Among their many traits, creative writers generally display an appetite for linguistic invention. For this reason alone, more and more businesses are hiring professionals with creative writing backgrounds.
However, a consensus seems to have formed around the idea that creative writers rarely become great marcom professionals. Articles that tackle this topic often put the blame on creative writing courses. For example, this piece by Alayna Frankenberry states that, “even if you were the darling of your university’s creative writing program, you’ll need to unlearn a lot of what you were taught before you can rule the world of content writing.”
Frankenberry goes on to enumerate the rigors of web writing, pointing out that clarity should trump enigmatic writing, and the writer’s perspective should cede to the client’s vision. Most importantly, she argues, web content has to be written for the here and now and targeted to today’s audience, something that creative writers have the luxury of not always worrying about.
Creative Writing Can Inform Content Marketing Initiatives
An evolving marketing trend that revolves around storytelling has paved the way for digital content that, apart from offering captivating writing, relies heavily on design and web development.
Responsive storytelling, according to Forbes, is supposed to capture the audience’s attention and guide them through “an interactive and customizable flow of information that conveys your narrative in a way that’s uniquely useful to the individual.” This can be done using both new and existing technologies such as PowerPoint-like presentations, interactive infographics, microsites, and apps.
Regardless of the format used to showcase it, great storytelling has its roots in the realm of literary genius: writing tips from authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King have a place in both creative writing classes and content marketing workshops.
Who Are the Reigning Kings of Storytelling?
Nobel laureate John Steinbeck offered plenty of writing advice that fits beautifully with content marketing principles. For example, this section from an article published by Steinbeck in a 1975 edition of The Paris Review supports the use of marketing personas in content strategy, editorial planning, and content creation:
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person–a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
Similarly, Kurt Vonnegut advised creatives to “write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” In a master’s thesis rejected by the University of Chicago, Vonnegut argued that “stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.” Vonnegut’s advice offers the type of perspective that can inspire writers and strategists to create unique content and groundbreaking campaigns:
- Use the time of a total stranger (the reader) in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. […]
- Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action. […]
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” remains one of the most foundational critical analyses ever published on the accuracy of written English and offers a great starting point for any writer or marketer pursuing clarity and brevity. It’s remarkable that a nearly 70-year-old text can still offer relevant advice on how to write better. The following is an excerpt of Orwell’s essay regarding bad writing habits that continue to plague many content professionals today.
[…] writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say “In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that” than to say “I think.” If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. […] By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.
In his autobiography, On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King brings his writing advice to the table, some of which relates to content writing. For example:
- Avoid passive voice: Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.
- Don’t use too many adverbs: The adverb is not your friend.
- Never become a grammar Nazi: The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.
- The key to great content writing is thorough research: If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.
- However, the research is not always the story: That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it. Of course this particular advice doesn’t always apply to article writing, for example, but it is a good reminder for writing web pages and presentations.
Although he’s not exactly a literary genius, David Ogilvy, the self-proclaimed “Pope of Modern Advertising,” produced a short list of writing tips that initially took the form of an internal memo at his agency titled “How to Write,” and some of the points he made back then are still relevant to the agencies of 2015:
- Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
- Write the way you talk. Naturally.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. […]
- Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.
- If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
- Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
A Final Thought
Many famous authors have offered writing advice, and although some contradict content marketing principles, most of these pointers are informative for both content marketers and writers. Ultimately, if both sides are willing to bridge the gap between the two fields, content marketers can learn from creative writing principles.
At least for the conceivable future, businesses will need to employ professionals who can deliver game-changing content. In turn, writers need to train in the disciplines of digital marketing in order to create content that can meet digital communication standards, SEO, and PPC techniques.
There’s little doubt that creative writers have precisely what it takes to become excellent content writers and copywriters. Even though digital marketing is a demanding field and the insane pace at which it evolves can be overwhelming, creative writers are inherently adaptive people. And if anybody can make it, they can.
Read more: Using Buyer Intent Data to Inform Content Marketing
Some interesting insights, Alexander, thank you. When it comes down to it, good writing is good writing in any genre. Whether you are writing content for businesses or writing creatively, you need to create clean, stripped-down prose in which every word counts.
So true, Aoife. Thanks for reading!