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Breaking Through the Block: An English Major’s Approach to Ad Writing

Insights / 05.17.2018

Traci Gao / Copywriter

I’ll say it plainly: writing matters. Even as the marketing landscape continues to advance and evolve, being able to produce good written content has always been essential, as it shapes the way we communicate, discover, understand. However, in this industry where “Content is King,” there also comes an increasing pressure to produce it often, and fast. Writing is in high demand. But what happens if you just run out of steam? When you’re churning out a high volume in a short amount of time, an all too common pitfall that writers face is creative fatigue.

My somewhat unconventional path to becoming a copywriter began in academia, when I was pursuing my M.A. in English. Even then, writer’s block was my biggest fear. But shortly after starting my graduate program, with the amount of writing that was required, I quickly learned that I had to develop strategies to systematically push through this block, while also maintaining a certain standard of quality. Now that I’m an ad writer, I’ve found that these same strategies continue to guide my work, helping me to balance level of content with volume of content, and on a continuous basis.

From a simple blog post, to website copy, to new product branding collateral, here are some of the ways I apply my academic writing background to my ad writing process today:

Do the things that don’t require as much creative thinking first.

Just start working out the logistics. Collect your sources, go through the project mandatories, read up on the background. I’d rather cross more things off my list upfront so that there’s less to deal with, even if it means leaving the weightier elements for later. It just lets my left brain feel productive while my right brain is warming up to tackle the ultimate task at hand. Once I’ve laid out everything there is to know about the project, I organize it all into a loose outline. Doesn’t have to be final yet, but dealing with a large amount of notes is easier if you can bucket them into sections, then visualize how the sections can build upon each other.

Set aside intentional, designated writing time.

And stick to it. Sometimes, just getting started is the hardest part. Give yourself some parameters that you have to maintain (I have to write 200 words before I take a break. I have to write for an hour before I take a break. I have to come up with a headline before I take a break. And I really want that break). Let your parameters push you to the point of restlessness or uncomfortableness. Then right down the words that come out.

At the same time, don’t stop at your parameters if you don’t need to.

When you are on a roll, let the writing take you where it’s going. Luke Sullivan once wrote, “never walk away from a hot keyboard,” which is a perfect summation of how to treat inspiration when it hits. The truth is, to produce good quality writing, you have to challenge your own expectations. Don’t stop when something starts to feel hard; stop when it finally feels right. Creativity is less like a plant you nurture than it is a wild beast you must feed.

You don’t have to write in order.

If you’re staring at a blank page stuck trying to come up with an introduction, remember that you don’t have to write the first part first. After I lay out my outline, I just start sticking thoughts and ideas under certain sections as they come to me. If you think of a snappy concluding line in the middle of writing your opening paragraph, jot it down and come back to it later. In fact, sometimes starting at the end helps—it gives you something to work toward, to boil down to.

Write it badly first.

A first draft isn’t so much a draft as it is a dumping grounds for your thoughts. Just get the ideas out of your brain and onto the page. Sometimes we’re so pen shy with the pressure of needing to write things perfectly first, that we don’t write anything at all. A past copywriter mentor of mine once told me that you have to go through a complete exploration of language before landing on your best work. Show 30 headlines before narrowing down to three. Then revise, revise, revise.

Be willing to let things go.

There are instances when we’re stuck because we want to fight for an idea so badly that we become blind to the fact that it just doesn’t work. So, save it as a different version for safekeeping, and move on. Cutting out is freeing, and lets you see things in a whole new light. Another way to probe an idea that doesn’t quite fit is to try writing it a different way. Turn it upside-down, or backward, and see how that feels. If it still doesn’t work, then that’s probably a sign to give it the axe, sorry.

Start developing your own techniques.

You can read all the guides, the infographics, the how-to steps out there—but ultimately, your writing process is your own, and your way through it is your own. I’ll sum it up this way: you have to write often to write well. The more you write, the easier it is to naturally implement your own techniques that help you push through the fatigue and get you from start to finish. It’s about writing smartly, so that even though you’re producing a high volume of work, you’re still consistently delivering high-quality content.

And they say content is king.

Copywriting,Insights

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