I’m now fifty-three pages into the worldwide bestseller ‘The Life-changing Magic of Tidying’ by Marie Kondo. And I’m hooked (not least by her instructions on how to fold socks).
How a subject so mundane can be so captivating is a bit of a mystery, especially given that what I’ve read so far boils down to just one word:
Just to be clear, Kondo is not calling for a half-hearted clear out. She’s advocating ridding your home of every item which doesn’t ‘bring you joy’. She instructs, ‘Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard the rest.’
Why? Because this initial step in creating a clear physical space can, she claims, ultimately change your entire life.
I know little about the benefits of a mass removal of your worldly possessions, but I do know that, when it comes to copywriting, the act of sifting through what you’ve written with the sole purpose of scaling it back is hugely beneficial.
As a ‘wordy’ one, I should know. I use five words when two will suffice. And, for someone who earns their crust through writing, this isn’t good.
So, what’s the problem?
When it comes to the art of writing, less is often more. Clients want copy that creates cut through. They’re paying you to communicate a message clearly to achieve an end result. So if the message is buried in an excess of words, that message is lost. And the client’s money is wasted.
Of course your copy also needs to depict a brand’s tone of voice and captivate an audience from the off. This requires skill and it requires words. Just not too many.
Writing for websites and social media also requires writers to keep their copy short. With the exception of Blogs, articles and ebooks, digital audiences don’t ‘read’ web pages word-for-word from the top down. Rather, they scan the text in search of specific information. So keeping web copy succinct enables a user to find what they’re looking for quickly before they give up and click merrily on their way.
Although, in theory, writing less should be easier than writing more, for many (like me) the opposite is true. We can get strangely attached to the sentences and paragraphs we compose. We get a buzz from weaving in a funny quip here or clever pun there. And then it’s hard to cut these phrases out.
But that is our achilles heel. It stops us being objective about our work. And it prevents us from meeting a brief to the best of our ability.
This is particularly true for charity copywriters, in my view, because few charities can afford to risk missing out on donations or fundraising income due to wordy copy that isn’t clear. Of course charity copy needs to be inspirational, motivational and ‘on brand’. But not at the expense of clarity. It’s a balancing act that every budding copywriter needs to master.
To do this, you must step back, be objective and go in for the cull. (Tips on how to do this are below.)
With that in mind, I’ll edit this lengthy blog about writing succinctly just as soon as I’ve folded my socks.
A few tips on how to reduce your word count:
Give yourself a goal.
Once you’ve finished writing, set yourself a target to reduce the word count by 20%. By having a specific figure to aim for, you’ll be forced to consider the merit of every single word.
Get rid of the amazingly, obviously, unnecessary words.
Begin by removing superfluous words; those stray add-ons which don’t enhance a sentence but clutter it instead. The waffle is often strikingly obvious once you go looking for it.
Look for repetition. Check to see if you’ve said the same thing twice.
When you spot it, delete it.
Consider whether you can reconstruct any sentences to convey the same message in fewer words. This is where the emotional ties need to be cut. There have been countless times when I’ve liked the phrasing of a sentence but, objectively, I can see that the message could be presented more succinctly. So I ignore my original copy, open a new page and give it another bash. Nine times out of ten, I prefer the second version because of it’s simplicity.
Read your copy aloud. By doing so you will hear whether your text is long-winded.
Step away from the page
Take a break (preferably over night) and come back to your copy having done, or thought about, something else. You’ll probably stumble over a sentence or two which seemed to flow perfectly before. This is prime fodder for a cull. Strip out some words and break up the sentence until it’s simpler to read.
And if you go too far…
If you’ve hit ‘delete’ too many times, your copy may feel bland. It will need a shot of tonality pumped back in it’s veins. Start at the top and add a splash of colour as you work your way down. This time, your superlatives, adjectives, quips or puns will be consciously placed and will enhance what you’re trying to convey without blocking it from view.