you’ve completed your first draft, walk away. After a day or so has passed, come back to the piece and edit it. More likely than not, you’ll find that your own insights and creativity surprise you.
4. Build an inspiration board
People do it when they’re planning parties or decorating homes, so why not develop an inspiration board when you’re working to become a creative copywriter?
Here’s what you need to do: build a Pinterest board dedicated solely to the content that inspires you. Once you’ve constructed the board, give yourself a few days to cruise around the web and collect the things you love.
At the end of the few days, take a second look at your inspiration board. You’ll likely see a series of patterns, approaches, and voices you can adapt to make your copywriting more creative.
5. Check in on a regular basis
We’ve all had the experience of writing something and cringing, knowing that it’s simply not that great. Instead of letting these moments go, though, stop to check in with them. This is where creativity begins to atrophy and catching these moments as they happen in mid-stride will help you stop them once and for all.
Instead of just finishing the piece and walking away, put yourself in the reader’s or company’s shoes. How can you take that “blah” passage and make it moving? In addition to making you a more creative copywriter, this will also help you deliver better content for all of your clients.
The Case for Creativity in the World of Content
While writing the next great American novel isn’t on my immediate to-do list, I do believe that creativity plays a critical role in online copywriting.
Creative copywriters are mastering an art form that is different, yes, but no less magical than the creativity present in books like Lolita or Moby Dick.
As copywriters, we’re not sellouts: we’re creative people doing the tough, tough job of taking dreams, ideas, and emotions from companies in all industries and turning them into material that’s virtually universal. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
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