Back when I was starting out as a copywriter, a designer asked me what book taught me how to write the way I did. I told him I knew a good book about content strategy, but I’d never read anything about the method to writing smart headlines or clever copy. When I meet writers who went to school for advertising, they seem to have some helpful guidelines. I only know about them from being admonished for going against that wisdom.
The lack of solid rules can make the results a bit unpredictable, but I can generally tell how well a project is turn out within the first hour.
The tricky thing about good writing for digital marketing is that it’s hard to qualify. You just know it when you read it. That is reflective of the writing process. Your best writing either happens or it doesn’t, and it’s basically impossible to force yourself into a place where all the award-worthy taglines come from.
A tagline can be as short as two words, but it can take as long to write as an entire website. Or it can take fifteen minutes. And usually the one that took fifteen minutes is better than the one that came after days of agonizing. This is important to understand whether you are working as a creative or are on the client side: the time and effort required for a deliverable does not always correlate to the size or lengthiness of the end result.
There are some ways to increase your chances of landing on a mind-bendingly excellent tagline or headline. A healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and lots of caffeine helps. A healthy dose of booze can loosen the creative inhibitions, though you need to be careful with that one. I find my best ideas come somewhere between one and three hours after waking up. The first hour, my mind is a mess. Then it peaks after the first cup of coffee and slowly tapers out until the next morning. I’ve had a good share of late night epiphanies or mid-afternoon moments of genius. But those just aren’t as common.
Are there cases where a good idea never comes? Yes. Though rarely. Usually that means you aren’t focusing on the right selling points. Or you’re trying to say too much at once and you need to narrow your focus. Maybe you just need to take a break and a candy bar. There is always an opportunity to reset and rethink your experiential marketing approach.
So this article has very little actionable advice. And that’s part of the point. The best writing comes easy. When you have to try hard, it’s usually not as good. That’s a fact of life that produces a lot of anxiety. Every new project comes with the possibility of an extended period of brain-wracking with results that are sufficient but not portfolio-worthy. Or it can be a breeze. In a way, it’s comforting to realize that, even after years at a great advertising agencies in Austin, to a great extent, it’s out of our hands.