A simple exercise to jump-start your copy revisions

A cup of coffee, a notebook, and a pencil on a wooden table with a laptop, pair of glasses, and stack of books in the background. Image via Adobe Stock.

When it comes to making your online copy better—whether it’s copywriting, content writing, UX writing, or technical writing—there are a gazillion different approaches you can take.

Maybe your writing needs to be edited for structure and flow; maybe your tone is more appropriate for a landing page than for an error message; maybe your audience is developers, but you’ve written to salespeople.

First, define “better”

The first step when improving your copy is to determine what you—and your project stakeholders—mean by “better.”

Does improvement mean more compelling, more straightforward, more concise, more informative, more value-based, more technical, or… what?

Once you’ve determined the types of improvements you’ll need to make, the next step is the fun part—actually making them.

Turn off your computer and grab some paper

This simple trick to jump-start your copy revisions requires no internet, no apps, and really, no electricity. All you need is good old-fashioned paper and pencil (or pen, if you’re bold).

On one piece of paper, sketch your project’s wireframe. If you’re writing for apps or web layouts, first draw those layouts as simply as you can. Just a few boxes with the flow is enough.

If you’re writing any other sort of copy, like a banner ad, a blog post, or an email, sketch out the design with a few basic lines.

Then put that paper to one side where you can still see it.

On the next piece of paper, write your copy explorations by hand. Think of these handwritten explorations as potential revisions for the copy you’re trying to rewrite. Anything goes. Try not to edit while you write, but just let the words stream out through your pencil.

Every few minutes, glance at your sketched-out wireframes and imagine what your copy might look like in the design. Then return to your revisions page and keep writing more explorations by hand.

Continue for at least 30 minutes but up to 90 minutes. Any longer than that, and you might find yourself becoming frustrated. Write, imagine, write, imagine, write, imagine.

Take a break, then put the copy into the wireframes

Then stand up and take a break for at least 15 minutes.

Come back to your pages and review your handwritten revisions. It’s likely that one or two variations will stand out to you as being particularly good, or “better” as you’ve defined it before you started this exercise.

Pencil those revisions into your wireframes—again, do this by hand, not online. A pencil will allow you to erase and resize the copy as needed, but if you’re confident in your drawing skills, feel free to use a pen.

Maybe your initial idea won’t actually work. That headline is still too long. That body copy looks really weird in a modal. That CTA will never fit on a button. Erase, and try a different variation of your copy, pulled from your handwritten revisions.

Eventually, you’ll come to a point where a variation works well—or at the very least, it works OK. That’s when you can fire up your computer again and type your revisions into your copy doc to share with your design partners and project stakeholders.

Why does this work?

Thinking outside of your normal patterns and routines often leads to breakthroughs. There are lots of theories as to why this can happen.

People with a spiritual practice might believe it’s because you’re opening up to inspiration that lives outside of your physical body.

For science-based answers, there are science-y reasons that I don’t have the experience or vocabulary to accurately explain, but it has something to do with balancing the hemispheres of your brain, and it might also have something to do with neural pathways.

It just works

The point is—even if we can’t accurately explain whyit works.

The next time you’re working on some copy revisions, try unplugging and writing by hand. You might find it leads to some of the best writing you’ve ever done.

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