Every year-end fundraising season I somehow feel emotionally unprepared for the sheer amount of copy that needs to get written and reviewed and re-written and tweaked and looked at just one last time…
By the time you’re drafting the sixth, seventh, twelfth fundraising appeal, it’s tough to find the motivation and inspiration to keep things fresh, for yourself and your supporters. Tough, but possible — just like the journey a young, scrappy and hungry orphan takes, from being dropped in the Caribbean, living in squalor, growing up to be a hero and scholar….
So in this 11th hour of copywriting, I want to share my tips on how to keep writing powerful copy through the end of the year-end campaign, with some help from my current primary emotional support system, the smash musical Hamilton.
[Yes, the hip-hop / R&B / genre-busting musical about Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and btw, this post contains SPOILERS about the Founding Fathers. STOP READING NOW if you don’t want to know how the American Revolution turns out.]
1. Write day and night like you’re running out of time. Actually, I do find that writing at a different time of day (like at night) helps you think differently enough to help come up with new angles when you’re feeling tapped out — but what I mean is write. Keep writing. Write furiously. Don’t stop writing.
Just sit and just – write. Without thinking too much about it. Set a timer for 10 minutes and let your mind wander. Take that 10 minutes to write as much as humanly possible. Write badly, then edit that bad copy. Or trash it and start over.
The point is that the mountain of messages, tweets, landing pages, ad copy, etc. you need to draft doesn’t get smaller while you plan and procrastinate. You finish writing by starting to write.
I legitimately was very inspired by listening to “Non-Stop” about how Alexander Hamilton was so consumed by his own relentless personality that he kept writing and writing – it’s an awesome working song. When John Jay, James Madison, and Hamilton set out to write 25 essays defending the Constitution, they got carried away and wrote 85 essays within six months. Hamilton wrote 51 of them. #hero
2. Get a group of friends to join the revolution. All our teams at M+R have an assigned non-team member called the “writing fairy” who helps talk about copy, look at copy, fix copy. I am a HUGE FAN of this. (Shout-out here to my own writing fairy, Jessica, who was incredibly helpful after I’d spent many hours staring at the screen in desperation.)
If you want your copy to sound and feel fresh, get someone who hasn’t steeped in it for days and weeks to take a look. They’ll see right through the boilerplate you’re using as a crutch, and they’ll bring a new perspective to copy that feels old, stale, booooorrrriiiinnnngggg.
Even the arrogant Alexander Hamilton was humble enough to rely on the help of his bffs: Laurens*, Mulligan, the Marquis de Lafayette and hey, if you want to
win the Revolutionary War raise lots of year-end money, you could do worse than to get your squad to help out. Raise a glass to that!
*If you prefer your early American history a little queer, and really who doesn’t, you could do worse than starting with this super special friendship.
3. Who tells your story? YOU DO. Get back to your basics of storytelling and focus in a little closer on one of these elements:
- The villain. Where are they coming from? What makes them tick? What makes them so villainous?
- The innocent one who will pay the price. Whether it’s the taxpayers, elephants, children, refugees, Eliza Hamilton…who is going to suffer if your organization isn’t there?
- The five senses – how does it smell, taste, look, feel, sound? What about color? Hot, cold, other bodily sensations?
- Ch-ch-changes. What’s different now than before? What’s new and on the horizon? What challenges are there to overcome? If you were to have a rap battle about the most intense issue you’re facing, what would the rap battle be about?
- Nostalgia. This is the time of year for it. Can you find a way to talk about the compelling elements of your mission that hits people right in that specific type of feels?
- The worst possible thing. What would that look like? If everything went completely downhill, tell me about a scenario where there’d be wailing in the streets.
4. Take a break! Don’t get too stressed out about writer’s block. Pushing it when you can’t get work done is sometimes just futile. Listen, Hamilton didn’t take a break and HE ended up having an affair that destroyed his political ambitions so I think we can ALL gather the lesson from that one.
Even genius Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator and lead in Hamilton) gets stuck sometimes and nothing shuts down the creative process worse than getting all freaked out about how you Can’t Write and The Page Hates You and you are Giving Up All Copywriting Forever to go live on a tropical beach with nothing but Ron Chernow’s 800 page tome for company.
(And when you’re feeling stuck? That’s a good time to hand your cruddy half-finished draft to your own personal writing fairy and ask for help. The block is only in your own head!)
5. Don’t throw away your shot!
Believe this: you don’t need a war so that everyone will know that you’re worth more than everyone bargained for. You got this! You’re totally going to own this year-end.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) December 1, 2015