Archive for the ‘Writing and Editing’ Category

How to use a swipe file to fix your content strategy

Ask anyone: writing well is hard to do. Writing well and writing regularly, even harder. But you can make it easier.

One of my favorite tips — something most marketing copywriters are familiar with, thanks to the David Ogilvys and Robert W. Blys of the world — is to keep a swipe file handy. Copywriters keep swipe files of brilliant heds and marketing campaigns for inspiration and concrete, structural formulas that can be leveraged in their own copy. But swipe files are not just for advertisers and copywriters. I’ve always kept a variety of swipe files, but recently it’s dawned on me that, as great as this is for me, the people who REALLY need swipe files are my clients. Because the one issue I hear from them? All the time? It’s not  lack of ideas. (They have plenty of those.)  Read On…

Why all writers should do poetry workshops

Apologies in advance to the creative writers among you, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that all writers — yes, journalists, copywriters, marketers-who-write, etc. — should take a creative writing workshop. One where your content gets picked apart by a group of skilled peers while you cower, mortified and angry, in the corner.

Actually, the point of this exercise is to not do that — the cowering part. But you’ll cower regardless.

The problem is your ego. Read On…

7 indispensable tips for better, smarter writing

The more I write, the more I become convinced that writing is one-tenth talent and about nine-tenths craft. On other days the craft share inches up toward 99 percent, easy. But no matter what kind of work you do, no matter the reason why you’re writing (because you’re a writer, or you have to, or…), and no matter what the venue is, some rules always apply.

And yes — this is an acrostic blog post. Just be grateful it doesn’t rhyme.

  • Write. This is the hardest part of writing: writing. You have to untangle all the school-age stuff and performance anxiety that gets between you and actually doing it, and just do it. It turns out that not doing something is the enemy of getting it done.
  • Revise, revise, revise. As many times as you can stand.
  • If you doubt it, check it. Don’t let factual errors or incorrect word choices unhinge an entire piece’s credibility. We can’t catch every mistake. But we can catch a hell of a lot if we just pay attention. See “T” and “G” for more information.
  • Trust your editor. When someone tells me they have given me copy that’s “print-ready,” I cringe. I’ve worked many a writing/editing job, and I still seek smart editors (even when they’re actually just smart, non-editor clients) who can help me spot and fix my weak points. In fact, I lust after them. Bottom line: If you haven’t revised it 73 times and had it edited by someone with a fine-tuned sense of how people read — never mind grammar, which can always be fixed — then it’s not print-ready. Trust me. Furthermore, editors exist to make you look better, smarter, wiser, cooler, etc. Welcome them. They are your A-team. Your ego is not.
  • If it seems long, it is. This is the hardest lesson of all, I swear. I like to “go long.” I learned, after many an editorial dressing-down, that few topics require as many words as you’d LIKE to use. “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter” — live by this.
  • Now read it backwards. I read this tip recently and it’s turned out to be the best damn thing I’ve ever done. Everyone has a version of this: let it rest for 24 hours. Read it from last sentence to first. Read it out loud. I suggest trying all of these things and more, shaving off bits and pieces of fat on every pass. I’ve cut pieces in halves, thirds, even sixths like this.
  • Get a second pair of eyes if you can. I actually prefer working with clients who work with editors or marketing/communications departments, because I like being edited. I didn’t at first — until I realized that no one ever got better at something by avoiding criticism and feedback. Know any NFL or NBA players who work without coaches? U.S. presidents without a Cabinet? Wildly successful CEOs without formal or informal advisors? The act of writing is solitary, but with the exception of a few notable literary footnotes, most writers need people — editors and readers.
What’s the best trick you have for producing better content, faster? Automatic gold star if it starts with a W, R, I, T, N or G.

How writers can defuse your marketing emergency

I attended a mixed-martial arts fight with my accountant recently. In between fights, to distract all of us from the omnipresent thonged “fight girls” dancing about 14 inches from our noses, I mentioned that ghostwriting blog posts and web content is one of my top-growing sources of revenue.

After all, there’s a marketing emergency afoot: companies are under the gun to produce content. Unfortunately, what most of them produce stinks. Enter professional writers like me, who will blog, write freelance articles and create marketing copy on your behalf.

He laughed. “Really?” he asked me quizzically. “And how do you know what to write about?” Read On…

4 Clear Facts About the Future of Digital Content


My clients are pretty cool cats, not easily rattled–and yet many of them are deeply, insanely worried about the new media “future” and the apparently all-consuming need to become business blogging/marketing gurus, on top of running their businesses day-to-day.

Between the terrifying predictions (Google+ is the future! No Facebook! Back to blogging!) and marketing-soapbox declarations (This email marketing software is best! This approach to blogging is superior! You’ll become obsolete if you don’t ___!), it’s almost impossible to avoid a paralyzing bout of noise-induced inaction.

So here’s the deal, at least insofar as content is concerned: Yes, I believe content is the future. From blog posts to Facebook updates to user-generated content, to articles to email to…etc.

And I DO believe that sales today can hinge on the trust, information and access that this wealth of content creates for clients and buyers. But I don’t believe you should sweat any of this; it’s not as complex as the “experts” would have you believe. (Remember, you’re a buyer too–you know the behavior and what works.)

Four (clear) facts about the future of content online

  1. Consistency matters. You do not have to be on every social network, no matter what anyone says. You do not have to blog if you don’t want to (have you asked your other team members, though?). Dispersal is good, but only if the content you’re dispersing is worth reading. It’s better to stick to what you’re good at consistently than to inconsistently be bad at a lot of stuff. “Jack of all trades, master of none.*” Read On…