A trivial copywriting tip

Having trouble getting your copy right? Try doing it three times. Yesterday I happened to mention on Twitter that the “write three versions” trick wasn’t working for me, which prompted another writer to thank me for the idea. That’s when I remembered that – as far as I know – I invented this technique, which is why other people won’t have heard of it.

It’s simple. Say you’re writing a leaflet about a new musical cat-flap. You keep drafting and re-drafting but the copy just won’t sparkle. So you choose three different approaches, as wildly different as you can. Maybe Version A is about the sheer joyous fun of being able to welcome your cat home with a range of different songs. Version B is about responsibility: doesn’t your pet deserve the best? Isn’t that blast of Beethoven just as important as the flea treatment or the kibble? Version C might be about keeping up with the Joneses, or it might be written in wacky verse form, or it might hark back to the reader’s imaginary 1950s childhood when you could drink ginger beer straight out of the river and every cat-flap was musical.

Sometimes, especially if your brief was a bit vague, you might show the client all three versions and ask which they prefer. That’ll give you a steer for future drafts. (Sometimes, even better, they’ll love one of the versions and won’t want to change a thing.)

Other times, your three-way treatment helps you to find some middle ground and write some copy incorporating all those elements. You get to cherry-pick the best bits from everything you’ve done so far. That stuff about the neighbours yowling with envy can go in right after the solemn appeal-to-sense-of-duty. Suddenly, it’s all gold. (That is, until the client tells you that the leaflet is being translated for the German-speaking market, and your pun about “making an entrance” won’t work any more, so can you please just stick to listing the features of Die Musikkatzenklappe?)

Why is this tip trivial? Because we get our word “trivia” from the Latin for the place where three ways meet, a crossroads. The prize for working fast and not taking yourself too seriously is getting to explore lots of different routes.


Funny & inspiring - love it. Must remember this next time I'm trying to put something together. 

BTW: reminds me of a trick I used with some pedants in a past job. They would say, "lets write a resolution" but didn't want to lower themselves to doing the task. So I would write something crappy, upon which they would gasp in horror and rewrite it. Worked every time. And it was a lot of times. 

Ha, that sounds like my "bad first draft" technique! I think some people are just terrified of taking any initiative, of starting something without anything to build on, so they will do anything to avoid that very vulnerable moment. (I sort of blogged about this too in "On Not Getting it Out There" and "More on Initiative and Vulnerability".) Criticising is bloody easy compared to making something out of nothing!