Fundraising Copy: Write It Better This New Year
In a paroxysm of New Year's humility (or laziness), I'm letting some of the world's greatest writers write today's blog.
Not fundraising writers, per se, but great writers from every field. You see, there's an insidious notion floating around that copywriting is not "real" writing. Unfortunately this notion is most often propagated by copywriters themselves who somehow feel they must apologize for creating work that moves and motivates people.
Former copywriters F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Sayers, Don DeLillo, Joseph Heller and others would certainly disagree, as would anyone who has been so touched by one of your fundraising appeals that he or she responded immediately by making a generous financial gift to the organization you were writing for.
So the list below serves a double purpose: First, it offers some tips that, if you follow them, will absolutely make you a better writer. Second, as you read them, you'll discover how many parallels there are between your writing and so-called "serious" writing. For example:
- Diana Athill: Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): Only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.
- Elmore Leonard: Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.
- Geoff Dyer: Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing ... and doing nothing, I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something.
- Margaret Atwood: Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.)
- Roddy Doyle: Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
- Helen Dunmore: A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
- P. D. James: Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
- Cory Doctorow: Write even when the world is chaotic. You don't need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair or inner peace to write. You just need 10 minutes and a writing implement.
- A. L. Kennedy: Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it. Encourage others. Pass it on.
- Ann Handley: Good writing anticipates reader questions.
- Stephen King: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
- Mark Twain: Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
- Robert Frost: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."
- John Steinbeck: Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
Hang on to this list and refer to it anytime you need a touch of inspiration or a gentle reminder that, no matter what the voices in your head tell you, copywriting matters. A lot. Happy New Year.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 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, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.