Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings

Business Writing That Sells. Part 13

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at why the great words you just wrote may not be so great after all.

Hey, so your new press release/blog/article reads pretty killer, huh? You know you nailed the nouns, got inventive with the verbs and ad-libbed to excess on the adverbs. Interesting copy is playful after all. Well, yes, but you can’t afford to lose sight of the fact that content marketing is all about the message. What you say is more important than how you say it. Does that sound strange coming from a professional copywriter? Hear me out…

Walk the line

There’s a fine line between playful and pretentious. Interesting and self-interested. Creative and cringeworthy. I’m straddling that line now – and I know it. That’s the point.

If anything jars, then it doesn’t fit. Nothing is more important for your content than communicating your core message. Not ‘cool’ – whatever that is – not self-indulgence and definitely not ego. Best check them all in at the door. What counts is meaningful communication with your potential customers on their terms. Of course you want to grab their attention and impress them, but don’t overstep the mark. It’s like the precocious music student at school who wouldn’t swap playing Bach for basketball at break time – nobody likes a show-off!

Content is confusing

But aren’t you supposed to write words that sparkle and effervesce at every opportunity? That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Wrong. Confused? You’re not alone. Content marketing is all about standing with one foot either side of that line and writing words so sharp they cut – but not too deep. Professional copywriters like me spend their entire lives learning how to strike that balance, so nobody’s going to blame you for not getting it right first time. Apart from your finance department. They think you should have hired me to do the job right in the first place, instead of trying to save a couple of bucks…

Draw a line in the sand

The secret to crafting clean and compelling copy is to take all the rough edges off before you finish. Anything that stands out should be sanded smooth. It all needs to be great, and if some of it isn’t, then that makes even the good stuff look bad. Content marketing is all about being consistent; consistently great. Don’t lose the good stuff, but make sure you bring everything else up to the same standard. But what if you really believe in your heart of hearts that it couldn’t be any better?

Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings

Pay particular attention to the parts that make you proud. Then cut them. If it stands out, there’s a reason why. Authors call this purple prose – beautiful phrases that serve no purpose other than their own beauty – and just about any piece of content is stronger for losing it. Bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard says of his own work that, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.


Next: Your six-step checklist to content perfection


If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

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