How I Work
Copywriting, Revision, and the Merits of Multiple Drafts
I didn’t get this right the first time. My original run at this site–complete with personal bio, a snappy intro video, and a headshot in a slick suit–was all wrong. It was adequate, in a kind of standard, professional way, but it wasn’t me.
That’s how copywriting works. You can deliver work that is complete and perfect in its own way, but is totally wrong for the client. That’s what happened with my initial website and introductory materials. I wrote solid copy that nevertheless failed to represent the client (in this case, me).
I had to go back to the drawing board, and that’s okay. Because if I’d gotten it right the first time, I only would have known what worked. What’s wrong with that, you ask? True, if you could get the work done right every time the first time, you’d be in a happy place. But that’s not going to happen 100% of the time (far less, I’m afraid). Skilled professionals are not rock stars with perfect pitch who nail the note every time. Professionals are the people who know how to pivot when things aren’t working to get a project back on track.
When you have to redo the work in order to get it right, you get two rewards instead of one. You have the correct, completed work, of course. But you also gain insight into why your process worked. Had you been successful on the first try, you would miss out on that insight, and be left hoping that you could recreate the happy accident again. Success is a poor teacher if it comes without a struggle.
In writing, we struggle to get the words right. How we go about this depends on the type of writing, whether it’s a personal poem or copy for a client. But the goal of any writing is almost always the same: to evoke an intellectual or emotional response. Struggling to get this right does not mean flailing. Skilled writers understand that their first draft will not be their last. They incorporate the time and effort of writing one version of the work, getting some perspective on it, and rewriting it into their process.
As with so many professions, clients seldom witness this process, and if they do, they don’t recognize it as deliberate exercise. This is what happened to me when I became my own client. I wrote copy for my website, including personal statements and descriptions of how I work. And I missed the mark completely. One glaring example is that I professed a love of storytelling on my About page…and then failed to relate any actual stories anywhere on the site. One of my goals for this blog is to rectify that discrepancy.
That’s how the process works. You miss things, you correct them. Better still, you spot opportunities in the shortcomings, places to expand, stories to unfold. Incidentally, what I’ve just described isn’t merely good for writing–it’s good for businesses, too.
Let’s remember that this process is not analogous to all work out there. If you pour the foundation for a house, you should definitely get it right the first time. Of course, we could re-frame that conversation and say that you should really, really, sweat over the measurements before you pour the concrete (which might be compared to publishing or printing the copy you’ve developed). Measure twice, cut once, any worthy craftsman will tell you. Perhaps for the copywriter that should be draft twice, publish once. But really it’s whatever works for you.