Lessons from a Copywriter for Better Fiction

With five years of marketing, public relations and journalism under my belt, I just started taking fiction seriously within the last couple years. When I started, I felt pretty much on my own. Other than a lifetime of reading, I didn’t have any instruction to go by that was officially about the creative writing craft.

So, as writers have been instructed to do for ages, I started with what I knew: copywriting. Turns out the creative industry has a few solid nuggets of wisdom to share with novelists. Here’s my top takeaways based on personal trial and error:

Just do it. When cranking out the next idea is your livelihood, you can’t afford to let writer’s block have its way with you. So you find ways to create even when on your worst off days. So you start anyway. Even if it starts as something absolutely awful, or just disconnected notes, or a brainstorm or even a sketch. Inspiration has a way of catching up if you stop waiting around and begin without it.

Keep going, and going, and going … The mind is designed for efficiency. So, when you hand it a problem, it hands you back the easiest, most obvious ideas first. But next time you’re trying to build a character or determine your next plot point, don’t stop brainstorming as soon as you have an idea that will work. Instead, ask the same question again and again. I am always thrilled with what I come up with using this method.

Where’s the beef? As we say in the biz, content is king. No amount of beautiful writing can cover up a lack of substance, and consumers and readers alike can smell fluff a mile away. So if catch yourself writing without a point in mind, it’s time to take it back to the drawing board. What are you trying to say? Where should this scene be going?

Snap! Crackle! Pop! But the substance isn’t enough—you’ve got to give it a little fizzle too. No one ever wanted to read copy where the dry facts are staring at you badly, one stacked over the other, with no personality. Don’t just feed your readers plot lines either. How does your scene smell? Taste? What’s your POV feel? What are the tension points?

Have it your way. We’re all individuals with our own tastes and quirks. No amount of creative tricks or time-management tools can make you something you’re not. Don’t do something just because it worked for somebody else. Observe the masters, and then choose and pick what feels right for you. If you write best in the mornings, one hour at a time, cool. If you race through your entire first draft in a single-night frenzy, great. Neither is better than the other.

At the end of the day, the best way to become a better writer is to write. Turns out that it doesn’t necessarily have to all be the same kind. Writing many different kinds of content—from fiction to taglines to blogging—has all crossed over and made my other kinds of writing stronger too.


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