Why writing short copy takes a long time

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the majority of literary quotes will lead you to Mark Twain.  This one is no different:

“I’d have written a shorter letter, if I’d only had the time”.

If you’ve ever had to write a letter yourself (or an email, more realistically!), then you’ll know how easy it can sometimes be to ramble on and on without stopping.  But if you’ve ever tried editing your words afterwards with your reader in mind, then you’ll probably also know just what Mark was talking about.

A great deal of the work I do involves taking clients’ notes and thoughts, and then turning them into snappy, easily readable sentences.  Every now and again I’m also asked to come up with compelling social media posts, preferably under fifty words – and would you believe me if I told you that these are often far more of a challenge than a thousand-word blog post?

This is because with short copy, every single word counts.  Not only that, it has to grab immediate attention.  Not only that, it has to grab immediate attention from exactly the right kind of reader.

Not exactly easy is it?  So if you’re struggling with the challenge of writing short copy, here are a few tips to get you started.

Ramble on, then trim the fat

“Write in a frenzy.  Edit in a cardigan”. 

No, not another Mark Twain quote, but one from DBC Pierre in his fantastic book on writing, ‘Release the Bats’.

When you’re starting work on writing something that has to get to the point quickly, start by scribbling down whatever springs to mind.  Don’t worry how many pages you run to, just get everything out.

Then, take a deep breath, make yourself a cup of strong coffee, and begin trimming.  At this point, you’ll have written enough to know what has to be kept and what can be thrown away.

Know exactly who you’re writing for

Short, to-the-point copy has to be specific.  It has to know who it’s talking to, or it won’t talk to anyone – and then it’ll be ignored.

So don’t be afraid to really narrow down your audience.  If it’s website copy, who is your ideal customer?  How old are they, what do they do and how do they spend their time? 

Imagine just one ideal person, and then imagine they’re short on time.   You have to get your message across in 30 seconds or fewer.  What will you say?

Appreciate the time and effort short copy takes to write

If you’re feeling frustrated by how long it’s taking to get your short copy written, don’t.  Instead, feel comforted by the fact that short copy is often far harder to write than long pieces – even for the professionals!

Can I help you write something short…or long, for that matter?  If you’re feeling stuck, contact me for a chat and let’s see what we can create!

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