It doesn’t have to be elegantCourtesy of Valeriia Sviridova on Canva
Writing a novel is hard. The art of prose can seem like a mystery if you don’t know where to begin. Once I got over the hurdle of thinking my prose had to be elegant, it made things a lot easier. As a copywriter, it sometimes takes me days to craft the perfect three to five-word phrase. It’s interesting that Mark Twain appears to share the same sentiment. I also realized that Hemingway was onto something when he insisted on cutting out “ornamental writing”, and copywriters everywhere would agree. Here are four reasons why I think it’s helpful for novelists to be skilled in copywriting.
“I apologize for such a long letter — I didn’t have time to write a short one.”― Mark TwainPerspective with time and expectation
When writing sales copy, the phrase is never as neat or clear until I’ve written at least a few drafts. I often write out several “sloppier” sentences before tailoring down to that winning word combination. The same method can be applied to novels. Even in copywriting, you need to turn off your internal editor at first. I’ve found that some of my best copy is born from the ashes of those messy phrases.
But I’m also an impatient person, and I hate how long writing copy or a novel can take. Then I realized that if it can be harder to write a shorter sentence that will convert sales, why should I agonize over the time it takes to write longer content? Especially when creative writing should be (for the most part) an enjoyable process. But perfect, concise prose doesn’t happen on the first draft. I could write several thousand words in a couple of days for a novel while it takes that same time to write a short sales copy phrase. But unlike copywriting, novel-writing allows a little bit more space for imperfection.
Editing will be faster
When you have an eye for sales copy, you’ll be determined to make every word in your book count. You might naturally use fewer adverbs and adjectives on your first draft, but you shouldn’t be thinking about perfecting anything until your story is done. When you let go of the need for flowery prose and just write, editing will come that much sooner. Before you know it, you’ll have a clean and finished novel! I sincerely believe that once you gain skills as a copywriter, you naturally filter out unneeded words. In other words, don’t feel self-conscious about getting to the point!
“If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away…”-Ernest HemingwayYour end product will likely be more concise
But if your prose is indeed flowery, you as a copywriter will know just how to remedy that. You’ll know how to trim every unneeded word or redundant phrase. You can also trade fancier words for more practical ones during the editing process. Be as straightforward with your writing as possible and see what happens. It’s like a puzzle!
It’s like poetry
Whenever I have to write several sections of copy for the same subject, I treat it like I would a poem. I make sure to link the phrases in clear and clever ways. My goal is to make them catchy and pleasurable to read while at the same time delivering the clearest message possible. When you think of copywriting as poetry, it becomes easier to apply the skill to prose. The goal of poetry is to tell a story or paint an image in as few words as possible. The one difference is where poetry conceals, copywriting reveals. Poetic prose shouldn’t be long and elaborate, but beautiful and concise.
Nothing drags the novel process more than obsessing over every word right out the gate. Even copywriters know that’s not helpful! Let your inner critic go so the words can flow. You can always clean them up later! The important thing is to develop an eye for clear and succinct writing, just like a copywriter. Remember to have patience, and have the perspective that getting the words out, even sloppily, is the first step beautiful prose.
How Copywriting Can Improve Your Prose Process was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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