When I started out as a writer, I didn’t really have much of a clue about what I was doing. I knew I wanted to write about science and I knew I loved playing with words, but that was about it.
So how did I learn how to write?
A lot of trial and error. I was very lucky to be trained in the craft of copywriting by some very patient people at the award winning agency Langland. The writers and art directors there all helped teach me about writing for healthcare and the essentials of good advertising. I’ll never forget presenting my first detail aid – it was terrifying. Quite rightly, it was torn to shreds. I was gutted and it was years later before I appreciated the depth of constructive criticism I received at Langland.
Because that’s what you need when you’re learning to write. Criticism. That’s the only way to learn what works and just as importantly, what doesn’t work. This is where the old Chinese (or is it Japanese?) proverb fall down seven times, stand up eight rings true.
Writing, rewriting, rewriting again
To learn to write, I wrote. Then I wrote it again. And again. And again. I had my word choice challenged by art directors, account handlers, brand managers and medics. Some words I changed (choose your battles writers), some words I fought hard to keep. Some words just naturally fell by the wayside while others clung on for dear life. But that is what crafting copy is all about. Accepting the criticism and letting people help you improve your writing.
In the beginning, you find yourself back at the drawing board (or writing slate) all too often. But starting afresh is exhilarating. A clean sheet of paper, an empty word document. Just waiting to be improved by the addition of some carefully chosen words.
The secret formula
After 12 years I have a tried and tested formula for writing. It has 3 stages: Immersion, Procrastination and Panic.
The first stage, is all about research. Reading the brief, understanding the brief, learning about the disease area if it’s new to me. I search online for insights into what it’s like to live with the disease, how doctors feel about treating it and what they think about the drug in question.
Then I procrastinate. Actually, I’m filtering all I’ve absorbed in stage 1, but it can look like procrastination to the untrained eye (ahem). But it all seriousness, stage 2, whatever you call it, is necessary. Go for a walk, eat lunch, watch an episode of Mad Men. Whatever it takes.
Then comes stage 3. Again, to the untrained eye, it can look like panic in the face of a looming deadline. But it’s actually Focus. By the time I’ve absorbed and filtered and digested all I need to, I’m itching to get those words captured in a word document.
But the real secret behind my tried and tested formula is…do you really want to know?
It’s the brief. A well written, carefully produced, thought out, insightful and inspiring brief.
That’s the real key to producing compelling healthcare communications.