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Copywriters: are you running to fat?

Andy Maslen has been persuading people to think, feel and act differently since 1986, when he first started working as an in-house copywriter.

He is managing director and head copywriter at Sunfish, the writing agency he founded with creative director Jo Kelly in 1996, and the author of five books on copywriting, including the best-sellers Write to Sell and Persuasive Copywriting.


They’re essential.

For fitness, yes.

But for copywriting, too.

Writers need to stretch theirs.

Otherwise we get lazy and fat.

I don’t mean we literally get fat.

But our writing starts piling on the pounds.

Where once it was lithe, now it is sluggish.

Where once it fizzed with energy, now it merely slouches.

Where once it persuaded people, now it sends them to sleep.

This is often a big problem for older and more experienced writers.

(And yes, I know that 'older' and 'more experienced' aren’t the same thing.)

What happens is that our earlier struggles have led to success, and we relax.

We find magic formulae, tips and tricks that get us through even the toughest brief.

You could argue, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but what if it is broke?

What if those tried and tested approaches are no longer fit for purpose and could be improved?

That’s where the idea of exercising our copywriting muscles, as if we were in the gym, comes in.

In creative writing circles, there are zillions of exercises that writers perform to hone their craft and stay fresh.

Everything from making their favourite characters do despicable things to technical routines like writing one or two haikus every day.

I’d argue that for copywriters working at the bleeding edge of digital marketing, the need to exercise is even more important.

They have the luxury of real-time metrics that measure exactly how their copy performs – but this can be a distraction.

The danger is that you end up writing for the metrics instead of the copywriter’s real target – your reader.

So how should we counter this worrying tendency to run to fat and what exercises should we perform?

I’d recommend a mixed workout involving creative writing and copywriting, so that the two writing disciplines cross-pollinate.

For creative writing, write dialogue as a way of getting into the rhythms of everyday speech.

Or use sensory language to describe people, places and things so you can evoke emotions.

For copywriting, try copying out – longhand – ads you either love or know did well.

Or write copy for something you disapprove of: cigarettes or porn, for example.

There are plenty of technical exercises you can try, if you’re minded.

Try writing a paragraph about anything without using the letter ‘e’.

Or write some copy in the form of a sonnet.

What you’re doing is strengthening your underused writing muscles.

It may hurt at first, but that’s natural.

I’ve been doing it in this article.

Each sentence was one word longer.

Until I reached sentence 21.

Then I started shortening.

Heading for one.

So, exercise.


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