The Abridged Emergency Guide for Non-Writers

Writing—you either love it or lump it.

For my personal longevity, I’m banking on people giving up the pen for good, but say you’re in dire straits. All of the world’s copywriters are away on some magical holiday in Majorca and there’s nothing but blank space between you and That Really Important Thing.

an impossible feat?Ruh-oh.

Cool your jets, intrepid writer, and come out from underneath that desk. I present you six surefire ways to approach any daunting copy assignment.


I carry notebooks full of squiggles and Venn diagrams that resemble text at a glance, largely indecipherable to anyone else but immensely helpful during the planning stage.

The point is, don’t expect to go from A to Z without stopping somewhere in between. Ask yourself questions along the way.
Why am I compelled in this direction? How does this word serve the overall purpose and has it overstayed its welcome? Can this phrasing be any less goofy or stilted?


Let go of the self-important notion that you’re writing for people who give a damn. They don’t, not initially anyway. If your reader has to forge through verbal quicksand to get to the point, they’ll likely drown before they’re even halfway there.

Hit me hard and fast.
Trim liberally.
Embellish where necessary.


Sometimes your bright idea seems a little dull in the wrong light. But wait, before pressing Delete, save it instead to stow away in an “ideas” file. Then later, pick over it like a carrion beast, extracting the tasty bits. It can be repurposed later.


Your reader wants to be gripped like an eager lover. If not taken from the start, the whole courtship between you and the audience becomes a lukewarm, flaccid affair and everyone leaves disappointed.

Make the first move in the preamble. If it’s short copy, then smarten up the headline or dazzle me with a provoking lead-in. Long, build me up to the apex, guiding me all the way. So, if you’ve come to a certain point in the copy, don’t leave your reader hanging by changing tack last minute or betting that your meaning can be inferred. Give it straight. It’s a long way down.


You control the tenor—you’re the maestro. How do you want the reader to feel? Think on it. Would the language stir you if you were a 46-year-old housewife in Surburbia, USA? A time-starved jillionaire on his lunch break? How you understand your audience is key. Look deep into the dregs of your teacup. Be BFFs with TV. Go on, sneak a peek at your BuzzFeed tab and call it “pertinent research”. Absorb it all, but foremost…

Communicate and do it well.


Find yourself a human sounding board. MS Word will only tell you what you want to hear (which is to say, nothing a 5th grader and Merriam-Webster couldn’t). Whenever I find time enough to squeeze out a little creative unf, I don’t leap to the nearest workshop. No, I ask a real person—that is, a non-writer like yourself. Someone who just couldn’t be bothered with neither Strunk nor White. After all, this is just the sort of person who you’re really writing for.

Insist that your critic (yes, even Nanna) be completely straight with you. In our line of work, you rarely, if ever, get a second chance, so review, for crying out loud. And if it’s really off base (which shouldn’t be if you’ve been paying attention), think of how much face you save not presenting it in its sucky form.

After a (not necessarily) last rewrite, indulge with a celebratory fist pump. You’ve earned it.

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