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The art of slow copywriting

Chris Guiton

Wealden Wordsmith

PRO

Advocates of the Slow Movement have been popping up all over the place in recent years.

Slow Travel. Slow Reading. Slow Radio. Slow Parenting. Slow Cities. The list is endless. It might seem a bit on the faddish side. But I must confess a sneaking admiration for these attempts to slow life down.

In the words of Carl Honoré, the high priest of the Slow Movement:

“The constant pressure to do everything faster means we race through life instead of actually living it. When you use the SLOW gear, everything falls into place. You connect more, create more, focus more and achieve more. You become more.”

It all started in Italy in 1986, with a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome. This led to the formation of the slow food movement.

Its aims were to promote the production of local foods and traditional gastronomy. And oppose fast food and industrial food production. In the words of the Slow Food Manifesto published in 1989:

“Born and nurtured under the sign of Industrialization, this century first invented the machine and then modelled its lifestyle after it. Speed became our shackles. We fell prey to the same virus: ‘the fast life’ that fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes, forcing us to ingest ‘fast-food’. Homo sapiens must regain wisdom and liberate itself from the ‘velocity’ that is propelling it on the road to extinction. Let us defend ourselves against the universal madness of ‘the fast life’ with tranquil material pleasure.”

Faster is not always better

From small beginnings, Slow Food has grown into a global movement, campaigning for everyone to have access to good, clean and fairly produced food.

And, as we’ve witnessed, it’s led to a broader cultural revolution.

So maybe it’s time we started advocating Slow Copywriting. Yes, I know. This might appear a bit odd. But the pace of work has quickened significantly in recent decades with the acceleration of communication, transport and production.

Businesses will always strive to raise profitability, output and productivity. This creates an inevitable pressure to extract as much labour as possible from their workforce or their contractors.

If you’re working as a freelance copywriter, you’ll know that clients’ expectations are high. They expect quick turnarounds. And we often get pushed to produce material to ever tighter deadlines.

But this process soon reaches its limits. Human beings can only work so many hours a day. And there are practical limits to the amount of increased work intensity that people can cope with.

Push too hard, then productivity deteriorates, work quality falls off a cliff edge, and physical and mental wellbeing nosedives.

What are the implications of this? Both clients and freelancers have a mutual interest in a work environment that balances business objectives with good quality work. And which protects the interests of the people doing the work.

So, let’s take a few minutes to consider the benefits of slowing down.

Working at breakneck speed risks failing to have the time to really get to grips with your brief. It means taking shortcuts. It’s likely to result in the production of copy that fails to meet client expectations.

Any reputable copywriter will tell you that no-one produces compelling copy out of thin air.

Original content that makes a company, product or campaign stand out from the crowd is the result of a significant body of work. Most of which, like a swan moving gracefully across a lake, is hidden from the reader.

It starts with the research required to get under the skin of the client, understand the intended audience and figure out the key messages.

You then need to structure your raw materials and produce a first draft. This may emerge relatively quickly. But it then needs editing. Which is where a lot of the hard graft comes in.

All copy benefits from time to reflect on what you’ve written. This is essential. In fact, you might summarise it as, ‘edit, edit and edit again’. Nothing beats letting your subconscious get to work. Putting the task to one side and doing something else.

Continuing the food theme, flavours, and good ideas, develop when you give them time to steep, to marinate and to stew.

Think of the creative process as akin to making an authentic New Orleans gumbo. You need fresh produce, real ingredients and attention to detail. Love, time and patience produce a deep, rich flavour.

Of course, some jobs are rush jobs. Some writers write best under pressure. They work fast and still deliver good quality copy.

But this doesn’t work for everyone.

Using the slow gear

So, let’s take a step back. Be honest with clients who push for unreasonable deadlines. Turn down work that is framed around speed rather than quality.

Let’s linger over our work. Savour life. And produce copy that is authentic, engaging and persuasive.

Or as King Curtis phrased it so memorably in the 1960s R&B classic ‘Memphis Soul Stew’:

Today’s special is Memphis soul stew
We sell so much of this people wonder what we put in it
We’re going to tell you right now

Give me about a half a teacup of bass
Now I need a pound of fatback drums
Now give me four tablespoons of boiling Memphis guitars
This is going to taste all right

Now just a little pinch of organ
Now give me a half a pint of horns

Place on the burner
And bring to a boil
That’s it, that’s it, that’s it right there

Now beat well.

Thinking ‘slow’ doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything at a snail’s pace. But it does mean taking time to reflect. Doing things at the right pace. Lingering over food, over friends and over our family.

Otherwise, we are failing to savour life and are starving ourselves of the real connections provided by the world around us.

Practising mindfulness in our everyday lives is a recipe for greater enjoyment of daily pleasures, improved job satisfaction and a more meaningful life all round.

It also produces better copy.

Originally published on www.wealdenwordsmith.co.uk/blog

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