So, You Want to Be a Better Marketing Writer?
First, congrats on raising your hand to learn. It’s not always easy to recognize our own opportunities for growth, but that’s the first step toward progress (and yep, it still counts if someone else recommended this as a growth opportunity for you, too).
Second, before you read any further, I want you to take a minute to answer two very important questions that will help shape how you learn, what you learn, and where you’ll be most successful in applying it.
1. WHY do you want to be a better writer?
Just as there are different flavors of “writing” as a discipline and a craft (there’s copywriting, grant writing, business writing, speechwriting…the list goes on), each of us has different personal motivations for wanting to improve our skills.
Do you want to become a better writer because you, a colleague, a mentor, or a supervisor have noticed areas for improvement? Because you’ve been assigned to a new project that needs a different approach or way of thinking? Are you looking for tangible ways to grow beyond your current role and earn a promotion? Are you considering changing specialities or careers? Or maybe you have a side hustle that needs a little extra writing love (nice work!).
All of these are valid reasons—and keeping your end goal top-of-mind is important to make sure that you’re able to stay motivated and on task as you learn.
2. WHAT kind of writing skills do you hope to develop or improve?
If you’re looking for ways to better motivate your readers to take action through compelling blog posts or social content, then focusing on persuasive writing, emotional hooks, evidence, and structure will be important as you dive in beyond the basics. If you found that you struggle putting together oral presentations, then working on clarity, brevity, and flow—as well as spoken cadence and rhythm—may be higher priority. And if you’re looking to become a copywriter at an agency or in any traditionally creative-led role, then understanding all of the above, along with written timing, voice, and narrative storytelling are going to be essential.
Now that you have a better understanding of where you want to go, and why you want to go there…
3. HOW do you make it happen?
The same way that you wouldn’t try out for a semi-pro hockey team after only having skated during 80s disco nights at the local rink, it’s critical to master the fundamentals of writing before you dive into the nuance of different styles and genres. And the best way to build a solid foundation for writing of any kind…
…is to learn + practice in a formal setting.
When I was studying advertising in college, I took poetry writing classes, fiction writing, playwriting, comedy writing, speechwriting…even soap opera writing! And then I took even more classes once I was actually doing the work in the agency world. Regardless of medium, and of where you ultimately want to focus your attention, practicing all of these different types of writing at the outset will help you understand the basic tricks and techniques of language, cadence, rhythm, imagery, persuasion, etc., so you can more effectively identify how and why they work in other people’s’ writing, and ultimately, use them in your own work, too.
That said, all the practice in the world won’t guarantee success if you’re practicing in a vacuum. Learning and writing in a setting where you’re able to get formal feedback to help make your work better is critical to satisfying your personal motivations, and reaching your functional goals.
That also means showing your work to everyone who is willing to read it and review it and provide honest, constructive criticism. A quick note here: not everyone’s feedback is going to be helpful, but learning to discern what’s useful from what’s not is also a valuable skill!
One great avenue for structured practice is online classes.
There are MANY online options out there–some are expensive, others are free; some are legitimate, many more are probably not worth your time. Do the usual due diligence, of course: read reviews, look at syllabi, compare costs, understand coursework expectations, research the instructors, and see what other kinds of professionals have taken the class in the past (personal recommendations are also a great way to go). But to really make sure you’re getting something valuable from your effort, and not just a certificate of completion, also look for classes where:
- You’re held responsible for your work. Find courses that are structured with requirements and deadlines for turning in assignments rather than following along at a self-guided pace, and your writing is reviewed by an expert who can provide valuable feedback. Being part of a timed and graded cohort keeps you accountable, and gives you the formal guidance you need to really hone your skills—ideally, from a teacher or other professional in the field who can show you where you’re succeeding and where you still need to improve.
- You have the chance for peer collaboration (and commiseration). While you may be physically writing on your own, having a support system to reach out to with questions, to ask for advice, or even to proof your work before submitting it, is invaluable. Because online classes bring together learners from all over the world, you’ll be exposed to people with different backgrounds and experience, all of whom can add something to your arsenal of knowledge.
While I can’t personally vouch for any particular online course (these weren’t around 15+ years ago), I recently stumbled across one that caught my attention because it covers all the fundamentals (although unfortunately doesn’t appear to be offered right now). The syllabus from this class, noted below, is a great reference point for making sure any course you choose gives you the right building blocks for more focused learning and practice later.
- Rhetorical Knowledge: how to craft your writing to meet the needs of specific audiences for specific purposes.
- Critical Thinking: how to make decisions about what to include and not include in your writing.
- Writing Processes: how to use invention, research, drafting, revising, and editing in your writing.
- Knowledge of Conventions: how to use various formats and stylistic choices, including genre conventions.
- Digital Technology: how to use diverse technologies to write more effectively and efficiently.
- Habits of Mind: how to benefit from curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and reflection.
Another option: find a mentor at work
If there are colleagues in your company or on your team (or even in your extended LinkedIn network) whose writing style or work you admire, ask them if they’d be willing to offer advice or show you the ropes. This option is a little trickier, since we all know how deliverables and deadlines get in the way of even the best intentions. But, if there’s someone you trust and respect who’s open to helping you grow, you’ll be building a valuable relationship at the same time you’re building your skills.
One word of advice here: since you’re asking someone to carve out time from working toward their own growth goals to help you achieve yours, make it easy for them to do it. Don’t rely on them to drive the exchange: respect their time by making regular meetings, bring them suggestions for what you want to practice vs. asking them what you SHOULD do, come ready with specific questions, and make sure they know you respect and appreciate their feedback.
Ready for your first homework assignment?
Spend some time thinking about your WHY and your WHAT of becoming a better writer. Decide on a plan for your HOW, and put it into action. Then, come back for Part 2 of this post – sometime in the not too distant future, hopefully – for some practical writing tips and tricks once you’re ready to dive in.