Stepping into the Flow:
Crafting Successful Copy That's Easy to Read and Easy to Write

A consistent flow is necessary not only for the writing process, but also for the final product the customer reads. Without good flow in your copy, your reader is very likely to head off to another of the many words competing for his attention.

A report from the University of California in San Diego estimates that the average American consumes approximately 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information each day! For comparison, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace is only 460,000 words long. We don't read 100,000 words a day; 100,000 words cross our eyes and ears in a single day, including text messages and videos. So it’s easy to see how the reader can become so distracted and why a consistent flow is essential.

Rhythm, tone, and flow are essential writing skills that will draw your reader in to your writing. Such copy should be easy to write and read and can help boost your sales.

Rhythm is achieved by varying the length and type of sentence structures. This method avoids overusing a sentence format — say, noun/verb/object — in such a way that it becomes distracting to the reader. The rhythm should move gracefully between simple and complex sentences, evoking the rhythms of your own vocal style by using a consistent pitch and phrasing between breaths. Read your work out loud. If it is hard to read, you haven’t achieved a natural rhythm.

Tone is the attitude you convey by nuances of emotion, implication, or innuendo. For your writing to effectively reach your audience, the tone should match the material. An email selling the Congressional Quarterly newsletter, for example, should be created using a serious and fair-minded tone rather than a sarcastic or lighthearted one. One marketing goal achieved through tone is to invite the reader's participation and agreement. To achieve this correct tone, diction — or the right word choice — is key.

In psychological circles, the term "flow" is used to describe a human state of high concentration. Many people refer to this state as being "in the zone." A person who is engrossed in a task becomes immersed in a state of flow, oblivious to the passage of time while experiencing a mild state of euphoria.

Your goal is to maintain this flow through mastery of your copy. You will follow the standard principle of AIDA — Attracting Attention, Increasing Interest, Arousing Desire, and Making a Call-to-Action — to engage your reader in the flow of your writing. Each sentence should follow logically from the one preceding it and each paragraph should also gracefully move your reader through smooth transitions.

One tool that helps establish flow is the “bucket brigade.” Years ago, townspeople and firefighters formed a line to pass water smoothly and methodically from the hydrant to the blaze. Today, copywriters should use “bucket brigade” words and phrases like “That’s why,” “In addition,” “Here’s how,” and others to ensure your reader stays with you.

Always remember that your reader will approach your marketing copy with skepticism, impatience, and many pulls on her attention. It’s your job to keep your reader’s attention from straying!

One way to do this is to begin your sentences and paragraphs with a phrase that jumps out and captures the reader's attention. For example, one sentence may start with, "In 1980, a study found that … " Rearrange this phrase to captivate your reader by switching the words around. "A shocking 1980 study found that … " is more commanding.

Mixing up the words enables you to keep a consistent flow while holding your reader captive as you move on to your next point.

The idea of flow can be seen in many activities. One expert on the topic is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. While the spelling of his name may stump you, his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, is a fascinating read. He says that as humans, we are happiest when we are in a state of flow — no matter what activity we are pursuing. Whether we’re reading, writing, cooking, playing basketball, walking, literally any activity — we are happiest when we are totally concentrating on the task at hand. This argues against multitasking, of course!

That total concentration does not always have to mean hard work either. Have you heard the term “wu wei” (pronounced woo-way)? It’s a concept from Taoism that means “doing without doing,” getting things done by being fully in alignment with the universe while embodying a total feeling of relaxation and bliss. In writing, this level can sometimes be achieved when you set up the proper circumstances for writing copy. This state of "non-action" represents a harmony within yourself and your writing.

As you step into the flow for your next piece, keep these key points in mind. Remember that the goal is to hold your reader captive with smooth transitions, natural rhythm, and the correct word choices. The tone you use should reflect the type of writing you are trying to accomplish. Transition easily between sentences and paragraphs with the "bucket brigade" method as you go. And finally, be sure to apply the Chinese concept of "wu wei" to make your copywriting experience pleasurable to both you and your prospect or customer.

Will’s Note: Join me at the AWAI Bootcamp October 23-26 to greet Donna and to learn more about getting in the flow as a copywriter!

You’ll learn tricks to help make your writing process as easy as it can be. Techniques to keep from losing your reader’s attention. And ways to ensure your copy meets its marketing goal! Register for one of the few remaining seats here.

Until next week … keep writing!

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Published: September 16, 2013

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