The other day, my copywriter friend Dick Harrison shared one of my favorite copywriting tips of all time: “aging for quality.”
Many things improve with age, including copywriting:
- Meryl Streep
“Aging for quality” was Dick’s pithy way of communicating how over six decades of writing he has witnessed how you cannot rush excellence.
You must let copy rest for a day or a week, and come back to it. Only then will you notice a rocky transition (and smooth it out) and inconsistent verb tenses (which you clean up). The weak places in the piece will jump off the page. Your mind will have had a chance to cogitate and, marvelous instrument that it is, your mind will magically produce the perfect turn of phrase to tie a neat bow on the whole package.
Why does the quality of copy improve with age?
This happens in part because we get too close to a particular piece of writing. Long familiarity causes selective blindness.
It’s prudent to leave the premises and come back with fresh eyes.
Have you ever gone out of town and upon returning discovered that your landscaping was in shambles? You need to power wash the driveway. The gutters need to be cleaned out. A profusion of chores sprang up while you were on vacation. Nothing changed except your perspective. All that yard work was there all along.
When editing work, you can only tinker with syntax and shuffle paragraphs for so long before you go cross-eyed and create more problems than you solve.
It’s hard to see your own nose. To do so, you have to close one eye. Then you’re half-blind. Aging for quality is like going to find a mirror. Now you can see those blemishes clearly. Terrible analogy but you get my point.
It’s hard to proofread your own stuff. It’s even harder to nail a few lines of copy on the first try. So allot time for “aging for quality” in your writing process—and find this dram of wisdom a spot wherever you keep your favorite copywriting tips.
Copywriting Tips: Sleep on it. Come back. Read it aloud.
You’ll hear the clunky bits better than you’ll see them. When your tongue stumbles over a long, stilted sentence, you’ll realize you were trying to be too clever. Breaking it up into three short ones solves the problem.
Your subconscious mind will puzzle out certain unresolved thoughts while you’re away. Fresh perspective will turn up things you missed. And one final surmise why aging for quality is both a real phenomenon and a smart practice:
Aging for quality will train your clients to appreciate and wait for quality.
Accidents happen. A deadline for creative somehow slips through the cracks, and a frantic creative director sends out an SOS saying they need copy TODAY.
Fine. You can be the hero–with the understanding that no aging period will affect quality. That’s on them, not you. Everybody clear? Would they still like to proceed?
Of course, they would! They’re desperate. Enough talk already. Send me the copy.
And if your production queue can accommodate then you will write the good enough copy (probably won’t be your best without aging) without worrying about hurting your reputation and brand.
In this situation, you can and should charge an expedite fee because they asked you to reorder your production queue. This fee is not punitive. It is cautionary: Please give me more lead time in the future. We’ll both be happier with the result.
What does aging for quality look like in practice?
- As soon as you get the green light on the project, write the first draft. Or at the very least, collect all of the disparate pieces in one place. Or if you’ve got the pieces and simply lack the full time to finish a draft, try another one of my favorite copywriting tricks: set a fifteen-minute timer. Draft the introduction or trot out as many core thoughts or bullet points as you can. Brainstorm. You’ll be surprised how far you can get in fifteen minutes.
- In your next session, you either synthesize all the odds and ends and make a cogent whole. Or you finish the first draft you started.
- Next, you take the piece through second draft–one you wouldn’t be embarrassed for the client to see.
- Next, you age for quality.
- Next, you bring the piece to a state of high polish.
- Next, you send the aged, finished vintage over to your client for review. They may ask for changes. That is their prerogative, and change requests don’t discredit the aging period. (Word to the wise: Don’t send a client a draft you aren’t ready for them to publish immediately.)
And that’s it. Aging for quality is your new secret sauce.
Hat tip to my friend Dick Harrison for his wealth of copywriting tips, “aging for quality” included. You can find him online here: DickHarrison.com.
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