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15 Lessons Fly Fishing Taught Me About Copywriting
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I'll be the first to admit that fly fishing is not for everyone. This isn't because I believe that the pastime should be limited to a select few or that it has an unbearably steep learning curve. When you get past the 'River Runs Through It' mystique it's just outwitting fish, a species not renowned for being analytical thinkers. The entry-level skills required are no more difficult to master than ironing. They both feature repetitive motion and leave ample room for introspection.
In fact ironing might be marginally more challenging seeing as you're dealing with electricity, water and the possibility of ruining a perfectly good pair of pants. At least with fly fishing all you have to worry about is sharp things and where you left the car keys. Unless of course you're in Australia, where fly fishing can be considered a contact sport, seeing as everything in the natural environment wants to hurt you in some way.
The constant repetitive casting action engages the higher mental processes completely. The frontal lobe is completely focused on the task of placing the fly gently in the water and avoiding a hook to the back of the head. While this is happening, a deep and disconnected part of the mind is busily forging new mental pathways.
This leads to some unexpected insights. If you ever have the opportunity to view the fly fisherman in his natural habitat you will see many simply sitting quietly, rod at their side. This is not scanning the water or deciding on a course of action. This is a confused individual having a "now where the heck did that come from" moment of mental enlightenment.
During one of these moments of clarity I realized that the lessons of fly fishing could give some insight into the art of good copywriting. Here are 15 ways that the hobby of fly fishing can help improve your writing skills.
1. Take a step back. You have the time on the water, use it wisely. Deadlines are a fact of life, but sometimes, no matter how great the pressure, a little time to pause and consider your approach can pay great dividends.
2. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Take some time to absorb the work of other skilled copywriters (or fishermen). I'm not for one moment suggesting you plagiarize the work of others - just look at how the piece is structured and how the key messages are woven into the tapestry of the work.
3. Fish where the fish are. Know your target audience. Know your audience segment, their tastes and their level of knowledge and comfort zone as far as complexity of copy is concerned.
4. Practice makes perfect. This cannot be emphasized enough; fishing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Keep at it, only by continually sharpening your skills through practice will you be able to generate that tight, engaging copy that clients and audiences want to read.
5. Don't over-complicate things. Just like fishing, writing is inherently simple. When asked what I do, I often reply that I put words in the correct order. That's it, KISS.
6. Get your line in the water. Stuck at the keyboard, blank page staring back? Start writing about the subject in general terms, just get the words down, the rest will take care of itself. Procrastination is a writer's worst enemy.
7. Think like a fish. If you've chosen copywriting as your career then always be on the lookout for inspiration. Good writing is everywhere. Stephen King once said that "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
8. Start fishing early and finish as the sun has already set. Fish will bit at the beginning of the day and at days end. Grab the readers' attention from the start and wrap it all up by referencing your initial points. Appeal to the human side of the reader, grab their emotions and give them a shake.
9. Swap some tall tales. At some point in your writing career you're going to have to get some constructive feedback. Your readers or clients will supply that, in spades. Take criticism and use it to tighten your writing. Good writers are thick skinned, if the conversation isn't constructive move on.
10. Take a break. Every minute of every day on the water will give you something new to think about. If you have the luxury of time then write, take a mental step back and consider what you have written. If necessary tighten up or even add greater detail if you think it adds value.
11. Keep your line tight, that way you can feel the fish take the fly. Sentences can grow out of control. Use punctuation to ensure that your copy is readable. Revert back to grade school rules and read your copy out loud, if you need to take a breath then it's time for a comma or a full stop. Tighten it up.
12. Be curious about your environment. Why are the fish fixating in a particular bug? Always provide your readers with answers. Why would they choose this particular product or brand? Why would readers accept a particular point of view?
That's it, simple rules for simpler writing. Just like fly fishing, the more you practice, the better you'll get.
Writing can be a s simple or as complex as you want it to be. For your business to thrive the key is to find a writer who has the right balance of creativity and strategic savvy.
If you would like to discuss how good, engaging writing can help your business grow then drop me a line.
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