50 words is nothing. The paragraph you’ve just read was exactly 50 words. And yet on that occasion I couldn’t join the dots. I spent several hours trying to write the perfect review, crammed into a couple of sentences.
And that’s when the realisation hit me.
The film I was watching was a documentary about the late, great writer and bon viveur Hunter S. Thompson. Would the inventor of gonzo journalism have slaved away over such a small commission? Of course not: he’d have dashed off the copy in seconds flat and found something fun (and, no doubt, illegal) to do for the rest of the night.
Since then, I’ve never spent so long – at least, in terms of time vs word count – on a piece of writing.
Yes, this goes for my day job, too. Even when writing press releases, thought leadership articles or White Papers, I think there’s a value to working fast and refusing to worry.
The creative spark isn’t a tap to be switched off and on. When it ignites, you have to ride that wave and to hell with whatever mixed metaphors you’ll come up with.
This is especially true of a first draft. Refinement comes later. [Editor’s note: is this bit really necessary? Consider cutting it.]
Don’t spend too long on it, and certainly don’t worry about it. Trust me, others will worry. They’ll worry a lot. Some folk will drive you to despair with their worry.
One of the most interesting debates I ever had about B2B comms was with a boss who wanted further revisions to a piece of writing. “It’s good enough,” I said. They were horrified at my seeming lack of dedication to the task at hand.
Actually, I was being dedicated… to getting the work done, and out into the world, where it would achieve considerably more impact than being stuck in the approval cycle, aka Dante’s hitherto undiscovered tenth circle of hell.
As Hunter S. Thompson taught me, endlessly writing and rewriting something in the hope of achieving perfection is a fool’s crusade. There comes a point where the microscopic gain you’ll achieve from the nth draft is outweighed by the time and cost involved in writing, debating and approving it.
And, let’s be honest, just look at today’s world – the sheer volume of content and the speed at which it’s consumed! We’re not delivering the Magna Carta here. The best PR captures the here and now. It’s there to inform and inspire.
Be true to your first draft – the flurry of passion and dynamism that lit the fuse in the first place. All that a redraft need do is fix the typos, tighten the messaging and kill any obvious points of contention.
Having said all of that, now I’m going to backtrack, because there’s one place where you do need something approaching perfection. And that’s at the beginning.
It doesn’t matter what it’s the beginning of. It might be a rebrand, or a new campaign, or the start of an ongoing agency/client relationship.
Yet it’s here, more than anywhere else, that you need to be – literally – on the same page.
By taking the time upfront, you can create a content strategy for B2B comms that is agreed by all of the key stakeholders. From this, you can hone your core messaging, to provide the foundations for every piece of copy you’re going to write.
There’s a famous quote that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Yet rewrite that sentence and you’re onto something. Dancing and music go together, right? So let’s turn writing and architecture into pals, too. [Editor’s note: No, Simon.]
A piece of writing is like designing a building. If the foundations are right, you can start to have fun. Use your messaging matrix as building blocks, and then doodle in the margins to deliver those gonzo moments of charm and personality.
Yes, even B2B brands have personality. Just because it’s B2B doesn’t mean we have to write as if everything is a technical manual.