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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Did I Read You Write?

Did I Read You Write?

Posted on July 30, 2002 and read 17,334 times

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So you want to be a copywriter? Great. Now go write something. Anything. But first, read. Dickens. Chaucer – but skip the Anglo-Saxon version! Shakespeare. Kerouac. Kesey. Browning. Mailer. Proust. Plato. Kellogg. Yes, the cereal king! Newspapers. “People” Magazine. Matchbook covers. Packages of everything.

Notice anything? Not a typo to be found. No word mis-spelled. No its substituting for it’s. No commas at the start, but not the end, of a subordinate clause. No misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, mistakes of any kind. Why? Because the person who wrote it, whether that was Will, Charles, Ken Elizabeth or the Kellogg’s copywriter, loved the language. Took pains with it. Knew the difference between a colon and a comma. Treasured the rhyme, the rhythm, the reason behind each phrase, clause, sentence, paragraph or, yes, stanza.

I know that copywriters are told to break the rules. And they’re told this by their instructors who, of course, could never be wrong! But, in order to break the rules, you have to know what those rules are, as well as why they’re there. And understand why they’re is not their! Copywriters are taught to write in the vernacular (look that one up!) of their market. In order to do this effectively, you must inform yourself about that market. Ignorance is no excuse. Specially if an account is riding on your ability to deliver words that seduce, persuade, entice, cajole that market into buying.

What you should understand, from the start, is that you are responsible for every word you write. Ads, commercials, letters, articles. So learn to edit everything, even an e-mail. Recently someone sent an e-mail to my company soliciting business. The name of my company is “The Right Words”. This alone should have told her something. There were two huge errors in what she sent, one in spelling, the other in grammar. I e-mailed back suggesting, tongue planted firmly in one cheek, that if she was planning on using e-mail as her company’s marketing medium, she might want to use my services. Her reply? “Relax” (except she wasn’t that polite!), “it’s only an e-mail.” It was indeed. An e-mail that convinced me this was one company I would not be buying from.

On this site, I read articles and interviews that are informative, interesting and often highly entertaining. But when they’re spoiled by mistakes, errors in everything from syntax to spelling, they inspire me to do nothing but write one of my own. Yes, we all know typos happen. (If you find one in this, please feel free to let me know!) But, when the names of famous people, companies and places are spelled incorrectly; when singular subjects are married to plural verbs and vice versa; I have to question the writer’s dedication. There is no Great Editor in the Sky. You’re it! So arm yourself with a dictionary and a thesaurus. And use ‘em both. Even better, buy Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”. This little book has been the professional writers’ bible forever. Forget SpellCheck and, even worse, that mis-named GrammarCheck. There is no easy way to assess your work. You’ve got to do it the old way. A slow, painful check of every single word. And an equally slow, even more painful re-check! After that, I’d advise handing the whole thing over to someone who truly hates you. If there are still errors, they won’t be there for long!

If you’re offended by any of this, you’re probably not a writer. If you find it funny and informative, there’s hope!

So, for those of you who are still with me, a few suggestions:

Read. Everything. That’s where we came in.

Write. That’s what you’re all about. And, if you’re truly passionate about your craft, you’ll soon learn the art of editing your words yourself. After all, you’ve had to live with the inconvenience they cause. The nights you’re routed out of sleep by “just the right” sentence or phrase. The ideas that interrupt a class, meeting, meal, even your most intimate moments. The “hold that thought/feeling/idea …” impetus that propels you to the computer – no matter who you inconvenience! After all that, proofing your words should be relatively easy and, ultimately, painless.

Play. Scrabble. What better way to win with words? But don’t forget puzzles: jumble, word find, cryptic. And, of course, crosswords. These increase not only your vocabulary but, the writer’s stock-in-trade, your general knowledge about any number of abstruse subjects!

That’s it. So you still want to be a writer? Great. Go write. Right!

Jennifer Brown is the Director of “The Right Words”. She is a gifted copywriter and an outstanding advertising professor in her spare time.

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  • Paul Brezhnev Banda

    well, here i am hoping i do not commit any gramma errors here. i mean, seeing as i am the first to say anything (makes me wonder if other people were just too afraid to comment).
    im new at this. loved this, your article- i just startred work as a copywriter, three weeks at it and im finding it umm.. stretching- that is to say, rather challenging. but thanks for the insight

  • Lex Dunn

    There was no “Anglo Saxon” version of Chaucer. He wrote in Middle English, and in fact, consciously avoided the older Anglo Saxon syntax and grammar. Perhaps you should take your own advice and read more.




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