What does David Sedaris know about writing that most of us don’t?
What can Anne Lamott do that your traditional copywriter can’t?
How about entertain and engage an audience, then lead them to action? How about telling stories that captivate and convert readers into advocates?
Wait a second …
Are we talking about memoir writing — or copywriting?
After recently finishing writing a memoir, I realized how much copywriting had prepared me for writing narrative nonfiction. Turns out, the two have more in common than I thought.
Maybe you, like me, had the relationship between a literary tradition like memoir and copywriting all wrong.
If you’ve been around Copyblogger for a bit, you know there’s much more to writing good copy than bullet points and bolded words. In the end, good copywriting looks a lot like plain, old good writing, and vice versa.
So here are three keys to writing great memoir — and good copy:
1. Tell an interesting story
Just because it happened doesn’t make it interesting.
~ Marion Roach Smith
Everyone loves a good story. And everyone hates one that drags on. But rarely does a bad storyteller know he’s boring his audience to death.
So what do you do? How do you craft a gripping narrative that makes a difference?
If it still holds together, you’ve got something good. Something strong. Something worth sharing.
2. Write what’s deep inside
If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal.
Good memoir isn’t about what happened. It’s about a theme, something bigger than the subject and context.
In other words, your story about growing up in the 1960s with an alcoholic father is merely the setting for the tale you are about to tell. The story itself is about redemption or forgiveness or learning how to survive in impossible circumstances.
But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking your brand, your idea, your message is about the product it represents or the person telling it. That’s merely the excuse for sharing the Big Idea, the thing that will connect with the reader’s heart.
A good theme is universal, something anyone anywhere can relate to. It’s your duty as the writer to connect the audience to the theme. If all you do is tell a good story, then you haven’t done your job.
3. Don’t make yourself the hero (but don’t make us hate you, either)
Liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.
~ Blake Snyder
There is a counter-intuitive trick that most great comedians use to win over their audience. It’s a simple, but effective strategy for getting you to love them. And it works every time.
What is it?
Embarrassing themselves. They must do or say something stupid and expose it for all to hear. This is how they get you to like them. Self-deprecation just works.
What happens when you mess up and don’t try to hide it? We start to believe you. Because you’re human, just like us — warts and all. And if you are going to be honest about your shortcomings, then maybe we can trust you.
What does this mean for you? It means when you sit down to write that next ad or blog post or newsletter, you need to look for some weakness of yours you can expose.
Show your scars and see how it opens up conversations that weren’t there before. Then leverage that trust to communicate something deeper, something important that your audience needs to hear. And look for ways to make your readers — not you— the hero.
But be careful … Because before you know it, you’re no longer “just a copywriter.” You’re now writing memoir.