Writing – from the perspective of someone who can’t

By ShayneT  -  On 22 Nov, 2012 -  3 comments

About 15 years ago, I was first asked to write a sales letter to be sent out to 10,000 people. My first response was, ‘what’s a sales letter‘? My second was a sudden greater concern for the written word …

There was a problem. My grammar sucked. I couldn’t spell and I has absolutely no concept of what a good sales letter looked like — let alone actually create one!

Suffice to say, my first draft was sent straight to the bin.

A couple of years later, with a few more sales letters under my belt, I was asked to complete an email marketing test as a part of my application to join SitePoint.

At that stage, having only experienced writing sales letters, my email was so far off the mark, I still wonder how I managed to get the job!

Fifteen years later, with hundreds of emails, sales pages, blog posts and even two books behind me, I think it’s time to circle back and share how as a person, who loves to tell a story, deals with the fact that words and sales copy are still one of the hardest parts of my job.

Do, do, and do more.

Whilst writing is, and probably will always be a hard task for me, it wasn’t until I confronted it rather than lived in denial, did I start to improve. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I figure if my good to bad ratio is 1 to 10, then I just have to write 10 times more than someone more gifted to deliver the same result.

When it comes to writing, practice doesn’t make perfect, but it certainly makes things better. If I had to only pick the one thing that’s helped me write as much as I have, it would easily be the writing itself.

Everyone thought they could do my job, but I listened to the people that actually could.

The one thing I very quickly learned with the writing world, even more so in a sales and marketing context, is that everyone thinks they can do your job. Well not everyone, but a lot.

Even as a naive youngster, I found it weird that legal, who were part of the approval process of my campaigns, would comment more about my angle and phrasing rather if I was being legally  compliant. At the end of the day, I had to bow to their will, but the feedback never stuck.

What stuck with me though was the feedback from the more experienced people in my team. Colleagues that presented to me different advice, techniques and approaches that they personally took in creating a great copy — techniques I still use to this very day.

Don’t pretend you’re good at it – surround yourself with those better than you.

My job titles and experience suggest that I should be better at writing. As a confident young man, for a while, I bluffed my way through (in reality, I was probably fooling no one). I was only when I wised up and came to terms with the fact that you don’t have to be perfect at everything, could I start to change the status quo?

Being much more open about the stories I had in my mind, articulating how I wanted people to feel and respond while working with the pros enabled me to turn my dribble into something much more meaningful. What was more important was that I could follow their changes. Learning from them was inspiring.

Read more… and read different things

There’s nothing new here. If you want to write better, then read more. I agree. But I write 100+ sales pages and emails to every book, so not only do I try to read more books, but I make sure I read heaps of sales pages, emails, magazines, and blogs to help become better with different styles.

Do I read as much as I’d like to? Nope. But does anyone?

Do I consider myself a good writer?

To be honest, probably not, but I’m better. I will still be envious of bloggers who just seem to spew glorious acts of poetry.

Friends like Sentience, Matt Magain and Georgina will forever be frustrated with the frequent grammar and spelling mistakes on this blog.

What I do know is that writing is and will always be part of my future.

It may never come naturally, but if I continue to work at it, keep surrounding myself with word nerds, and listen to the right people — you never know. Maybe there’s a wordsmith in all of us.