Copywriting - Do you edit while you write?

I do.  I’m ashamed to admit it.Copywriting

It’s a terrible habit for any copywriter.  I’ve tried to kick the habit.  I really have.

At times, I’m successful.  I go through periods when I can discipline myself to finish the copywriting before I start editing.

But I am human.  I am weak.  And too often I can’t resist the temptation to edit prematurely.  (Confession:  I wrote the first half of this post without editing, but I couldn’t help myself.)

If you don’t write very often, this probably doesn’t make much sense to you.

But if you are working on writing projects on a regular basis, you know what I mean.  And I suspect most of you – most of the time – fall into this trap too.


Why this is a problem

Writing is largely a subjective exercise.  It’s not like a math problem where you find the right answer and move on.

With writing, there is no end – until the deadline approaches.

You can always find ways to improve on what you’ve already written.  And so we do.

We write the first paragraph and move on to the second paragraph – all the while thinking about ways to improve the first paragraph.

It’s a wonder we ever finish anything.


The disciplined writer

The disciplined writer writes fast and edits slow.

By writing fast, you get everything down on paper as quickly as possible – preferably in one sitting.   It won’t be pretty or well organized.  You may not want to show it to anyone.

But when you’re finished, everything is there – the headline and subheads, the lead sentence, the clarifying and supporting sentences, the offer, the value proposition, the lead selling points, the secondary selling points, the credibility builders, the call to action, the suggested artwork, everything.

Only when this rough draft is complete should you start to edit.  Editing is a slow and painful process, but it’s so much more effective if you are working from a completed draft.


Working with clients

I write a lot of direct mail (yep, still do), websites, email, ad copy, collateral and so-called content.

I mostly write for clients so I always know my “finished” draft will need to be approved – and probably revised – by someone else.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes (more often than I care to admit), this editing improves my copy.  My clients understand their businesses better than I do and they will often provide some insight that should have been included in my initial draft.

Sometimes, the editing is not so good and may actually hurt the results.  In this case, it’s up to me to speak up and make my case – which I am not afraid to do.

But in most cases, the editing is merely cosmetic, style choice or word/phrase preference.  These are not changes that will affect the results so I have no problem accommodating those changes without comment.   Remember, writing is a subjective process.


How to control the process

As copywriters, you can’t worry about the editing.  It’s part of the process.  You need to anticipate it and budget for it.

But you can control the creative process with a message platform.

A message platform is an overview of the content of the project.

By outlining all of the copy points you expect to include in your writing – everything that will be included in the project – you can get client approval on the facts before you start writing.

This is important because it forces your client to review the message for content only – not for style.   You’ll get feedback on what you’ve included or what’s missing from the content rather than your word choice or use of phrasing.

A message platform is no small task.  You need to think through the project pretty thoroughly to develop a message platform.  In some cases, it may actually take longer than the writing itself.  But that’s okay because the writing comes much easier once the platform finished.

This won’t eliminate the editing of course.  But it should make the editing easier because the content has already been approved.

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Written by Bob McCarthy

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Bob McCarthy is a direct response copywriter and lead generation specialist.

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About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."

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