How those old letters can improve your copywriting

When’s the last time you got something in the mail?

What was it? A new Amazon delivery of toilet paper? A box of quarantine chocolates? Or maybe a letter (remember those?)?

As a kid, I loved getting the mail. I’d immediately look for letters from my grandparents or my globe-trotting aunt. The envelope would have my name on it. Not my parents. Or anyone else. It was written to me.

Letter writing actually teaches an important aspect of good web copy.

Good web copy, like a hand-written letter, is specific.

No, true, you’re not writing to Caitlin, but you’re writing to your audience.

Just like you can’t send a letter to anyone, you need to know who your audience is before you write a single word of copy.

Who are they? Is it active-duty moms, mom-bloggers, or baby boomers looking to retire abroad?

Think about who your ideal customer, client or donor is, and write to them directly.

Don’t write to everyone. This might be tempting, but is the kiss of death to good copy. You’ll end up with bland, vague, web content.

And if your audience can’t quickly connect with you in those first few sentences, they’ll move on to someone else.

Vague, general copy doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t grab the attention of your clientele. Instead, it’s the equivalent of that guy in high school who sent the same message to 20 girls asking them to the prom.

And chances are you don’t want to work with everyone (and their mother). If your ideal client is a baby boomer looking to retire to the coast of France, you probably won’t be thrilled working with a 19-year old looking to backpack across Asia for their gap year.

It has nothing to do with you being polite, but the crux of what your business is all about and who you serve.

In the online world, you have just a few seconds to get someone’s attention and persuade them to keep reading. Write in a clear, deliberate way that speaks to them, their problems, and their desires.

Remember, if you write to everyone, you’ll write to no one. Always write with your audience in mind.

Now, over to you. Are you writing your web copy? How is it going for you?

This Content Mistake Is Costing You

A family member asked me to revise their cover letter. Within a minute, I saw the problem.

A big, blob of tiny black text. And long.

We’ve all done it. The epic long, Homer’s Odyssey (which could’ve definitely been shorter) cover letter, report, or article piece. The content is just too long. It plagues even the best of writers.

But it’s not your fault.

Think back to school. Reading East of Eden or academic works. Or writing your research paper that must be 8-10 pages. So, what do you do? Try and cram as many extra words as possible into your sentences to take up the page.

Oh, don’t deny it. I taught.

Over time, we develop a deeply ingrained habit of making things unnecessarily lengthy. And it’s a bad one. Especially in our digital world.

Attention spans are shrinking. People aren’t reading word-for-word or left to right. They scroll and scan from their phones.

To write successful content, you need to keep it short. This is especially crucial for social media but applies to any online content. Anecdotally, I’ve found that the shorter my cover letter, the more likely it is to get read.

I’m not advocating for “caveman” speak. It still needs to make sense. But when you edit you need to cut out extra words, tangents, or additional topics (i.e: if you’re writing tips for bringing home your new kitten, don’t start talking about dogs.).

These have a way of sneaking into our writing. They suck the power out of your copy. With so much content out there competing for attention, readers may scroll by.

Keep it brief.

Writing Garbage

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Writing Garbage

There it is, staring you in the face.

The blank page. “What’s on your mind?”, your favorite #socialmedia site asks.

Nothing? Cat memes? Take a deep breath and start anyway.

You successfully push through the struggle that is writer’s block. It’s finished. Like Frodo at the volcano, it’s all over! Triumphant, you read that first draft and it’s…..not good. Some might even say, terrible.

How are you feeling? Displeased? Ignore the scream rising in your throat chakra, and let me restore your chi with this sound piece of advice:

“Write garbage, as long as you edit brilliantly.” – C.J Cherryh (author of over 80 fiction novels, and knows a thing or two about #writing ).

I promise you this, your first draft will *always* be crap. Doesn’t matter if you’re a plant daddy or Ernest Hemingway. They’re called “rough drafts” for a reason (and it wasn’t because your teacher thought you were a terrible writer). I’d sooner throw my first draft out the window than publish it.

The purpose of your first draft is to get ideas from your brain to…the screen. It’s not about neatly placing each word and churning out perfect #content the first time. If that was the case, I’d never write a single word.

The secret is in the editing. This holds true if you’re a content writer, copywriter, or a student trying to finally finish that research paper. Proofread like it’s nobody’s business. Be merciless with bad copy and typos. Cut out sentence-sucking globs of words (more on that later).

Take the time to carefully read through each sentence. Although garbage is perfectly acceptable for first drafts, if you don’t edit you *will* struggle as a writer.

So, go ahead. Write filthy garbage. As long as you edit ruthlessly.