I had the pleasure of attending An Event Apart in Chicago a few weeks ago, for work. AEA is organized by the wonderful people at A List Apart which, if you make or manage websites, should be an essential on your list. It was a great experience, and I couldn’t be happier with how well the trip went. Chicago is an amazing city, and the speakers were all excellent and worthy of their places as industry leaders.
One speaker stood out to me as particularly worthwhile. Jim Coudal’s closing speech was not only hysterical, but also poignant. There’s one piece in particular I’d like to deal with:
Rip off designs. You have to be your own professor. When you remake something, you are in a very real way talking to the person who made it. All of a sudden you have another skill…We (at Coudal Partners) value taste above all else. The ability to look at two things and know which one is better is the most important thing.
Jim was talking about design here, but I believe it can be easily related to copy. Keep in mind that design and copy are, in many ways, inexorably connected to one another.
Let me attempt to flesh out this idea a bit more, because I can foresee some backlash in the form of comments if I left it at this point. I don’t think Jim’s suggesting you publish work that isn’t your own. I think what he’s suggesting you do is use the work of others to improve your own work. And this can be helpful with writing just as much as it helps with design.
When it comes to design, I’ll often scour over a few different sources to find colors I like. Sometimes I’ll find those colors in other design work, maybe in CSS galleries, or (as Dan Cederholm suggested at AEA) even in a picture of the outdoors. Color palettes, designers will tell you, can make or break a layout. You just can’t create beautiful things without the right colors.
In the same way, you can’t write well without transitions. Honestly, the transition is the killer component of any literature. I’m reminded of television’s Lost, the creative masterpiece of J.J. Abrams, and how well it tidies up the transitions between flashbacks and the present day. Each one is unique and connects the two stories perfectly, all the while maintaining consistency by using the same whooshing for each in and out.
Did you ever think you could learn to write well by watching television? Call your mom and tell her, right now.
Start by compiling a list of great writing talent that you can refer back to when you are creatively dry. CopyBlogger should be way up on the list, plus great advertisements, and apparently even great network television. I would also encourage you to try out some fiction writers, as different styles can really help diversify your writing. One of my favorites, and a very creative guy, is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Choke.
Try out Jim’s advice and steal some copy (techniques). Find what works for you and use the hell out of it.