In honor of summer and the slew of movie sequels that tend to hit around this time of year, it’s time for the long-awaited follow-up to the tour de force known as “The Copywriter’s Grab Bag: Part 1.” In my never-ending quest to help writers (including myself) be the best they can be, I’ve riffed a list of new pet peeves that need addressing. Who knows? Maybe this edition — like “22 Jump Street” — will be even better than its predecessor.
To be verbs, or not to be verbs
That’s the question every writer should have on his or her mind at all times. “This is that” and “that is this” statements are boring. If you asked a friend for restaurant recommendations and he or she responded with, “Restaurant 1 is good. So is Restaurant 2. Restaurant 3 is also good,” you’d immediately have a dozen follow-up questions. “What makes Restaurant 1 good?” “What did you eat at Restaurant 2?” “What’s with all these weird restaurant names?” Better to get the most important information out there from the jump, e.g., “Restaurant 1 makes the best lidnivikis this side of the Baltic!” Use your vague “to be” verbs sparingly. Replace them with useful, dynamic action verbs.
There is an even bigger problem
Fun fact: Using “there is” at the beginning of a sentence turns it into an expletive. Convenient name, really, considering every time I read one of these sentences I weave a tapestry of expletives so elaborate it’d make Samuel L. Jackson blush. When you begin a sentence with “there is,” you wander into passive voice territory. Consider these two sentences:
- There is snow on the mountain.
- The mountain is covered in snow.
In the first example, it’s hard to determine the subject of the sentence. The sentence isn’t dynamic because it lacks an active verb. In the second example, it’s clear what the subject is. And by using an action word (“covered”), the sentence has more life.
There is You have no reason to use passive voice, least of all when starting your sentences.
Enter late and leave early
It doesn’t matter whether you’re crafting an e-book or churning out social copy, concision is the name of the game. Let’s compare the process to movie writing, because that’s what I do. Not long ago, one Hollywood script reader read 300 screenplay submissions and tracked the most recurring writing problems. Topping the list of offenders were scripts where the story began too late in the piece. Translate that to screen time and that’s time wasted staring at a screen waiting for something to happen. Endings can be tricky too. The same goes for copywriting (or any type of writing, for that matter). Any fluff you stuff into the beginning or end of a blog, a white paper, or even a tweet is wasted space. Enter as close to the climax of the thing as possible. Then resolve the problem, tease or provide the solution, and get the hell out of Dodge.
(If you’re my boss, stop reading now.) I’ll argue, and writer extraordinaire Megan McArdle agrees with me, that the best writers are the worst procrastinators. (Look, I was supposed to submit this blog weeks before I actually wrote it.) For many writers working against a deadline, eventually the fear of not submitting any writing takes over the fear of getting it perfect. I’ve talked with plenty of writers who feel that the more they plan out or research a blog, for instance, the more they inadvertently give themselves the opportunity to overthink and overwrite the piece. Deadlines are your friend. They force the creativity out of you. Take advantage of them.
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of the epic “Copywriter’s Grab Bag” trilogy. I promise it won’t be as bad as “The Godfather: Part III.”