I’m teaching a long copy class this quarter. This is the sixth in a series of exercises intended for that class. I invite blog readers to share their assignments. Let me know if you found this assignment helpful or interesting.
When I was in college, I worked summers in the IT department at Cincinnati Bell, mostly updating software and killing viruses. In my spare time, I dismantled and rebuilt computers at my desk (this was back when computers were simpler and their parts bigger). I didn’t know that much about computers when I started, but that process of opening them up and seeing how all the parts fit together helped me understand how everything worked. Anyone who has ever taken apart an engine or alarm clock, or dissected a frog can probably relate.
When I write copy, I go through a similar process. I pull phrases apart. I dismantle sentences, writing one sentence five or six different ways, trying different ways of stringing thoughts together. I go off on tangents, and explore random thoughts and connections. There’s always a point where I have the equivalent of a garage floor covered with engine parts. For one paragraph of copy, I might have 3 pages of random sentences, non-sequiturs and half thoughts. Then I can start going through and fitting together the best versions, most elegant transitions and essential ideas, discarding the other junk. To me, this is the best way to learn not just how to write copy, but how copy works.
For this assignment, you will need a partner copywriter. Swap pieces of long copy (at least a paragraph). Take your partner’s copy, pull it apart, rewrite it, and then put it back together. It probably won’t look the same (maybe not at all). You may have a few leftover screws. You probably tweaked some transitions, reordered some thoughts, or maybe strengthened some of the language and cut some of the fat. Now swap back and compare. Take note of the decisions your partner made. Do you agree with any of them?
If a brave soul would like to post a piece of copy here, we can try this experiment and all rewrite it different ways.