Writing to deadline: pragmatism vs. perfectionism

May 10th, 2016

cartoon of ticking clock

A student recently asked me a question about writing to deadline:

Hi Clare
I totally get the need to edit, and to take time to hone your writing. However, in my job in communications, there is always more work than time, and deadlines tend to be pretty tight. Articles for our website or FAQ documents need to be turned around quickly, and I think my challenge is rather spending too much time pondering and perfecting, while other tasks pile up. So my question is, how do you strike the right balance between pragmatism and perfectionism?


I prompted Vicky’s question by revealing the amount of time I allocate to my writing process. Many people are surprised that I spend only 20% of my time writing but 50% editing. My point is that great writing is more the result of editing than it is the actual writing. I also believe this bias towards editing helps us hit any deadline. Here’s why:

Knowing that the magic happens in the editing stage frees you up to get something – anything – down on that blank page. It’s a question of quickly getting what you need to say written without worrying about how cringeworthy the result is. So, getting comfortable with what one writer I know calls the Ugly First Draft will naturally speed your writing process.

You’ll also get that ugly first draft down quicker if you are clear from the outset who your reader is and what you need to tell them – that’s the research bit. Bearing these questions in mind at the writing and editing stages keeps you focused, thus putting a limit on the amount of pondering and perfecting that needs to be done. It stops you sweating the small stuff in favour of the big wins.

Sometimes, we have to be kind to ourselves, too and let pragmatism reign. Remember ‘perfect is the enemy of done’. The great thing about online writing is you can always go back and rework it. Print copy is a different matter. But no one expects Austen-worthy style and polish anywhere other than, well, an Austen novel. When that deadline is looming, all you have to do is make sure your writing is as good as it can be – by which I mean as useful to the reader as it can be.

Here’s a more detailed look at the writing process.

To help get that first draft down quicker take a look at this quick and easy method to structure your writing.

And here are the essential questions you need to ask before you even start writing.

If you’re worried, or being told, you’re writing too slowly, check out this post on how long writing should take.

Business proposals: how to persuade at every level

April 26th, 2016

cartoon of street signpost indicating two different directions
A student recently asked me about writing business proposals that will be read by a variety of readers. Here’s his question:

In a multi-level sales process, who is my audience?

I’m a leader with a management consultancy firm, and approving our work often requires multiple levels of leadership to read our work. Sometimes it’s the end user who does the reading and then recommends his pick to the buyer. Other times the top buyer does all the reading. In cases in which a writer doesn’t know exactly whom to write to, how do you chose which reader you should be channeling?

Here’s my answer: Read the rest of this entry »

Vision statement? Apply this three-part test before you hit ‘send’

April 19th, 2016

cartoon of a pair of binocularsLast week, a big pharma firm was ‘proud’ to reveal its vision statement for its new Antibiotic Business Unit.

Here’s that vision statement.

Big Pharma plc is working towards a reinvigorated global environment for antibiotic research, development and commercialisation.

We are collaborating with all stakeholders, and acting as a constructive partner to governments to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

Commercial environment
Commercially attractive policies, alongside global initiatives, must be developed if new antibiotics are to reach patients.

Did you get that? Were you inspired by it? Can you even remember much of it?  No?

Here are some reasons why that might be: Read the rest of this entry »

Content marketing: What you get when you don’t pay writers

April 11th, 2016

In February 2016, Stephen Hull, the editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK was asked in a radio interview why he doesn’t pay his writers.

Here’s what he said.

I love this question, because I’m proud to say that what we do is that we have 13,000 contributors in the UK, bloggers… we don’t pay them, but you know if I was paying someone to write something because I wanted it to get advertising pay, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.

Here’s why that statement is, frankly, disingenuous bollocks. Read the rest of this entry »

What is a copywriter? (Hint: writing’s only half the job)

April 5th, 2016

cartoon of different copywriter hats
Someone recently asked me ‘so what is a copywriter?’.  One thing’s for sure, being a copywriter is about way more than just writing.

Here are eight possible answers to the question: ‘what is a copywriter?’.

1. A copywriter is a thinker

‘Thinker’ is the answer that immediately springs to mind, because it’s what I spend most of my day doing. Read the rest of this entry »