Hi, how are you? Hello, I hope you’re well. Hiya, what’s going on? Are you okay? Doing good? Like greetings, writing is very personal. It’s an interesting topic to look at – especially when you’re trying to create a brand voice or personal tone of voice for your writing. I’m taking an opportunity to reflect on writing as a whole and how looking back can actually help to advance your copywriting career.
I remember being younger, twelve years old in fact, and sitting at the computer keyboard writing short stories with every ounce of free time I had. This was around the time that I had learned that my great-grandmother was an author. Instantly, I was transported into thinking what my life might look like as an author or a writer. From early on, I knew that communication – especially in written form – was going to be one of my long-term passions.
Fast forward to now – it’s not just short stories anymore. If anything, the short stories have become about my own life. Added to the repertoire of short stories came direct response copywriting, social ad copy, case studies and research articles. I went from wanting to be a journalist to wanting to write for National Geographic. Then it was a copywriter for an advertising agency, now I have my own business as a freelance copywriter and digital strategist. The interesting thing is, each of these dream positions all carried a common thread. Writing was central to all of them. For every year that I’ve studied writing, I’ve noticed that my writing has become stronger, more direct and has a style of its own. What have I learned, exactly? I’m glad you asked.
Just like the way you say hello, your writing style is incredibly personal. Perhaps you’re more of a conversational writer, maybe you like short punchy copy or you even might enjoy writing longer, academic essays. Whatever style of writing you enjoy, run with it. Your copywriting career will involve you creating a tone of voice for yourself – and it definitely helps to enjoy the way you write.
EACH WRITER HAS A DISTINCT STYLE – EVEN IF THEY DON’T REALIZE IT…
Just like writing being a very personal thing, it goes to be said that each writer has their own distinct style. When people ask me for writing advice, my absolute favourite tip to give is to write like you would speak. I find that many people write to fit a mold, which often can leave writing feeling dry and forced. When you write like you speak, your writing becomes distinguishable from others’, it stands out amongst the masses and it reads with ease. I’ve learned over the years that trying to force a writing style that isn’t yours can be difficult. Not only is it hard to write, but it can be hard to read.
That’s not to say that you should chuck out any type of writing style guide that your workplace or university may have in place. Rather, it more is a way to figure out how to adapt and change your tone of voice to suit the guidelines that you’ve been given. It then allows you to fit any writing guidelines you may have, whilst still allowing to remain true to your writing style.
This may be (other than my dislike of Oxford commas) the aspect of writing that I’m most passionate about. Good grammar is SO important – anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I remember learning the rules of grammar early, perhaps around fourth grade – and being consistently reminded of how great writing starts with good grammar.
Seeing as this reflects what I’ve learned about writing, I’ll get to my point about grammar. As I’m sure, you all didn’t click on to this article for a rant about proper usage of grammar and grammatical techniques. I think one of my greatest takeaways here, is that just slopping something together (even if you’re a great writer) without proofreading and checking for grammar errors isn’t something people can get away with anymore. There is so much pressure to be a good writer now, that many rely on services such as Grammarly and Spellcheck (which are both fantastic services), rather than taking it upon themselves to understand why the grammatical changes being made are necessary. I’m a stickler for good grammar. This isn’t a new concept – and let me just say, proofreading is one of my favourite things to do.
A THESAURUS WILL BECOME YOUR BEST FRIEND
I am a self-admitted thesaurus nerd. I always carry a pocket-thesaurus with me. Yes, I’m serious – it’s in my handbag sitting next to me as I type this. A creature of habit at times, I tend to use certain words over and over again – but I find that it’s never on purpose. Sometimes coming up with an alternative word that carries the same meaning can be difficult. Some occasions call for a more decorative or punctual word to fit a certain brand’s voice. Enter stage right, pocket-thesaurus. A miniature word-bank, it’s a great tool to not only expand your vocabulary, but also to help keep your writing feeling fresh and non-repetitive. I’m sure you’ve all written pieces in which every sentence seemed to start with “I think”, “It did this”, or “I feel”. Whilst it may not be bad writing, perhaps it could use a little freshness. Especially for new clients throughout your copywriting career, this is where the ability to command a large vocabulary any time you want can really come in handy.
YOU CAN’T JUST RELY ON SPELL-CHECK…
It’s easier than ever to have decent grammar and to be able to spell words correctly. But, let me ask you this – does anyone remember the time where you couldn’t lean on spellcheck every time you needed to spell something? My second-grade classroom always had weekly spelling tests, and the top two spellers each week were written on the board underneath the ‘Super Speller’ banner. You’d best believe, I took it upon myself to be in that super speller category. I loved learning new words and how to spell them. People mixing up ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ or ‘they’re’, ‘there’ and ‘their’ began to make me cringe then and still does to this day.
Why? Because it’s so easy to be able to proofread your work. However, just because these tools are available – it doesn’t mean that you should take it upon yourself to not learn how to spell well. Throughout your copywriting career, I think, striving to become a better speller and proofreader is one of the most important skills you can have in your repertoire. Give spellcheck a break, it’s still an essential part of writing to learn how to spell and when to use correct versions of a word. I’ve learned that over the years, as I’ve seen people becoming lazy with their writing, it bothers me more and more. Personally, I’d love to bring back the ‘Super Speller Leaderboard’. What’s wrong with a little healthy competition, right?
OXFORD COMMAS – NO. PLEASE, NO…
I’ll admit, this one is more of a personal preference. Let me just state this now – I’ve had professors that have really disliked that I personally don’t enjoy writing with oxford commas. I’ve also had professors that encouraged my lack of them. This was a lesson in learning how to develop a personal writing style. I asked a few people in my life whether in a list sentence would they put a comma before the ‘and’ at the end. In asking roughly five people, the answers were split on either side.
That being said, learning and running with your personal writing style is part of the fun in writing. You learn to adapt, to change and to innovate. Who knows, someday I might even prefer to use an oxford comma. (If you know me at all, you’ll have laughed reading that – because that day likely will never come). Throughout your copywriting career, you’ll encounter many different writing styles – the key is to develop your own that stands out amongst the rest.
WRITING CAN BE WHATEVER YOU’D LIKE IT TO BE…
There are no rules here. Writing is personal. It can be factual, creative, impulsive, direct, spontaneous, thought-out, rhyming or written without reason. You don’t have to follow a specific pattern – there’s no formula for good writing. Sure, there are tools that can help you to write for certain environments, take the AP Style Book for example. However, just because these tools are made available to you, doesn’t mean you need to utilise them in order to be a good writer. I’m taking my great-grandmother as an example in this case. She became a writer without graduating high school. She had to petition the governor to allow her to enroll in a university after the age of sixty. Catharine, my great-grandmother, bought her first computer at eighty. My family still collects royalties for her work today. She became a good writer without all the fancy tools. She utilized her passion for words, her dedication to storytelling and her devotion to life-long learning.
I’ve learned a lot about writing – in writing camps, high school and university classrooms, from my grandmother and on my own. It’s been interesting to take a look back at my history with writing and the lessons I’ve learned over the years – and it’s also shown me just how important writing is. Both for a copywriting career and in your day-to-day life.
Have you ever looked back at your work over the years? Do you find value in it? If you’re looking to begin a new writing project, or need to re-vamp your current web copy, drop me a line and we can chat about all things writing, grammar and proof-reading. I’ll even have my pocket-thesaurus handy!