The Misery of bad copywriting

“Oh, Paul. What a poet you are.” Annie Wilkes, Misery

We’re absolutely hobbled to hear it’s been 30 years since the mallet-swinging horror of Misery. Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s classic saw the incapacitated writer (James Caan) forced into rewriting his latest manuscript by a crazed fan (Kathy Bates). 

Sound familiar?

Well, if you’re a copywriter at an agency it might. We’re constantly straddling the line between classic training, our creative instincts and those client needs. 

But what if you’re not a writer?

Instead, let’s say you’re a web designer that’s been tasked with writing a piece about the latest front-end trends. You’re at the forefront of your craft - but how do you articulate it?

By twisting the narrative of a horror classic, of course. 

“Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.”

Charles Bukowski

That feeling of imposter syndrome looms over you like an iron mallet. Well, ignore it - you are creative. 

Just start typing. 



But, whatever you do, hook them early. 

Often, people only read the first few pages of a novel before they invest any more time. But it’s the same with all copy. 

If you’re writing an article, think of it as a reverse triangle. Top load all over the best content into a killer heading and enticing intro with the least important stuff at the bottom.

Use every sentence to persuade the reader to continue.

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”

Albert Camus

Dramatic. But he has a point. 

Research from Buzzsumo suggests that 29% of the internet is duplicate content. If we’re not destroying civilization, we’re at least diluting our own ideas.

 

In 2019, it’s no good writing something that’s following the trends or, in our case, pandering to that “number one fan”. 

As writers, we want to create something of lasting and enduring value - something that helps people. So before typing a word, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What’s the angle? 
  2. Is this unique?
  3. Am I adding value?

There’s a lot out there, so do something different.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Robert Frost

Memorable stories have twists. 

So try not to take the topic head-on. Because one of the most powerful things a copywriter can do is break down a reader’s guard with an unexpected approach. 

Like creating a copywriting guide that’s themed around a 1980s horror movie.

Look, there are infinite angles. Great copy finds the one that hits hardest.

Just don’t kill off her favourite character.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemmingway

By now you’ve heard people talk about content, or user, personas hundreds of times. But you know what? They are important. We need to empathise and identify with the reader before we can expect them to care. 

Think of it as method acting. Right now, I’m Rob Reiner directing this horrorshow  - and you’re Paul Sheldon. 

So Paul - famed novelist and Sonny from The Godfather - keep these three questions at the front of your mind:

  1. What are your reader’s pain points?
  2. Why should they care?
  3. Will these words stir their emotions?

And if you’re going to empathise - I mean really get under their skin - you need to talk like a real person. 

This means using simple and straightforward language. Obviously, there’s still a place for metaphors and similes in features or - erm - novels. Just don’t overcomplicate it. Remember to inject a little personality and, if your brand tone allows it, some familiarity. 

Because copy is a conversation - it talks to the individual. So try not to write like you’re broadcasting to the room. F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he said: 

“Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

I think he’s right!!!

“Don’t be afraid to cut”

Ray Bradbury

For writers, the editing process can feel ruthless. I know - it’s your baby. 

But seriously, this is where we separate the Stephen King’s from the - well - less good writers. 

If you can afford to cut without losing the meaning of a sentence, do it. Make sure every word is working hard. Just remember these eight easy tips when editing your work:

  1. The biggie: cut long sentences in two. 
  2. Remove repetitive words
  3. Replace jargon with simpler terms
  4. Avoid using clichés
  5. Remove instances of “very” and “really”
  6. Replace the passive voice with an active one, e.g. changing “the door was left open” with “he/she” or “someone” left it open
  7. Use contractions, e.g. “that’s close to my house” instead of “that is close to my house”
  8. Replace weak verbs with stronger ones, e.g. “banged shut” instead of “shut noisily”

And finally…

“The greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

Truman Capote

So, remember to read it aloud

It sounds basic - I know. But it’s the best way to hear how it sounds to other people. 

You’ll end up spotting words that sound weird or need a little emphasis. You’ll also see where the natural breaks come.



Just listen to the rhythm. 

So that’s how you write the story. Let’s hope she likes the ending…

You’re not alone

But if you’re stuck working from home at the moment - like us - the situation might feel more like another Stephen King novel

Well, you’re not alone. We’re still around, so feel free to get in touch for a chat.