As a kid we are conditioned to tease a copycat. How dare they, we think, how dare they be so unashamed of their own dullness? But as an adult, copying another person is considered either of a mark of respect, or a sign of laziness. I try my best to think of most situations as being the former, but when it comes to copywriting I lean towards the latter.
I guess I struggle to understand why any decent writer would want to regurgitate another's ideas; the thoughts and sentences that they know full well took a fair chunk of effort to produce (otherwise they're not really a writer, are they?).
Despite my strong belief that everything a writer/ copywriter/ content creator/ author/ marketer produces should be original, I was recently challenged on this idea.
At first – I didn't bloody like it. So I did a little ruminating. Then I did some more. And finally I decided to give the concept of accepting a literary copycat a chance. The blokes who brought this concept to me were Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the authors of REWORK.
Now, if you are a business owner, entrepreneur, marketer, creative or general fan of common sense, and you haven't:
a) got your hands on a copy of REWORK
b) got around to reading your copy of REWORK
c) ever heard of REWORK...
... then why are you still reading my blog at this moment – flick to another screen and order yourself a damn copy! Here's a cheeky excerpt for you right now. Even if you don't agree with the majority of this book (I think you will though), it will offer you some invaluable insight into what a smarter, more efficient world of businesses could look like if we all stopped producing so much... gumph in our offices.
I started reading REWORK as a recommendation from my brother (also an entrepreneur). At first I was hesitant to get stuck into the theories within the book, as I picked it up in late 2016 when I was actually in the mood for some fancy fiction. That seems to be how my brain works: I either dedicate my attention wholly to a work/productivity/self improvement novel or a hearty fiction. Never both at the same time (that's what she– sorry.)
Here's the actual words from REWORK that grabbed my attention one crisp, waning winter's afternoon. If you value creativity in the workplace, they should resound with you too:
Sometimes copying can be part of the learning process… unfortunately, copying in the business arena is usually more nefarious. Maybe it’s because of the copy and paste world we live in these days. You can steal someone’s words, images, or code instantly… That is a formula for failure, though. That sort of copying skips understanding, and understanding is how you grow.
So we all know the basic rule that THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, but there's a deeper meaning here. David and Jason want us to copy others, but not blindly. They prefer to call it 'repurposing', and amid the content marketing revolution swirling around us, that's essentially what the modern day copycat is; a content marketer. They really hammer home the importance of understanding where a piece of original content comes from before a copycat should even set their paws on it:
Don’t repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath. So much of the work an original creator puts into something is invisible. It’s buried beneath the surface. The copycat doesn’t really know why something looks the way it looks, or feels the way it feels, or reads the way it reads... A copy delivers no substance, no understanding and nothing to base future decisions on. Plus, copycats can never keep up, they’re always in a passive position.
Then the reader is soon rewarded with some practical advice on how to avoid being a victim of copycatting in the workplace, or with their niche business idea:
If you’re successful, people will try to copy what you do. It’s just a fact of life. A great way to protect yourself from copycats is to make YOU part of your product or service. Inject what’s unique about the way you think into what you sell… Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it.
The pair's advice on infusing your business with a large portion of self marketing is spot on. Many creatives do this extremely well, almost without consciously choosing this route, as it is their skill set and talent they are selling. But the act of applying personality to a business is now a popular way to take an idea to market, or even to grow a company's following further. We may not like to believe it, but people actually enjoy communicating with one another and if you shove your beautiful self into your concepts, strategies and ideas, you'll scare a lot of uninspired copycats off the scent.
A final, crucial part of the book REWORK begs to be shared with you, as it revolves around communication and mentions one of the teachings that define my own writing for heapswhitty – talk to people, not at people. The authors discuss the sort of language businesses use to communicate with their audience and it gets ugly:
The stiff language, the formal announcements, the artificial friendliness… you read this stuff and it sounds like a robot wrote it. These companies talk at you, not to you. This mask of professionalism is a joke. When small companies try to do this, they sacrifice one of their greatest assets: the ability to communicate simply and directly without running every last word through the PR/legal department.
Then the guys bring it home real quick:
This applies to the language you use everywhere – in email, packaging, interviews, blogs, presentations. Talk to customers the way you would to friends.
When discussing the importance of originality when writing content, which goes well beyond its implications for SEO, there are a few simple rules that the aspiring creative content writer can start to follow religiously. As prescribed by the teachings of REWORK, the copywriter must:
- Avoid jargon and corporate speak
- Stay away from buzzwords as normal words work fine
- Don't use seven words when four will do.
And the final piece of professional writerly advice, also perhaps my favourite quote from the last year of reading:
"Write to be read, don’t just write to write."
That is everything you need to know about content marketing, copywriting and content production wrapped into one pretty sentence. It's important that this one-liner is NOT applied to creative writing, poetry, lyrics and all art for art's sake. Writing in its purest, artistic form should be created for you and you alone.
Cheers for your eye-time. Now go on, let them take ten away from the screen... unless you're sharing my post.