Rescuing Writing That Feels Like Overworked Cookie Dough

One of the hardest things for me to do as a writer is to turn off my inner editor and just write. I’m getting better about actually allowing myself to get the words onto the page. That said, I really enjoy revisions. Whether it’s fine-tuning and delicately tweaking web copy or slashing extraneous paragraphs in an essay, I find revising to be fulfilling.

But there needs to be a stopping point. This past fall, I penned copy for a marketing campaign and website as part of a project that included a creative director and several mulitple writers who were responsible for other products. The group was great for brainstorming and it was refreshing to hop on the phone for an impromptu headline bantering session.

At one point in the project, however, I realized that my copy was stiff and no longer pliable. Had I baked it, the result would have been the equivalent of cookies that tasted like cardboard. And, when you’re hired (like I was) to make a something traditionally “boring” sound new and snazzy, dry copy is a big, fat fail.

What happened? I was writing around too many “sacred” phrases that weren’t necessary to the message—but they were precious to someone else. So here’s what I did to resuscitate my writing:

  • Open a blank page. While I was careful to keep in mind the edits I’d received and the essence of what the copy needed to sell, I rewrote the text in a new document. The act of writing from scratch infused the words with new energy. Sometimes a blank page can be your friend.
  • Create a hybrid. Once I’d created a fresh draft, I turned on my editor mode and merged what I liked from the new with what had worked well from the old. It’s like adding a small bit of fresh, cold water to revive dough that’s dried out.
  • Walk away. Getting some distance from your copy can make a tremendous difference—especially if you do something to raise your own energy level. A walk in the park, a swim, dancing around your house or playing fetch with a pet.
  • Turn to inspirations. If you’re on a tight deadline and can’t walk away or give yourself a break, turn to things that inspire and uplift you. Things that help you start a project—like music—can often help you when you’re stuck.
  • Be confident. I realized that I had succumbed to believing the other writers on the project were better than me because they had more experience with the particular industries. But we were hired for very different reasons and my expertise was delivering creative marketing copy—and the client wanted originality. That meant I had to believe in myself and, when necessary, defend the copy to keep it lively, not over-floured with too much industry-specific language.

Your turn. Have you rescued copy that turned into overworked dough? How did you do it? Or have you had to completely start over? How did you handle it? Please share your opinions and experiences in the comments below.

Photo attribution: (note, the cookie dough shown is not overworked) / CC BY-NC 2.0

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