3 Prewriting Steps You Probably Skip
Like all craftspersons, we copywriters begin our training by learning fundamental prewriting techniques designed to help organize our thoughts so we can transcribe what’s in our heads onto our documents. But, also like other craftspersons, as we become more proficient we tend to skip those basic practices. Most of the time it works out fine. Every so often though, we end up like the electrician who doesn’t shut off the power to fix the chandelier but just flips off the closest light switch: grinning sheepishly as we pick ourselves up off the floor. So no matter how skillful we become, it’s a good idea to dust off these prewriting skills because sooner or later they’ll come in handy:
Contrary to popular hyperbole, you can’t really find everything on the Internet. Especially when you’re compiling information about an organization’s programs or researching the human stories that will bring tears to a donor’s eyes.
Sometimes you have to talk to people face to face, do phone interviews or even (gasp!) look things up in a book. When these things happen, the skilled note-taker has a big advantage. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to the academic format you hated in school. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have be hidebound by Word’s annoying auto-bullets.
But whether you carry a handsome Moleskine or can tap 60 words per minute into your smartphone, or just keep a wad of cocktail napkins in your pocket, make sure you always have the tools to capture an idea or quote. Assuming you’ll be able to Google it later or, worse, remember it in context is nothing but a shortcut to the graveyard of good ideas.
People who say, “I don’t do outlines,” are often the same people who say, “I can’t write unless I’m inspired.” Sketching out your ideas before you start writing has at least three benefits:
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.