The “Two Highlighters” Method for Sharper Copy

A polite message I got this week: “What’s the most impressive thing you’ve done in terms of copywriting?” To use a cricketing idiom, I straight-batted the question. I gave a safe and boring answer. I said, “I don’t make any claims to have done impressive things.”

(I’m great at parties, BTW.)

Okay, reframe: I did become a “6-figure freelancer” in my first full year as a copywriter. I made more than in my previous job while having much more fun, flexibility and family time. But I put that down more to just “getting” the freelancing game than magical money-sucking copy. Copywriting and freelancing are two different skillsets and to survive in the wild you need to embrace them both.

However I will say this:

On a direct and practical level any success I’ve had is down to writing. And while it’s not up for debate that writing is a core skill . . .

I believe that when you deliberately use writing to improve your thinking as opposed to lobotomizing yourself with “wRiTe eVeRY dAy mUh AtoMiC coNsiStencY . . .”

. . . great things follow.

How to Write Deliberately

The world moves ever faster and contrary to the observable laws of physics, pulls us in several different directions at the same time.

Sirens roar over subtleties.

Writing is a way to “freeze” frenetic messaging and frame your thoughts. A blank page is a block of ice that you can tap away at until it becomes something of clarity, power, and beauty.

Alexis Carrell said, “Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.”

In other words, the good stuff is the hard stuff.

Some days writing is joy, sometimes it’s suffering. But the bit you can always look forward to is the editing or rewriting. It’s the best bit because it’s when you can go – with certainty and confidence – from “Is this good?” to “This is good.”

The Two Highlighters

Right now mine are tangerine orange and custard yellow (what else?) but anything goes. You also need a clever and trusted editor, like my wife. If they are a lawyer or have legal training, this is a boon. If you don’t live with someone you trust enough to edit your work, share a Google doc.

But it’s important to find somebody who’s not you.

In one color, they should highlight anything that is confusing, unclear, or just plain wrong.

In the other, the 10% that they LOVE, made them LOL, or you otherwise have to keep.

Take their edits with an open heart and once you have processed them your writing will be better for it.

The Result

When you approach writing and editing systematically like this, things start to happen.

Your faculties expand. Your powers of perception and cognition multiply. Your awareness of how you use words and phrase explanations and pose questions improves.

And that is the gateway not just to great sentences, but to personal satisfaction and professional success.