Written by Rebecca van Laer
November 9th, 2021
Written by Rebecca van Laer
At Copycat, we’re always in the process of creating new professional development resources for working and aspiring copywriters. The below blog post is adapted from our in-house manual on all things copy-related, Copycat’s Anatomy.
When you start out as a copywriter, it’s difficult to predict how long a given assignment will take.
If you’re used to cranking out 800 words of your novel in a morning pre-work power hour, you might think that a blog post of a similar length will take the same amount of time. But whether that’s true depends on a number of factors, including:
But if you’re reading this thinking that you’ve never written 800 words in an hour and regularly find that a 1500-word blog post swallows half the day, you might be concerned that you’re a slow writer, doomed to produce less in an industry that places a value on volume.
We’re here with some good news—the pace you write at now isn’t the pace you’ll write at forever.
With practice and time, you’ll speed up.
How much depends on how quickly you identify the tools that work for you.
We all know the parable of the tortoise and the hare, and the accompanying moral that slow and steady wins the race.
But as you’ve probably learned from experience, writing is rarely a linear process. Many writers go over a section of their writing more than once to restructure, rewrite, and proofread.
And if you’re a tortoise backtracking on the same path time after time, you might have difficulty finding hope in folk wisdom.
So how can you speed up?
Using the racetrack as our metaphor, examine your own writing habits—do you tend to lose pace around the starting gate, outlining the way to perfect your form and plan your trek before you start sprinting? Do you find that you wander off the path at several points?
Or do you simply run out of stamina somewhere in the middle of the process?
Writers commonly flounder over three obstacles:
Here, we’d be remiss not to say that many writers encounter all of these obstacles when working with new or particularly tricky clients.
And that’s okay!
The goal is to build up your arsenal of speedwriting tools so you can employ them appropriately when needed. Next, we’ll conquer them category by category.
Writing on a new topic can be intimidating. You’ve never had a cat, so how the heck are you going to write an article on “How to Socialize a Feral Kitten?”
New writers often think that they need to write from a position of absolute authority, showcasing their client’s expertise.
But while it’s true that you always want to base your article in top-quality research and cold, hard facts, it’s actually more important to think about the reader’s query than the brand’s platform. Someone who is Googling a topic like the above doesn’t know the first thing about the kittens they’ve just rescued, and your goal as a writer is to meet them where they are.
To cut down your pre-writing process and meet your goal of at least beginning to write within 15 minutes, follow these tips:
[#1] Refer to similar articles. There are some article genres that come up again and again:
Look at articles you’ve written in the past that use a similar format. How did you balance voice and information? How can you achieve the same end product?
[#2] Write the easiest part first. Don’t quite understand the ins and outs of kittens’ developmental stages yet?
Put a pin in that.
Start by writing a part of the article that you find easier, like the client plug or the introduction. Add other voice-y bits throughout if applicable.
Once you have some words on the page, you’ll have a better sense of how much you need to learn to flesh out the article.
[#3] Scale back on research. Have a hundred tabs open with different web sources? Close ‘em! After you’ve perused two high-quality sources, enter your first two headings. Complete these two sections to the best of your ability without diving into any additional research.
[#4] Write an explanation for your own reference. You’re starting at square zero with cat knowledge. You know you need to explain the specifics of the cat socialization process in a crystal clear, accessible fashion—but how can you do that when you’ve never owned a pet?
So you’ve cut your pre-writing time down. Time to treat yourself with a little scroll through the ‘ol cellphone… right?
While we’re huge advocates of taking breaks, there is definitely such a thing as too many (at least if you want to turn in your article before sunrise).
If you find yourself spending more time navigating away from your document than adding words to it, consider the following.
[#1] The pomodoro technique involves 25 minute writing sprints. Studies show that individuals are actually more productive when they give their brains frequent breaks. To practice pomodoro, set a time for 25 minutes and spend that entire time on your article. That can mean researching, outlining, or reading. But whatever you do, don’t stop. If you’re stuck on a particularly tricky section, start writing an easier one, like the client plug.
[#2] Use web blocking tools like Leechblock to manually block access to your favorite websites for an hour or the rest of the day. If your cellphone is the enemy of your productivity, try Forest.
Most people who pursue careers in writing love the craft because, at some point, they’ve entered a flow state while threading words on the page.
Also called being “in the zone,” a flow state is “a cognitive state where one is completely immersed in an activity,” enjoying “intense focus, creative engagement, and the loss of awareness of time and self.”
Sounds nice, right? Here are our tips to help you achieve this particular nirvana.
[#1] Write a vomit-draft. Some of us (looking at you, perfectionists) go through our own writing with an editor’s hat on—we’re looking for ways to refine the sentences in our introduction and reorganize the points under our first heading well before we dive into the second half of the article. But this perspective can make it much more time-consuming to finish a first draft. Instead, put on your writer’s hat and spew out your first draft as quickly as possible. (We know—ew.) That remarkable editor’s brain of yours will kick into gear when it’s time for the read-through.
[#2] Try a different medium. Has your cursor been blinking for the better part of an hour? Close the Google Doc and try:
[#3] Know when to take a break. The Pomodoro technique discussed above is based on the understanding that we function best when we give our attention frequent rest. Some signs that you need a break?
If you’re experiencing any of the above, taking a break might just be the peak productivity trick.
Have a snack. Look out the window. Go on a walk. Take a deep breath.
Then, come back to the article and the situation with fresh eyes.
When it comes to copywriting, neither the tortoise or the hare wins the race.
Instead, it’s the agile cat who can shimmy their way past every obstacle in the writing process.
One final tip? If you find yourself in the quagmires of a particular assignment, ask for help! After all, that’s why we’re here—to help you hone your skills in delivering top-quality content.
Want to practice speedwriting, voice, and other tricks of the trade? Subscribe to our writer newsletter by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cognition. Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused. https://philpapers.org/rec/ARIBAR
Psychology Today. Flow. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/flow