“How to Write Good”
*This appeared on my previous blog on December 30th, 2014
As many of you know, I recently started working as a copywriter for a home décor/furnishings magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I will describe it as simply as possible. I write copy.
Now some of you reading this might be thinking: “Oh, of course.” But most of the people I believe are reading this are thinking: “Ha ha, very funny. But what do you really do?”
That is what I really do. But more specifically, I write descriptions for products, edit those descriptions scrupulously, and write them again. I am learning terms for fabric; I’ve learned how to say “primitive” about 20 different ways; and I’m becoming much more intimate with dictionaries and thesauruses. Thesaurusi? Just kidding, it’s thesauruses. I’m also learning about the many stages of magazine production – there are a lot more than I thought. And, I’m continuing to understand how the art of copywriting is truly underrated.
Writing product descriptions: how hard could it be? Well, thankfully my technical writing education at UMaine prepared me for how hard it can be. Sometimes, copy comes so easily for an item, and other times I could stare at an item for five minutes and not come up with anything. Additionally, some items have important parts that need to be in the copy – like if an item requires assembly, batteries, light bulbs, special cleaning instructions, and so on. Pair that with limited space on a page or within a layout, and there is potential for limited creativity and description. Also, because of space, sometimes grammar isn’t a priority. Which brings me to the main point of my post today.
Grammar. Yes, the fact that sometimes I have to sacrifice grammar to make room for a four word-titled item with two adjectives that “need” to go before that title makes me cringe. But to keep me from going super insane, I recall a list of “rules” I learned in college, and when I Googled those rules (entitled “How to Write Good,” and written by Frank L. Visco) I found them combined with a few others; I have included a link to the page below. They are all problems I have encountered, before and during my [short] time as a copywriter, and while I try to usually follow them, sometimes it is just necessary to break them. Well, some of them. The irony of these rules is that most of them are frequently broken in academic, technical and creative writing. Most of these rules are situational, and require the judgment of the writer. So when I’m feeling frustrated that my sentences are fragmented or I only have room to end a sentence with a preposition, or when I use unnecessary modifiers like “super” (see above), I look at this list and breathe a little easier – and take on the next writing project or piece of copy.
Love this I’ve seen the how to write good page before when I was a trainee journalist certainly helped me out. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Oh yes, feel that pain! I used to do advertising copy and point of sale display ticketing for photographic gear. This why I don’t do flash fiction or any ‘challenges’ that want to limit you by specifying the number of words you may use now. Been there, it hurt!
These experiences can be scarring! I think a word limit on creative writing or flash fiction challenges can be fun, but only on the rarest of occasions… 😉
Well, that list is just delightful! I try and calm my nerves when I see bad grammar (particularly my own) with the thought that the point is to be understood. The rules must be broken–though not too much!
“The point is to be understood.” My favorite thing about language is how it can change even over the course of a day, as professional and social situations intertwine – the audience is key! And depending on the audience, I will correct bad grammar if I hear it/read it. 😉