October 06, 2002

Nick Usborne: Copywriting and Technology

As you can tell, it's been pretty slow around here lately. Traveling just comes in spurts with me and this is a big one. Was in Ft. Lauderdale and Chicago most of last week and I'm off to Colorado Springs tomorrow. At least I'm going to some fun places. But in my free time Nick Usborne's latest Excessive Voice caught my eye ....

Nick Usborne has a great email newsletter, Excessive Voice, he sends out every now and again (I highly recommend you sign up here). Nick is the web's premier copywriter and truly gets "it." The first profession in advertising I was attracted to was copywriting ... and part of me still wants to tackle it, so I have a bit of a passion for it. Nick shows us how valuable(and how often that value under-stated) copywriting is to businesses online.

In Nick's previous Excessive Voice he asked his readers "about the impact of technology on the quality of our writing. Did we write better when we had to write slowly with a pen and paper, or clunky typewriter? Has the ease of writing with word processing software made us lazy, and reduced the quality of our copy?"

This is an interesting question. I think the availability of technology has its advantages and disadvantages to writing. I often find, if I really want to tackle anything I write (or create for that matter) I need to start off with a blank sheet of paper and a pen that flows (literally, I love how Uni-Bal pens allows my ideas to flow on paper). Because feewriting is so important to starting the writing process, I find the computer has limitations. I can jot arrows across the page and link things together in a flash. But once I've jotted out my initial thoughts, even a rough draft, I think the computer is invaluable. Not only can you make quicker edits and print out drafts to edit by hand with greater ease, but you can picture your copy in its graphical format ... which can have an incredible impact on how those well-crafted words are perceived.

Nick published Maggie Ball's response to his question ... which I find good enough to put down here too:

Couldn't resist this one Nick (and writing it quickly). While I find that my own writing quality works better on computer than with pen and paper, simply because I've grown accustomed to working this way, I do tend to agree with the great writer Julian Barnes. Producing something with your computer makes it look too professional too quickly. I can knock up a great set up book covers, professional TOC and index before I even start my book. By the time I've begun the difficult composition process, I'm itching to send off my professional looking novel to publishers simply because it "looks" so ready. It would take many drafts to get it looking as physically neat if I were using a quill (or even a typewriter). The re-writing in those drafts would be significant. I don't think I'll ever go back to pen and paper for composition, but I do think it helps to remind ourselves that good writing takes time, many iterations, and usually some peer and professional input (a point that you make very well in Networds). Just because it looks clean, and is well formatted doesn't mean it is ready for the world. In our fast pace world where we are continually encouraged to write quickly and get our work "out there", we mustn't forget the crucial editing steps. Editors (including that internal self-editor) are more important to good words than ever.

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