Copy Talk

Tools for Copywriters (It’s Not Cheating)

I wanted to put together a collection of sites I use in the process of copywriting. While much of the work happens in my head, there are plenty of tools I rely on along the way. Please: steal, pilfer, enjoy.

Thesaurus // thesaurus.com

This site is the obvious choice, but there are plenty of excellent thesaurus sites online. When you have a word, but it’s not the right one, this is the place to go. Make sure to scroll and check all the tabs. Scrutinize, always.

     Thesaurus

RhymeZone // rhymezone.com

Rhyming often doesn’t work in advertising, but the ideas of poetic language are always at play. This site shows more than basic rhymes, offering slant rhymes, words with similar assonance or consonance, phrases and more. It’s a gold mine.

RhymeZone

Idiom Dictionary // idioms.thefreedictionary.com

First, let me say that PUNS MUST WORK TWO WAYS. OK, great, got that off my chest. If you’re looking for fresh ways to use wordplay, try this site. It’ll help you discover common idioms and proverbs, phrases you can then twist in clever ways. The site also has dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia capabilities. I beg you, make good puns.

Idiom Dictionary

Sundberg’s Color Thesaurus // ingridsundberg.com/2014/02/04/the-color-thesaurus/

Writer Ingrid Sundberg created this extremely helpful grid of colors several years ago, giving hundreds of shades a proper name. Precision is a beautiful thing.

Color Thesaurus by Ingrid Sundberg

Really Good Emails // reallygoodemails.com

Simply, this is the best archive of good, catchy, cool marketing emails. Since emails have no character counts or word limits, I find they’re a great source for discovering interesting brand voices and styles. Keep your taste top-notch.

Really Good Emails

Moat Ad Search // moat.com

I like to search brands I’m just starting to work with to see what they’ve already done. Moat is like the Pinterest of web banner ads, which I realize sounds like a much-worse Pinterest (and is), but it can be quite helpful.

moat

Grammar Girl // quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

If you need to know a grammatical rule, even if it’s just to break it, look it up here. You’ll get simple, straightforward explanations on all things syntax, semantics and grammar.

Grammar Girl

It’s amazing how much is out there to help writers. Use it. Until copywriting becomes an Olympic sport, it’s not cheating.

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Copy Talk

Secret Writing Project

I like waking up much earlier than I need to. Not because I like waking up early, but because I like moving like a snail (minus the trail of slime) once I’m up. I get ready slowly and generally saunter around. Rushing is not my thing. I use the extra time to make myself breakfast or prepare my lunch for the day. Not always, but generally speaking. Some days I do neither and stick to the sauntering. It makes for an excellent start to the day.

Lately, on my list of things I do before work, I’ve added writing. I do this after work and on weekends, too. I do it because I have a secret writing project.

Cue catchy theme song and animated intro.

[Secret Writing Project! It’s a secret but it’s clearly a project. With writing? Yes! Still kinda vague but that’s how it works. Because it’s a secret. Writing! Project!]

I suspect a lot of copywriters have secret writing projects. They help flex the mind and keep it sharp, like yoga for football players. Set, hut, namaste. (My secret writing project has nothing to do with yoga for football players if you’re starting to get concerned.) Plus, the secrecy part keeps expectations nice and low. And nonexistent.

Of course, writing is meant to be read, so all secret writing projects must be deserted or revealed at some point. My fingers are crossed for the latter. There’s still a lot of work to do, so until then I’ll be waking up early and writing before I go to work. That’s the not-so-secret plan. More to come. Maybe. It’s, you know, a secret.

[Writing! Project!]

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Copy Talk

Process, Process, Process

I love when artists talk about their process. I’ve been thinking about my own process and the experiences that’ve shaped it so thoroughly. Consider this a play in three acts.

 

I.

When I was in high school, I took painting classes outside of school with my dad. I was the youngest person in the class by at least thirty years. This gave the classes an air of seriousness, which I liked. We were painters. We were going to paint serious paintings. I was nervous.

When we got to class, we laid out our supplies: canvas, palette, brushes, paints, water. We had bad printouts of our reference images and sharp pencils. At our first lesson, our instructor had us leave these things behind and stand by the sink in the front of the room. He put a dab of paint, raw sienna, on his canvas and wet a rag. Inelegantly, he mopped it all around.

“I’m toning the canvas,” he explained. “We’ll cover this paint later, but it helps you make that first mark. Helps you get over the blank white canvas. See? It’s not blank anymore.”

We got to work, starting with our dirty rags and sink water.

 

II.

The print shop on campus was well organized, but thoroughly stained. Smears and smudges lined the walls and floors, even the ceiling in spots. Several giant presses were bolted to the ground, surrounded by shelves of sticky inks and padded rollers. I loved a good mess and found the space both intimidating and inviting.

I had wanted to take Painting, which I knew well by college, but the class filled before I could register. I enrolled in whatever art class was left.

Printmaking began with a detailed demo, not just the first day but almost every day to come. I was always itching for my instructor to wrap up her lecture, so I could go and create. Only after I started did I realize how critical all her points had been. Printmaking had elements of being messy and free, but it was also highly technical. Every step came with a certain approach, certain tools and a certain, not-to-be-messed-with timing.

As the class progressed, I began spending more hours in the print shop than the library or computer lab. My other coursework was hyper-focused on results: good test scores, good essays, good grades. I knew how to get those. This course was different. Results were secondary to process and there was no way to rush the process. There were no shortcuts. If you really wanted a way around all the grinding, drawing, processing, inking and printing, you figured out how to get into Painting.

I ended up taking three semesters of Printmaking. I screen-printed, etched metal plates, carved linoleum blocks and made lithos that took weeks. I grew to like the slow, meditative process, the thing separating me from my final work. It took a surprising amount of muscle.

I came in early in the morning to finish tricky lithos and stayed late to fix flubs in my etchings. I found a quiet rhythm in the work.

 

III.

When I write, I follow a straightforward process.

First, I learn about something.

I dig around until I find something interesting about it. Maybe two things if I’m lucky.

I start messing around. Notes, quotes, half-baked ideas. This isn’t real writing. It’s just messing around, no big deal. I’m toning the canvas.

Then, I start writing for real. But I already have a lot written. The page isn’t blank. So it’s not that hard. It’s exciting.

I try to lose myself a little. The zone is real, even if elusive. I limit outside noise and distraction. I focus. It’s those early mornings in the print shop. Everything is there waiting for you, you just have to come in and do the work.

I change angles. If I was using a computer, I switch to pen and paper. If I was thinking quietly to myself, I talk through my ideas with someone else. Changing fonts, printing things out, it all helps you see things anew.

I keep writing.

Eventually, I start to revise. Edit, edit, edit. Delete. Rewrite. Edit. I keep revising until it works. Or it’s OK. Or I think I might love it. But then, no. Revise again.

And then I share it. I get feedback and fold it in. I share again. Rinse, repeat. It goes live. Whatever excitement I felt before has faded. Because I’m no longer in the middle of creating something; I’ve already created it. It’s over. It’s time to move on.

And I do. I learn about something new.

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Events and The Like

Riding the Rails from Philly to Chicago

Before I stepped foot on the 51 Cardinal, a train that connects Philadelphia to Chicago, I befriended a fellow passenger on the platform. Or rather she befriended me.

The lady, henceforth known as The Nice Lady, was sweet and Midwestern in every way. She was a veteran of #trainlife, having made the trek to visit family on the east coast many times. I couldn’t believe I had found someone else who actively chose the full 26-hour ride to Chicago (instead of a 2-hour flight), let alone someone who had been making that choice regularly for decades.

The Nice Lady told me she preferred the train.

“It’s safer,” she said and upon seeing my incredulous face, added, “And if I’m gonna die, I’d rather be close to the ground.”

Possible Amtrak Ad #1

Headline: Travel like nice people

Subhead: Close to the ground, always

After The Nice Lady helped me figure out where to board (neither of us had gotten sleeping cars), I found an empty row to make my home base. Holy leg room. The seats were wide and spread apart, designed for either NBA players, sumo wrestlers or medieval giants. My gams were free-swinging with abandon as I flicked on “Train Tunes”, a playlist made by my friend Jill who, among other talents, knows a lot of locomotive-themed music.

Train Tunes on Spotify

Earbuds in, I looked around at my fellow passengers. The car held quite a few obese people, elderly couples, a few families with young kids, several nuns and more Mennonites than I expected. So this is who takes the train, I thought. People hesitant with technology, demanding of space and comfort, the very tall, the very fat, those with time to kill and a few people like me who still possess nostalgic notions of cross-country train travel. Long live the outcasts.

Possible Amtrak Ad #2

Headline: We put the sure in leisure

Subhead: Legroom? Sure. Smoke breaks? Sure. Little to no security? You know it.

The train pulled out of 30th Street Station and we were off. The train cut through Delaware and Maryland and continued south to Washington DC. The track then passed through Virginia (and lots of it), West Virginia, a bit of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and finally, the one and only stop in Illinois, Chicago.

Efficiency is not The Cardinal's middle name.

Efficiency is not the Cardinal’s forte. But making stops sure is.

Having a whole row to myself didn’t last long.

In Washington DC, I acquired my first of three seatmates. (The Nice Lady sat several rows in front of us). For most of Virginia, I sat next to a girl who was my age but dressed much nicer. She fell asleep fairly quickly.

When I got hungry, I slipped past my sleeping seatmate and headed to the dining car. Walking through a moving train was a less graceful experience than I anticipated, but with the most literal interpretation of the word swagger, I made it.

My options were the cafe car or the dining car, the latter having white paper tablecloths and waiter service. I couldn’t resist the artificial formality of it and decided to dine in, restaurant-style. I ordered the rigatoni pasta and it tasted like warm rigatoni pasta. What more could you ask for?

Possible Amtrak Ad #3

Headline: Like wine on ice? You’ll love our dining cars

Subhead: The best food available at 100 mph

Over the loudspeaker, the conductor announced the train was fully sold and all available seats would soon be filled. In Staunton, Virginia, my first seatmate got off and my second got right on. This guy, also around my age, was wearing a Packers shirt, and thus we didn’t talk.

I started The Girl on the Train instead and took in the view. Of all the states we passed through, West Virginia offered the best vistas: green rolling hills, wispy layers of fog, waterside shanties made of wood and glass.

Somewhere in West Virginia

Somewhere in West Virginia and also the only photo I took

For dinner, I got some hummus from the cafe car and then settled into my seat for the night. As the sky outside darkened, the air inside became icy and I pulled out my rain jacket as a makeshift comforter. I only slept for an hour at a time, but I managed to string several one-hour naps together as the train coasted through the rest of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Possible Amtrak Ad #4

Headline: Don’t be pig-headed, get a sleeping car

Subhead: Lie flat like a real person

At 5 am or so, my second seatmate got off in Indianapolis and I got the row to myself for a few stops. Since the seat was open, The Nice Lady came by to set her luggage there and reorganize. She was putting a blanket and pillow back in her bag, two items I definitely didn’t have with me.

“That was smart to bring a blanket,” I said. “It got so cold last night.”

“Oh, I would’ve moved next to you sooner if I’d known. We could’ve shared my blanket, it’s big enough.”

The Nice Lady, everybody. You just don’t find people like this on airplanes.

Possible Amtrak Ad #5

Headline: More stops, more smiling faces

Subhead: Meet the nicest people in the world on the slowest form of transportation

Somewhere in Indiana, my third and final seatmate boarded. Like The Nice Lady, she was also a Midwestern grandma and we became fast friends. Her ride to Chicago was only three hours long and she had many questions for me. It only took 23 hours, but I had become the resident train expert.

“Have you walked through the train?” she asked me.

“Yes. The next car is the cafe, then the dining car where you can sit down. Then there’s more seating beyond that.”

“You’re so brave. I couldn’t do that.”

Correction: I had become the resident train expert and a beacon of bravery.

We hit some freight delays, but were only a few minutes late pulling into Union Station. I lifted my backpack over my shoulders, grabbed my giant duffel bag and was thusly reminded that I hadn’t just hung out on a hotel on wheels, but moved my entire life across the country. It was so cushy I almost forgot.

That may be the real beauty of train travel: there’s an incredible amount to be distracted by—warm food, legroom, expansive views, nice Midwesterners you’d otherwise never meet. I highly recommend it. If you have the time to kill, go forth and kill it. Maybe that should be Amtrak’s next ad campaign.

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Chicago, My Hometown, Philadelphia: Rants & Raves

Every three or four years

Every three or four years, I get an itch. It’s a cycle, a habit at this point. I crave change, then demand stability. Change, stability. Over and over, in a loop.

I went to high school for four years, but was at my main school for only three. I may be among the few human beings who didn’t totally hate high school. It was all right. I liked my small group of friends, living the two-sport athlete life and most my classes. But in time, it began to feel confining. My every move was determined by a coach or teacher. So when it came time to graduate, I was ready. I wanted to move on to new things: a narrower academic focus, more independence, the electric atmosphere of a college campus. I chose Penn State.

I attended college for four years (though I had an opportunity to graduate sooner). I loved the rituals of college football on Saturdays, homework and recovery on Sundays, classes and clubs every other day. Still, in time, I began to grow bored. My coursework was instructive, but not illuminating. I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a treadmill. When it was time to graduate, I was ready. I wanted to move on to new things: a creative full-time job, more time to read and climb, an apartment in a city I could call my own. I moved to Chicago.

I lived in Chicago for three years. I loved the freedom and customizability of a life led outside a curriculum. I got a climbing partner and learned when all the free days were at the Art Institute. I rollerbladed to work on the lakefront path when the weather was warm. This time, there was no graduation day in sight. All there was was my long-distance relationship and I was eager to lose the distance part. We discussed and planned for a long time, but leaving Chicago took some mental prep. It wasn’t easy. Still, I wanted to move on to new things: a shared space with someone I cared about, a new challenging job, adventures I couldn’t even imagine. I moved to Philadelphia.

I felt like I was starting from scratch again and mostly I was. I had a surprise party for my birthday just after I moved and all my Philly friends were invited. Both came.

It’s been three years since I first moved to Philly. I stayed, even when there was no one to stay for. I simply enjoyed stumbling upon the narrow streets, hanging out in the breezy parks and eating more good food than I could anticipate. Philly, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated cities in the US. (Don’t believe people who say Philly is unfriendly. Philadelphians are so nice, in fact, I’ve become friends with the 60-something year-old doorman who works in another building on my block. Not my building, another totally random building. He calls me Brooksy.) The city is a beacon for those who enjoy a good jaunt, jog or jelly-filled donut.

Only with time did the idea of change creep into my head. Despite how great Philly has been to me, how warm and inviting, I’m ready for new things. I’ve got the itch and it’s time to go.

Still, I can’t resist reflecting on the incredible times I had in starting anew in Philadelphia and the amazing people I met. I’m going to miss my Penn State friends, some of whom I barely knew at Penn State, a fact we found irrelevant in Philly. I’ll miss my Nice Friends are Nice crew, who manage the rare feat of being whip-smart professionals and complete goofballs. I’ll miss my not-so-easily-categorized friends, who belayed me with little notice, texted me whenever they went to Good Dog, let me nap on their balconies when I was tired, cooked me elaborate homemade dinners simply ‘cuz and a thousand other things as well.

Three years in Philadelphia sounds about right to me. I’m eager to be near my family again, breath the saltless smell of Lake Michigan and work on some exciting new projects. Chicago, say what’s up.

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Copy Talk

What To Read

I haven’t forgotten about you, tiny readership. I’ve been busy writing, just not here.

Copy-wise, I’ve been writing about how to mix different decking and railing (and not regret it) for Trex, next year’s line-up of heart-wrenching productions for Opera Philadelphia and the beauty of our material past for Provenance Companies.

Also, I wrote a post for the Prairie Schooner’s Sports Short series. My piece is non-fiction and all about quitting. Read it here.

Likewise, I have a short story being published in Beecher’s Magazine soon. (You can preorder a copy now). If you’ve never read a lit mag, I highly recommend you give them a try. Something fresh on every page.

Go ahead and start there. I’ll have more words for you soon.

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And Now For Something Different...

Pictures from Argentina, Categorized

Shot around town

Plentiful: hand-lettered signs and open-late bookstores. Not plentiful: foot traffic on the weekends.

Plentiful: hand-lettered signs and open-late bookstores. Not plentiful: foot traffic on the weekends.

Sigh. South America has pigeons, too.

Sigh. South America has pigeons, too.

Lots of street art. This one was my favorite piece.

Lots of street art. This one was my favorite.

Incredibly long street fair in San Telmo. Sneakers and casual attire everywhere. Yay to comfort!

Incredibly long street fair in San Telmo. Sneakers and casual attire everywhere. Yay to comfort!

So many well-behaved dogs in Buenos Aires, including this friendly one running security at a local convenience store.

There are many well-trained dogs in Buenos Aires, including this one running security at a local convenience store.

Open train. You can see straight down to the end! We thought this was very cool, but were admittedly very tired.

Open train. You can see straight down to the end! We thought this was very cool, but were admittedly very tired.

Potential desktop backgrounds

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View of Mt. Fitz Roy from outside El Chaltén

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Socked in and maybe a little menacing

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“It looks like Land Before Time!” -another hiker clearly not from Argentina

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Lake Viedma from our “easy” hike, Mirador de Las Águilas

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El Calafate and a horse

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Overlooking Glacier Perito Moreno

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Glacier = huge

Trees we really liked

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White, burnt trees along the trail to Laguna Torre

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Gigantic roots at this park in Recoleta, Buenos Aires

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We took a selfie

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More enormous trees in Buenos Aires. Couldn’t get enough of these beauties.

Death & culture

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My steak (entraña) was larger than my plate.

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Opera house turned bookstore. Note KJ on the second floor, security watching her from the third.

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Pre-tango show wine tasting

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Rows and rows of mausoleums at the famous Recoleta cemetery

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Meaningful religious statues all over. Also, cats.

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Some taller, more elegant chambers for the dead

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A little more street art for you. I love how the man is disappearing into the background.

The 18 km hike that involved snow and rain

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Leaving town for the trail. Skies look good, right?

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Nope. Skies do not look good. Raining.

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Forging on

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River = glacial run-off

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We made it to Laguna Torre

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Triumph!

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And then it snowed on us

My kind of thrill ride

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Riding through the Patagonian steppe

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Up, up, up into the sun

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Amazing views. Those mountains in the distance are in Chile.

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Lago Argentino behind me. Not bad for a one-handed selfie on a horse.

Guanaco (a type of llama). Do you see them?

Guanaco (a type of llama). Do you see them?

From a boat, in front of a glacier, fantastic

New friends

Our Calafate crew

Our Calafate crew. They followed us everywhere.

Thanks to my travel buddy KJ, the helpful people of Argentina, empanadas in general and all my Spanish teachers who taught me just enough. Muchas gracias.

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