The most common complaint I hear from clients, friends and strangers whose eyes light up when I tell them I’m a marketing copywriter is, ‘I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it’. If you suffer from this particular ailment, I can tell you you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, these days almost every form of business is driven by the written word. Even if you’re a counsellor or sales manager that relies on the power of articulate speech, you’ll still need to communicate to clients in writing and market your services via text-based platforms like social media.
Research shows that the part of the brain we use when thinking about words and sounds, is very different to the part of the brain we use when speaking those same sounds aloud. Similarly, when we encounter a sentence like ‘he was moving rapidly through the dense jungle’, the areas of our brain dedicated to vision and movement will light up.
With this in mind, it’s completely understandable that many of us can visualise what we want to say and yet have so much trouble expressing it in the written word. If language is a whole-brain activity, then perhaps we need to use both hemispheres to try and write what we want to say.
Say it aloud
Often not knowing what to write is a symptom of not really understanding it yourself. Speaking aloud can often clarify exactly what you want to say, even if it’s just for your own benefit. Speak as though you’re trying to explain it to your five-year-old self. Once you have explained it in the simplest terms possible, write it down exactly as you said it aloud.
“Truth is better used by using simple language. Last year Mark [Zuckerberg] decided to learn Chinese and as part of studying, he would spend an hour or so each week with some of our employees who were native Chinese speakers. One day, one of them was trying to tell him something about her manager. She said this long sentence and he said ‘simpler please’. And then she said it again and he said, ‘no, I still don’t understand, simpler please’. Finally, in sheer exasperation she burst out ‘my manager is bad!’ Simple and clear and very important for him to know. People rarely speak this clearly in the workforce or in life.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook
Don’t judge your first draft
First drafts are mostly rubbish. It’s true. Once you acknowledge it, you free your fingers from judgement and perfectionism and can type away to your heart’s content. Write it, then go away and do something else for a while—go for a run, grab a coffee, have a bath or sleep on it. When we are distracted and relaxed, our bodies are filled with a lovely boost of dopamine, which helps the ideas and insights our subconscious brains have been developing plant themselves in our conscious mind.
When you come back to your original draft, you’ll be amazed at how nonsensical your first draft sounded, and how much more wise and intelligent you are now than you were before. Mostly, you’ll be happy you finally got That Damn Idea out of your head and onto the screen.
Answer the question
There is always a question. Don’t even start writing until you know what the question is, then come back to it every now and again to make sure you stay on track. If you’re filling a form, then the questions are there for you, plain as day. If you’re writing copy for your website, then it will likely be ‘how are you going to solve my problem and make my life better?’ Think about the question and you may find you knew exactly what to say all along.
If you’ve managed to capture The Big Idea, but need someone to dress up your words and make them presentable, a marketing copywriter is your best bet.
Do you know what you want to say, but not sure how to say it? How do you turn your thoughts and ideas into writing?