Five Tips for Aspiring Writers

typewriter-801921_1280

By Write On Network intern Leah Saycich

How do you make it in the tough world of copywriting? Being an aspiring writer, I’ve often asked myself this question. Here are some tips I’ve learned to help you land a writing job as well as continue to improve as a writer.

  1. Write constantly. The more you write, the better you’ll become. Like many things, writing takes practice. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. It sounds daunting, but it is very much possible. Spelling and grammar mistakes can also be lessened with practice. These mistakes can detract from your writing and stand out A LOT to those accustomed to looking for them.
  1. Show your best work. A portfolio can be viewed as one of the more important aspects of an aspiring writer’s job application. Don’t assume you should include everything you’ve written in a portfolio. I was given this brilliant advice from Kim Grob, co-founder and senior copywriter at Write On Network, “Only include your best work in your portfolio. It’s better to have a great portfolio with a small amount of samples than an okay one with a large amount of samples.” Bottom line: if a piece doesn’t showcase your best writing, then don’t include it.
  1. Do your research. Thoroughly research the topic, business and client before writing. Especially starting out, an assignment might be thrown at you about a topic you’ve never heard of, this is when research comes in. Jen Jackson, co-founder and senior copywriter put it well when she said, “Let the client be the expert, while you become the expert researcher.” Your writing will be far more convincing when you let the client’s expertise inform your writing.
  1. Cultivate your sweet spot. Be open to all sorts of writing when you’re starting out to really discover where you thrive the most. While exploring different types of writing, you may also discover the line you don’t want to cross, whether it’s big tobacco, big oil or something entirely different. You aren’t always able to pick and choose your jobs, but knowing where your line is can help you say no to things outside of your comfort zone and yes to things that help you develop your sweet spot.
  1. Don’t give up. Writing is difficult and you won’t always receive the encouraging feedback you’re looking for, but that doesn’t mean you give up. Remind yourself why you started and what you love about it as well as the encouraging words you’ve received in the past. If it’s something you feel passionate about, keep trying and something good will come of it.
Did you like this? Share it:

Writers in our Network: Lifelong Learner Leah Saycich

IMG_5121Write On Network is thrilled to have a new intern, Leah Saycich, sharing space and ideas with us at The Pickle this summer. Find out why Leah is such a great addition to our network.

What led you to pursue a career in writing?

I’ve loved writing since the 9th grade, but back then it was more of an outlet for my teenage angst. I didn’t think writing could be a career until I became an English major. I come from a background of doctors and dentists so it’s taken me awhile to really explore the many types of writing, but I’m getting there and realizing just how happy I am to be involved in the writing industry. Writing is so fulfilling to me and I feel very lucky to be here, interning at Write On Network.

What do you like most about writing?

I’m fascinated by a challenge. I love the feeling I get when I look at an assignment and at first feel lost, then take a deep breath and come up with something amazing. Along similar lines, I like trying to find ways to take intense emotionally packed topics and add some comic relief without lessening the content. Serious topics are sometimes scary to read about so its an interesting challenge for me to see if I can make them a little more reader friendly.

Which writer would you most love to meet, and what would you want to ask him or her?

I can’t choose between J.K. Rowling and Markus Zusak. Firstly, upon meeting each of them I would have to sit in their company for at least 20 minutes before I would be able to properly speak. Then I would love to just chat with them about their writing process and the amazing stories they have been able to tell in a simple heart warming and heart breaking manner. Also I’d be very interested to know what their hobbies are.

What are you reading right now?

I just started The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. After finishing All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I was dying for another fresh perspective about World War II. I’m not entirely sure where my love for stories from that period come from, but the period and an outstanding writer suck me right in.

What advice would you give to younger students who want to pursue writing?

This is going to sound cliché, but it’s advice and advice generally sounds as such because it’s true. First, be very afraid. I mean that in the sense that it’s okay to be afraid and uncertain. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t or didn’t feel the same way. Secondly, never give up. You won’t always get the encouraging feedback you want, but don’t let that stop you. Keep on keeping on, you won’t regret it.

Where do your best ideas come from?

My best ideas usually come when I’m in a public place, yet still focusing on my own work. I love to be in the heat of things. Also a positive story or kind word from someone can be very inspirational for me; I’m always open to listening to people and their stories. If I’m ever really stuck I’ll go out and do something fun. I’ve been trying out a lot of new hobbies lately, like painting, sewing and even skateboarding. Each of these have been highly enjoyable, but have also required perseverance to improve and ultimately achieve goals I’ve set for myself. When writing, I experience a similar combination of enjoyment paired with perseverance.

Did you like this? Share it:

Five fatal storytelling flaws

typewriter story

One of my favorite opening scenes in a movie is from City Slickers when Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, finds himself at his son’s elementary school career day. Media-buyer Mitch’s presentation falls flat after he has to follow a construction worker dad who tells of his action-packed job that requires super-human strengths to save a woman from a crashing crane. The delivery is classic storytelling, the class cheers the construction dad.

In movies and marketing, successful storytelling drives people to action – whether it’s audience applause, a word-of-mouth recommendation, or a web click. But many organizations with a great product or service miss the boat by missing the opportunity to tell a good story.

Here we share five things that get in the way of good storytelling:

  1. Over telling

Since most of us don’t speak with flowery strings of adjectives, our writing shouldn’t either. The most memorable stories are the simple ones that don’t get bogged down in lengthy prose. We often remind clients and young writers: show, don’t tell. Accomplish this with easy-to-understand words that align with how your audience communicates and use sensory details that enable readers to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings.

  1. Audience unknown

A couple of weeks ago I watched a high school administrator give a roomful of 16-years olds the same talk on college admissions that she had given to parents a week prior. While I had loved her presentation chocked full of facts and figures, it was a snoozer for the kids. Knowing your audience and what resonates with them is the difference between hitting the bullseye and missing the mark completely. Our audience research typically includes developing “personas” that outline demographical information, likes/dislikes, hobbies, careers and attitudes.

  1. Drowning in facts

If you’ve ever listened to an excellent speaker or teacher, you know that an emotionally-loaded story will always be wrapped into their talk. It’s how we get sucked in and continue to give our attention. A list of facts is hardly memorable and not at all interesting. If you’ve got facts to communicate, find ways to encapsulate them into a rich, relatable story.

  1. Jumbled with jargon

Corporate jargon cracks me up, yet we all use it. Do you have bandwidth for a project? Can we leverage this product attribute? What’s its pain point? The sweet spot? If your writing speaks truthfully and honestly, it doesn’t need jargon. Avoiding buzzwords conveys truth and ultimately yields trust. The best books and movies flow conversations seamlessly throughout the story, allowing us to get lost in the real-life dialog. Let your writing do the same.

  1. Phoniness

Made up stories sound, well… fake. No one likes a phony, so keep it real. Personal accounts and anecdotes are what attract us to other people. The same goes for your product, service or organization. Companies that talk about their own goals and aspirations that stem from shortcomings or failures are the ones that real people want to do business with. No need to overpromise with corporate chest beating, or oversell with empty promises.

 

Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?

Did you like this? Share it:

12 headline strategies for getting unstuck

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 12.28.51 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest blog post by Stephen Bramfitt, Adobe Creative Director

When you’re looking for fresh angles to solve a headline challenge, consider these possibilities. Most of these examples are from Adobe Marketing Cloud emails.*

1. State the benefit in a memorable way.

Flaunt your digital assets.

Predict the next big thing.

Working together has never worked better.

2. State the benefit and its negative corollary.

More value for customers. Less stress for you.

Make your shots steady. Even if you’re hands aren’t.

3. Use a powerful verb that multiplies the meaning.

Bend the web to your imagination.

Ace website testing.

4. Play with contrasting units of scale/measurement.

Inspire big loyalty with small data.

Make a lasting impression. In eight seconds or less.

Ten demos. Tons of insight.

5. Use parallel structure.

Connect the dots. Connect the customers.

More mobile. More opportunities.

Top-of-the-line tools. Bottom-line savings.

Do your best work in your best time.

6. Add a new twist to a familiar expression — use this sparingly.

Find the needle in the metrics haystack.

Find a method to social marketing madness.

Still new. Already improved.

7. Play with parts to whole/whole to parts.

Thousands of form factors. One perfect fit.

8. Use an aspirational call to action.

Fire up your personalization power tools (Home Depot)

Move beyond the A/B test.

Exceed expectations. Even your own.

9. Ask a question and answer it (with a twist) — use this sparingly.

Remember life before Adobe Target? Neither do we.

What’s better than a corner office? No office at all.

10. Play with your words (without resorting to puns).

Resize. Reshape. Remarkable.

11. Use alliteration.

Content that clicks.

Succeed at any screen size.

Put more muscle behind your media.

12. The hard but great one: Express an original thought in a unique way that encapsulates both the product benefit and the emotional benefit

Being liked is serious business. (Adobe Social)

Great minds like a think. (The Economist magazine)

The reason the patent office has been so busy lately. (Apple iPhone)

General precepts:

  • Short is better than long
  • Keep it simple
  • Be conversational, as if you’re speaking to an intelligent friend
  • Be honest and informative
  • Use the active voice
  • Avoid snark, cheek, boasting, and insincerity
  • Use superlatives sparingly
  • Forget all the guidelines and precepts if the idea is great

Some inspirational links:

http://www.commarts.com/creative

http://www.oneclub.org/#pane=awards

http://www.luerzerarchive.net/content/overview/type/inspiration

http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter

http://www.goodcopybadcopy.co.uk

http://www.jeffsextonwrites.com

http://www.abccopywriting.com/blog

http://bestcopyads.wordpress.com

http://contentverve.com/online-copywriting-case-studies-with-examples/

http://copybot.wordpress.com

 

*We’re proud to have written more than a few of these headlines for Stephen and our team of Adobe friends :)

Did you like this? Share it:

Buy this book, part two.

We’ve been visiting the bookstore again! Here are a few more titles that make us want to read on, and some thoughts about why they work:

Give a common word a new twist:

Adulting: How to become a grown in 468 easy(isn) steps

Sciencia: Mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy for all

Singular, intriguing word of wisdom:

Never let a serious crisis go to waste: How neoliberalism survived the financial meltdown

Nice girls don’t get the corner office: 101 unconscious mistakes women make that sabotage their carers 

Spin on a fiction bestseller title:

The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Here’s how.

Sincere and soulful:

Discovering Your Soul Signature: A 33 day path to purpose, passion, and joy

Compelling cognitive dissonance:

Falling Upwards: How we took to the air

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A message for an age of anxiety

Inverting the Pyramid: The history of soccer tactics

The Outsourced Self: What happens when we pay others to live our lives for us

Bold:

The Power of No: Because one little word can bring health, abundance, and happiness

The S Word: A short history of an American tradition: Socialism

Hello, I’m Special: How individuality became the new conformity

Straight up:

How to Win Friends and Influence People: The only book you need to lead you to success

How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior

 

Common threads–numbers, steps, paths, and ways to some desired state seem to play a role in many of our favorite titles. Why is this? People like a hint of real, specific guidance, perhaps. We also seem to like words like how, that imply a process we can follow, and why, which alludes to some deeper level of understanding to be gained.

What other nonfiction titles do you think work well? And which ones don’t?

 

 

Did you like this? Share it:

Buy this book! Titles that work.

Why do some book titles immediately entice while others are entirely unmemorable? And if you’re just judging a book by its cover — and title! — what’s most likely to grab your attention and get you to the checkout register? We don’t have the answers, but we’re exploring the questions for a new book naming project. The title we’ll be developing is for a nonfiction book that’s part business insight, part career development, and part self help, so we’ve been trying to learn from a few of the masters in those genres.  Here are just a few of the titles we like–some more provocative, others more descriptive.

The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference

 Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t

Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die

Switch: How to change things when change is hard

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A corporate fool’s guide to surviving with grace

What other titles should we add to our list? And why?

Did you like this? Share it:

Writers in our network: Serious storyteller Melissa Jones

Melissa_Jones_profile_picMelissa Jones has a knack for unravelling complex ideas and transforming them into simple, clear prose. Whether she’s writing about the mobile enterprise or health care reform, the copy always sings. This comes as no surprise considering that she has pretty much been a writer all her life. We love her ability to write both punchy headlines and smooth paragraphs. Her incredible “can-do” attitude doesn’t hurt, either.

Why did you choose a career in writing?

I first discovered that creative, “in the flow” moment in the 4th grade. That’s when I knew that I love to write. A good writer makes it look easy—like the words just flow effortlessly with perfect rhythm and cadence. But there’s a lot of thought and hard work that goes into creating a compelling story. For me, writing is like solving a puzzle. Once I work through the crux of the problem and can hone in on the message I want to convey, the pieces start to fall in place. The best part? That lovely combination of joy, relief, and even a twinge of angst after submitting final copy for review.

Which writers do you admire most?

Where do I begin? There are so many writers—past and present—that I admire. I love Ernest Hemingway’s economy of words. There’s the tale that he once won a bet by crafting this six word story: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” True or not, that anecdote perfectly captures his clean, frugal style of storytelling. And it’s this eloquent simplicity that I strive for in my own writing.

What are you reading right now? 

Ask me what book my nose is buried in now, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. For now, the book at the top of the stack is Booker Prize winner “Sacred Hunger” by Barry Unworth. Although not an easy read, it’s gripping and beautifully written. I enjoy well-told stories like this one that transport me to another time and place and really make me think.

Where do your best ideas come from?

My best ideas come from the world around me. Snippets of conversations and interactions, that lucid state before waking, during a short trail run, and even in the most unlikely place—the shower. The challenge is getting those ideas out of my head and into the computer. That’s why I always carry a small notebook with me for when those random sparks of inspiration hit!

 

 

Did you like this? Share it:

Seeking our first copywriting intern

Here’s the job description for our very first internship position. Please pass it along to anyone who you think might be a good fit. (We’re going to be as picky about our intern as we are about the experienced writers in our network … so we’re not looking for a quick solution; we’re looking for the just-right person.)

Copywriting Intern/Mentoring Opportunity

Want to use your writing skills to help build a better world? It’s possible–even for copywriters! And an internship at Write On Network can put you on the right path.

Our network of copywriters and content strategists have worked on some of the world’s biggest brands, including Intel, Adobe and Visa. Now, we’re bringing those years of expertise to causes we truly believe in, like education, sustainability, and healthcare.

Our intern will get one-on-one mentoring and real-world experience in the day-to-day tasks of a copywriter, including research, writing, revision, copyediting, and proofreading. She or he will also help maintain our Facebook page, Twitter feed, website, and blog. In addition, our intern will  get the opportunity to attend client calls and meetings, learning not only how to create great copy but also how to present it to clients.

Hours:

5-10/week

Pay:

$8-10/hour, depending on experience

Qualifications:

  • Strong writing skills
  • Passion for grammar and usage
  • Interest in social justice and sustainability
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Optimistic personality
  • Copywriting experience or coursework a plus
  • Experience with WordPress a plus

To apply:

Please send cover letter, resume, and your three best writing samples to: kim@writeonnetwork.com

Ideally, we would love to see copywriting samples with strong headlines. If you don’t have that kind of work in your portfolio yet, send short, pithy writing samples that show off your potential and range as a writer.

 

 

 

Did you like this? Share it:

Writers in our network: Chief Daydreamer Kim Grob

profilepic_lowestKim has honed her craft by writing for some of the biggest brands in the business; Intel, Visa, Adobe, and Nike have all trusted Kim to be their voice on a project or 10. But as the co-founder of Write On Network, she’s been able to fulfill an even bigger and deeper desire not only to use her talents for good, but also to empower other writers to do the same. Today, working from our writing headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, you’ll find Kim leading a team of experienced copywriters who work together to help clients tell their stories–and change the world.

When the idea of Write On Network came up, how did you know the time was right to go for it?

The idea came to me at the perfect time in my life–when I had the small business experience and the well-connected professional network I needed to pull it off. I also had that prickly feeling of restlessness that can’t be ignored and a willing partner--Jen Jackson–who completely shared my vision for what Write On could be. I don’t think I could have made something like this work earlier in my career. That stuff about paying your dues? It’s true. Luckily for me, the dues were usually pretty fun and easy to pay.

Do you have a favorite type of writing project?

When I worked in the agency world, my favorite type of project was always the one that was most creative and high profile. I think many agency creative pros feel the same way–everyone’s kind of clawing their way to greatness and recognition. These days, it’s a little different. I like projects where I feel like a real partner with our clients; where we can work together to achieve something much greater than the sum of its parts–whether it’s a big branding assignment or an email campaign. The feeling of making our clients happy is what excites me.

What causes or non-profits motivate you?

I’m a sucker for almost any progressive cause. As a writer, promoting purpose-driven organizations is infinitely more interesting and satisfying than creating purely profit-driven copy about car insurance, energy drinks, or any of the other zillions of consumer products for which I’ve written. The truth is, I’m much more of an idealist than a capitalist.

What book are you reading right now?

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. It’s a brilliant and beautifully written first novel–penned by a prominent Stanford physician. I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of people like Verghese, who can think and create from both the left and right side of the brain. I mean, really: Writing a critically acclaimed novel and leading the Department of Internal Medicine at Stanford!? It doesn’t seem fair.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration?

I don’t think you have to look far. You just have to be paying attention and noticing the things all around you. For me, it could be as simple as overhearing my daughter singing in the shower. Or going for a run in the park to knock all the clutter out of my head. Or just stepping away from my computer to do the dishes. It’s a song on the radio, a video on YouTube, an old book pulled down from the shelf.  It’s anything, and it’s everywhere.

With an MFA in creative writing, does the urge to write the great American novel tug at you?

Not really. It’s such a long, solitary process, and I don’t think I have the stamina for embarking on a decade of writing that may never see the light of day. I like more instant gratification, and I like to know that I’m using my skills to make an impact in the world, which is why I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. But here’s a secret: One day I want to be Billy Collins.

 

Did you like this? Share it:

Five SXSW Lessons Learned at One Extreme Fundraising Session

The throngs of rockers started to overtake SXSW right when we were leaving. They arrived for SXSW Music with their long locks swishing and guitars slung over their shoulders. We, on the other hand, the interactive fest-goers, were in the process of closing up our MacBook Pros, packing up our tech company schwag, and handing out our last few business cards.

Although SXSW Interactive can’t really compete with the coolness factor of SXSW Music, we left feeling almost like rockstars. Okay, maybe nothing like rockstars. Maybe more like deeply appreciative fans at the biggest, craziest show of the year. And that was more than enough. By the end of SXSW, we had lots of new Twitter friends, a few great digital marketing strategies, and some practical festival survival tips for next year.

The funny thing? It didn’t take an overpacked keynote session, the equivalent of a SXSW Interactive stadium rock concert, to bring it all home for us. In one small, quiet session—at 5 p.m. on our very last day—an ultramarathon runner with a crazy idea (or two or three … ) encapsulated all of our best SXSW learnings in a one-hour talk about his own personal journey to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease.

Sam Fox, Outreach and Engagement Officer for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, told the story of how he ran 100 marathons in two months on the Pacific Crest Trail to raise over $300,000 for Parkinson’s Disease research. He ran in honor of his mother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000. But his journey didn’t end with his own family. His “extreme fundraising” feat created a movement that garnered national attention and thousands of digital fans. As he told his personal story to the SXSW audience, we couldn’t help but notice 5 universal truths that put some of our top SXSW learnings into a tidy little nutshell.

  1. Have a higher purpose, and put that purpose above all else. Although Sam was attempting to beat a record for the fastest time to complete the entire Pacific Crest Trail, his higher purpose was to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease. And while he didn’t beat the record, he far exceeded his fundraising goals. We heard this story told over and over by SXSW speakers, from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism session to Panera Bread CEO Ron Schaich’s story of the highly successful Panera Cares community cafes. Bottom line: The most successful businesses are driven by more than just profits. The most successful people are driven by more than personal gain.
  2. Push yourself farther than you think you can go. Sam’s physical feat wasn’t something he’d tested. He’d tried some crazy-ass endeavors before–like running down and up the Grand Canyon in a single day–but this was different, bigger, epic. And all the best SXSW speakers had done the same to get where they were. They’d tried new experiments that they knew might fail. They’d pushed past their comfort zones and straight into unknown territory. And they’d emerged as pioneers.
  3. Enlist others to help you tell your story. Sam knew he had a good story to tell–including the struggle of his mom’s diagnosis, the pain of his own physical feat, and the anticipated redemption of successfully completing the journey. He also knew that his story needed to be much bigger than himself. So he enlisted his entire community of friends and family, and every possible connection in his “weak tie” network, and they told a few friends, and so on … until he had thousands of followers to join him on his journey, to share his videos, to comment on his updates, and to ultimately open both their hearts and pocketbooks to support his higher purpose. Many of the South By speakers, including Camille Sweeney, author of a new book about superacheivers titled the Art of Doing, echoed this concept as a key to success: By building an ecosystem of people whose success is intertwined with yours, you can make an impact that lives up to your dreams, and perhaps even exceeds them.
  4. Don’t waste energy on negativity. Believe it or not, Sam had to deal with haters–people who either didn’t believe his higher purpose was genuine or who expected him to cheat in order to beat the Pacific Coast Trail record. At first, the haters dragged him down, sucking out valuable energy that he needed to complete each leg of his ambitious and painful journey. But once he realized how the negativity was eating away at him, he stopped. He focused his energy on his overarching purpose and his steadfast supporters, and he was able to find the motivation he needed to take the next step, complete the next mile, and make it to the next day. We came across tiny moments of negativity in our own SXSW journey–like a certain shuttle bus that ran out of gas in the middle of the Austin suburbs close to midnight and left us stranded–and we thought about all kinds of terrible, awful ideas that might serve as retribution. Then we took another look around us, saw how fortunate we were to be surrounded by brilliant people, and moved back to the sunny side, where new ideas can form and real change can happen.
  5. Never underestimate the power of a single idea. Sam didn’t start his journey with followers, supporters, or even a few partners. He started his journey alone, in his head. But he didn’t let it die there. He kept nurturing the dream day after day, until it became something real and possible. Like so many of the visionaries at SXSW, he was crazy enough to think that his idea could actually change things. And isn’t that the kind of crazy we need more of in this world?
Did you like this? Share it: