I often marvel at the infinity of words, the endless opportunities that they provide us with and the versatility with which we can create or deconstruct a multitude of meanings. We can write stories, scripts, and poems, but words also lend themselves to so much more in our everyday world: advertisements, opinionated articles, memes, Twitter posts...
By developing our writing skills (not just creative works but also a multitude of other forms) we can better use words, structure, audience, and meaning to our advantage. If you go out and get a job in any field of the writing industry, from journalism to social media, your short stories, poems, and future novels will inevitably benefit in one way or another .
Most writers wouldn’t come across copywriting unless it was their job, which is a shame because there is a lot that it can teach you. Copywriting could be anything from three word advertisement headings to one sentence product descriptions, so it’s ideal for learning how to write succinctly. You’re made to see something plain in multiple new ways and tasked with making it seem interesting while whittling your meaning down to ridiculously small word counts.
Succinct writing skills don't really develop unless you’re forced into them. Constraints such as word counts can help you to see where you can cut down on unimportant sections and use less words to convey greater meaning.
A big part of copywriting is thinking about audience, and encouraging people to take action (you are essentially trying to sell something). You have to use words that speak to your target audience, considering tone and vernacular as well as relevant ‘buzzwords’ that will connect with people.
An employer once asked me in regards to copywriting:
How well can you bullshit?"
And really that’s all copy writing is: using words to make the reader believe your story is truth. You’re ‘selling’ a made-up tale to your reader, and any way that you can use word choice and active voice to speak to your audience is a good thing.
Write an advertisement for a novel or story you’re working on. Include a headline to grab the attention of your reader, and a tagline to pull people in and convince them to buy your writing. Fit all this into a maximum of 15 words.
Many writers take up journalism over the course of their careers, and though I’ve only dipped a toe into these waters myself, I think it’s safe to say that plenty of established and emerging writers get a lot out of the news writing profession.
Hemingway comes to mind as the most prolific writer to take lessons learned in journalism and prescribe them to creative writing. He worked as a journalist straight out of high school and from the stale business-like tone and structure of news articles came his iconic minimalist style.
News writing forces you to think about structure and the order in which you present information to your reader. You have to prioritise facts and scenes in a structure that not only makes your article interesting to the reader but reveals the story in such a way that they will read all the way from beginning to end.
The dialogue of a news article relies on snippets of quotes from people, and the authenticity of the story is dependent on the quality and placement of these quotes throughout the piece. The article must lead into a quote and make it relevant, which is something that carries through to creative story-telling. Knowing when to let your characters speak, and framing their dialogue appropriately are ideal for exploring your news writing skills.
Write a newspaper article reporting on something that has happened to one of your characters. You don’t need a degree in journalism to work out how an article is structured (I’m sure you’ve read plenty). Make the event seem important enough to be newsworthy, and use quotations from characters within your story-world.
We’ve expressed the importance of having a workshopping group (or even just swapping your work with one other person) on many occasions, and we’re going to say it again: workshopping is essential to improving your writing. Not only does workshopping provide you with feedback on your own work (which is great) but giving feedback can teach you just as much.
Reading somebody else’s work when workshopping requires you to analyse their writing and identify elements that aren’t working. Problem solving is an underestimated part of creative writing, and it can take time and practice to develop a logical brain that can use what knowledge and instinct you have to make a story or poem something spectacular.
Workshopping also allows you to edit other people’s work for grammatical and spelling errors, which gets you used to picking up minor flaws in your own writing. Spelling and grammar are tricky things that I found I only noticed once I started reading my classmates' work and actively workshopping their writing and my own. Now I see it everywhere (even in published books and on the telly).
Find a writer friend (if you’re feeling literary-lonely just reach out to someone on Writer’s Edit! We’re here to help) and ask to swap some writing that you’re both having trouble with. Read through their work once fully, then again to write down your good impressions and things to improve. Look for spelling and punctuation errors, and structural details like paragraphs.
Our recent article about how to read properly mentions writing book reviews as a means to analyse a text and gain knowledge about writing techniques and improvements. Book reviews aren’t a new thing and writers have been turning into critics for years, recently, blogs have been a huge boost for self-publishing reviews and generating discussions with like-minded readers.
I only recently discovered the benefits of writing book reviews, especially as a means to deconstruct a book and its meaning into clear techniques that the author is employing (whether they succeed or fail is another matter).
My recent review of The Golem and the Jinni taught me a lot about reading a novel and considering ways that the author could improve their approach to the story, which is kind of like workshopping when it’s already too late. It’s a good way to train your brain into analysing your own work, which is great for last-minute drafting and submitting when you don’t have time to workshop.
Writing a non-fiction article like a book review also lets you practice structural techniques, similar to news writing, where you need to determine what order your opinions should be presenting in to get your point across. The other thing about book reviews these days is that they’re usually published online, which means you have to take things like paragraph size, headings, and word count into consideration.
Write a book review about the last novel you read. Whether you enjoyed it or not, write honestly and give an opinion as to what you really thought. Think about examples, techniques, and improvements. Don’t forget that Writer’s Edit is always open to submissions, so feel free to shoot through your responses!