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Grow Your Writing Skills — Part II

In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.

This week, I’d like to focus on his second and third steps.

Freewriting

Freewriting is a great idea to develop ideas for your writing project. Whether you’re working on a short story, a novel, or a blog post, jotting down ideas through freewriting will help “free” up your mind and flesh out your ideas. 

Lurie suggests setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and allowing yourself to write without thinking about spelling or grammar. Just write down everything that comes to mind about your topic, even if you end up going down some rabbit trails. Don’t stop writing until the timer is up!

When the buzzer finally rings, stop and step away from your computer or paper for a few minutes before you review your writing. Then, highlight any new ideas that may have sprouted during your freewriting time.

I apply this to my own work, especially larger projects. A lot of my work is quick (i.e., emails, banner ads, social media ads, etc.), but I have several large pieces per month that require quite a bit of cognitive effort on my part. 

Freewriting is a great way for me to get some ideas out on paper, especially if I’m not sure which direction I want to take the piece. 

Writing Your First Draft

Writing your first draft is always the hardest part of starting a new project. Depending on the length of the piece, you may want to break it down into manageable steps for yourself. For example, if you’re working on a novel, take it chapter by chapter or scene by scene. Once you have a goal in mind for what you want to write, set a timer for 45-90 minutes and begin writing!

Writing your first draft is a little different than freewriting because you need to allow your goal to guide your writing. Keep your goal, writing style, and the type of piece in mind. Keeping the type of piece in mind just means that you need to remember the context. If you’re writing a novel, ask yourself: Where does this chapter or scene fit into the rest of my story? 

When writing your first draft, Lurie suggests leaving the introduction and heading for last. This just gives you the opportunity to develop your ideas before you introduce or conclude them. I often leave headers and subject lines on emails for last, and I often wait until I’m done writing body text before writing salutations in letters or direct mail pieces. Having all of the other copy written first gives me a good idea of how to introduce it.

When the timer is up, Lurie suggests stretching for a few minutes, smiling at your accomplishment, and then polishing your writing, which we will discuss on Jan. 2!

About Emily

Emily Babbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband. Learn more about Emily here.

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Grow Your Writing Skills — Part I

Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.

This week, I’d like to focus on the first step.

Create a Plan

Have you ever taken a composition and rhetoric class? My first semester of college, I took English 101, which taught me how to research, outline, and write research papers. Throughout my education, I used that model (research, outline, write) for most of my papers and assignments, big and small.

The first step in any writing project is to research or create a plan. While I used a more structured outline for planning academic papers, I’ve found that bulleted lists do the trick for most copywriting and fiction writing projects.

Know Your Audience

Lurie suggests first jotting down notes about your audience. In my work as a copywriter for Liberty University Marketing, I primarily write to Generation Z high school students. Understanding my audience’s needs is important to every email, postcard, and booklet I write.

If, for example, I’m working on a direct mail advertisement, I start by making a list of things I know are important to Gen Z students:

  • Sustainability
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Hands-on learning opportunities
Photo by Kaboompics from Pexels

And the list goes on. Once I have a list of Gen Z’s priorities, I can brainstorm ways our university can meet those needs. For example, I might write about Liberty’s energy-saving efforts and 40 percent recycling rate to address Gen Z’s interest in sustainability. 

Similarly, if you are writing fiction for children and young adults, it’s important to understand what’s important to them. In a session from Write2Ignite’s 2019 conference, author and presenter Edie Melson said that you need to be reading the current literature on the market. (i.e., If you want to write young adult fiction, you need to read young adult fiction.)

Reading young adult fiction or children’s books gives you an understanding of the types of stories that are popular, but it doesn’t tell you much about your audience. I suggest not only reading popular fiction for your target audience, but also researching your audience so you can understand what is important to them.

Make a List of Collateral Requested by the Client

Collateral is a marketing term used to describe the materials requested by a client for any given project. For example, if I’m working on some projects for College For A Weekend, Liberty’s four-day college visit, I might have 30-40 projects ranging from emails to class schedule booklets to temporary parking passes. However, I believe this step can easily be translated to fiction or even blog writing: make a list of key scenes/ideas.

Some authors write without an outline. They can just sit down and write their stories without any pre-planning. I’ve never been able to write without an outline, even if it’s only a few bullet points. But writing down the key scenes I want to include in my story or the main ideas I want to address in my blog post helps me get from one point to the next without running down a rabbit trail.

Note: An outline is not a binding agreement. You are not obligated to follow your outline once it’s written!

List the Styles that Will and Won’t Work for Your Audience

Now, this idea fascinated me. Until taking Lurie’s class, I didn’t really think about the style of writing I was using in my marketing pieces. But the more I thought about my audience, the more I realized that Gen Z doesn’t like being marketed to. So how am I supposed to market to Gen Z without them knowing they’re being marketed to? (Say that five times fast!) 

Through style.

Photo from Pexels

Most of my pieces are written in a teaching style. That is, they teach my audience about Liberty and then offer a call to action. (i.e., “Did you know you can receive $10,000 in awards and scholarships over four years just by submitting your refundable $250 Enrollment Deposit? We want to make college attainable for you; that’s why we offer generous scholarship packages and flexible payment plans. Don’t wait — submit your Enrollment Deposit today!”)

In creative writing, you need to choose the correct format for your writing — you need to know the purpose. In her session “Writing for the YA Audience” at the 2019 W2I conference, Melson reminded us that we shouldn’t be writing to tell young adults what to think. We should be writing to connect and entertain and then allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the story, which may or may not be what we intended. 

While your audience may have different takeaways, you’ve given them a reading experience they are invested in rather than another textbook. It’s up to them to decide what to do with the material.

Tune-in on Dec. 5 for steps two and three, freewriting and writing your first draft!

About Emily

EmilyBabbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing and specializes in residential undergraduate enrollment. She has done extensive research on Generation Z and has written for school-aged audiences in her work as a promotional writer and through contract work with Growing Leaders, Inc. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, taking photos, and cooking. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website, EmilyMarlene.com, or connecting with her on LinkedIn.