Among the things we lost in the fire were the remains of my father, Paul, who was cremated the day before Christmas of his 80th year. It’s not all bad though. He didn’t have many hobbies when alive, but now we joke that he’s into a little bit of everything.
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None of that is true.
It’s an entry from a writing exercise I participated in a few years ago.
Each day in October, I was given a single word and had to build a 50-word story around it. (“Ash” inspired that bit about Paul.)
By the end of the month, I had 31 tiny tales that had no value beyond being a welcome diversion from everyone who went to voicemail because I was “working.”
Then, I realized what this month-long escapade had turned me into, word by devilish word …
The Karate Kid
If you’re not familiar with the 1984 film of the same name, the unsubscribe link is at the bottom.
But if “wax on, wax off” is a part of your pop culture lexicon (even if it’s buried beneath a smoldering heap of Rubik’s Cubes and stonewashed denim), you’ll understand where we’re going.
You see, even though it wasn’t proper marketing copy, I was unknowingly practicing the art of short-form copywriting.
You may be wondering what the big deal is with writing fewer words.
But if you’ve ever white-knuckled your way through delivering an elevator pitch, you know how tough it is to keep things tight and meaningful.
Same thing with short copy.
Because when you’re working within the confines of a landing page or the character limitations of a paid social ad, you need to make every word count.
Here’s how 👇
Trim the fat.
“Every word is optional until it becomes essential.”
That’s what Verlyn Klinkenborg tells us in his ode to brevity: Several Short Sentences About Writing. It’s the kind of line you’d find a long-winded advertising student writing on the blackboard 100 times. (And yes, I realize what an old-timey sentence that is.)
Begin your butchery by stripping your copy of words that are too abstract or do nothing to connect your reader with the image or outcome you want them to visualize.
Here’s a great place to start …
Lose the adverbs.
They’re not all bad, but some adverbs are just a crutch holding up a weak verb. See if you can replace your adverbs with bolder, more descriptive verbs. So, sentences like these …
“He loudly voiced his disapproval.”
“The children ran swiftly toward the bus.”
“She angrily threw her wedding ring into the ocean.”
“He roared his disapproval.”
“The children sprinted toward the bus.”
“She hurled her wedding ring into the ocean.”
(Apologies if that last one hit too close to home.)
Just one more, then you’re free to go—
I lied before. This one may require a few more words, but I promise each one will pay off if you choose ‘em well.
That means avoiding vague, summarized statements that tell me nothing in favor of specific and clear copy that speaks to me.
Hyundai nails this in an electric vehicle commercial that boasts “up to 80 percent charge in 18 minutes.” That level of detail could move prospective buyers closer to a decision compared to the more efficient but meaningless “charges fast.”
Which reminds me to remind you …
Use numbers whenever you can to set expectations or remove friction.
If GEICO can do it, so can you.
. . .
As always, I could say more, but the point of these nuggets is to keep things light.
Just grab what you need and tell me to shove the rest. I can take a punch.
See you next time. – Matt
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