I’ve worked with talented editors at the LA Times, LA Weekly, Narratively, and more, and I have learned so much, but the lessons I unlearned might have been the most valuable. During my time as a journalist, I was able to kill misinformed perceptions about “good” writing, and it helped me, as a beginning writer, grow. Here are three copywriting tips for beginners and misinformed ideas that hinder talented young professionals from growing.
1. Do not confuse sentence length with a run-on sentence
So many entry-level writers believe that long sentences are grammatically incorrect simply because they are long. They label them “run-on” and banish them outside of the draft, and they want to find more valuable copywriting tips for beginners.
Just for the record: A run-on sentence is when you fuse two independent clauses in one sentence (and here is the key) without using a coordinating conjunction
Somewhere a teacher scared the ink out of a student’s pen when talking about run-on sentences, and instead of using sentence length stylistically, the student saw any sentence that felt too long as incorrect. Then the misperception spread like an Adam Grant tweet reposted on LinkedIn.
To break the spell, I often share Donald Barthelme’s, “The Sentence,” with people I’m training to show them that published pieces can be really really really long sentences. In fact, “The Sentence” is actually a fragment.
My best advice: Stop being scared of sentence length. Use short and long sentences to help build rhythm and voice. Here is a beautiful illustration of this concept by Gary Provost:
2. Do not be scared of writing “drunk” in your search for copywriting tips for beginners
Too many people sit down at their computers and expect to have a perfect draft in 30 minutes. But this is a recipe for failure, and they need a valuable copywriting tip for beginners.
Take a page from Ernest Hemingway, who is famously credited (though turns out it wasn’t him) with saying, “Write drunk. Edit Sober.” Regardless of who said it, this quote is great advice, and it’s not intended to peer pressure you into drinking Fireball. It’s trying to say: Give your brain space for different modes of thought. For example:
- A draft where you get the worst possible version out but where you can be free and creative.
- A 2nd draft where you step away and come back to destroy the bad copy and bring to life the good.
If you’re not creating these mental spaces, then you’re probably wasting hours.
3. Do not think you’re the grammar police
People make mistakes with writing all the time. And I’ve met so many people who have hard and fast rules on grammar that are unbreakable.
For instance, I used to ask a relative to read my drafts, and they would always say things like:
-You can’t begin a sentence with “And”
-Health care is two words.
While certain rules shouldn’t be broken (using “you’re/your” or “it’s/its” incorrectly), most of what people call incorrect is just stylistic choices.
So please, use a style book (or create editorial guidelines for your brand). Because without a style book, there is nothing inherently wrong with using healthcare or health care. It’s just your choice. Hopefully, this will take the pressure off of being perfect and you can begin adding more and more tools to your copywriting toolbox. You then will be able to experiment with style and learn that words are in your control.