Almost everyone has had to write for someone else at some point in their career, whether you’re writing copy for your client’s website, revising your boss’s slideshow presentation, incorporating your editor’s revisions into your book, or, like me, writing a video that best represents a brand.
As a scriptwriter and author, one of the biggest challenges I face is balancing what I want to write and what my clients need me to write. Sure, I can (and do) write novels and screenplays for myself, where I pour my heart and soul into complex, multi-layered themes and interesting, evocative characters. But as a professional scriptwriter for brands and companies, I’ve found that sometimes my personal style doesn’t exactly translate into what my clients need.
I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way about how best to write for a client.
1. Be True to the Brand
When writing for other people, it’s important to speak with their voice, not yours. Ideally your style will mesh exactly with the way the brand or client envisions themselves, but sometimes you have to write for brands you don’t connect with-and sometimes about topics you don’t even understand. In those cases, never lose sight of who it is you’re writing for. You have to take care to write what’s best for the brand, including phrasing, word selection, tone, audience, and themes.
2. Keep It Short
I think in terms of “additive” vs. “subtractive” scripts for clients. This means I’ve tried writing scripts that are too short, asking the client to add details they think they need, and writing longer, more detailed pieces and requesting the client subtract details that are extraneous. In my experience, clients love what they do and are enthusiastic to hear more. This means they rarely remove information from a script, and therefore it is almost always better to write a shorter piece and let your client add in anything they think you missed. Besides, brevity is the soul of wit.
3. Murder Your Darlings
There’s simply no way to talk about writing without mentioning this pearl. It is as true with client-facing writing as with any other type of writing. You must be ready at any moment to rewrite, revise, delete, or completely eviscerate your favorite parts of what you’ve written. It is for the good of the whole project, even though it’s hard.
4. Find Out What Your Client Needs
Spoken or unspoken, articulated or not, it’s your job to suss out exactly what your client needs from this particular piece of prose. A good conversation with your client is always ideal when figuring this out, but sometimes, even your client doesn’t know exactly what they need. You may need to do some research to familiarize yourself with the best way to speak to your client’s customers-the audience.
5. Know Your Audience
Actually, know both of your audiences. Your client is the primary audience, so you have to write to appeal to them. But the best way to make your client happy is to write to their audience.
6. Watch Your Tone
Remember that writing is, at the end of the day, supposed to be ‘heard’ in the audience’s mind. You want your tone and voice to match what the viewer is expecting to see from the brand. You also want the word choice you use to match the way a company talks about itself. This way you don’t end up writing a comedy sketch to represent a very serious company, or the other way around.
7. Accept Suggestions with Grace
Learn to distance yourself from criticism of your work. Everyone around you typically wants to contribute to the project, and that sometimes comes in the form of suggestions. When critiqued, sometimes it can feel harsh. But it is important to remember that criticism is about this piece of writing, not your personality or your skills as a writer. Learn to accept criticism without anger, understanding that what’s best for the project outstrips what’s best for your artistic pride.
8. You Will Be Frustrated
It is inevitable. At some point in your writing career you will disagree with what you’re being told to write. I’m not talking about a moral or philosophical conundrum, but rather disagreeing with phrasing, word usage, structure, message, or other fine details. Sometimes what you want to write and what your client wants to say are different. Sometimes what your client wants will feel instinctively, deeply incorrect to you, but you’ll have to do what they ask anyway. You will not always get to write exactly what you want, and sometimes it will be difficult or frustrating. That’s okay. Sometimes it is simply part of the creative process.
9. Do Your Research
Before beginning the conversation about specifically what you will write, you may need to study up on what exactly the client needs to convey. Research their needs and content, but also familiarize yourself with how they talk about themselves, what other media already exists for that client/campaign, the types of words they use and the tone they often set. Then, when first discussing the script, you’re both starting from the same level.
10. Know When to Defend Your Choices (and when not to)
Part of writing is knowing why you’ve used the words you’ve used, what your reasons are for the decisions you make. Most likely, you are writing for your client because you’re the expert, and they need you. That doesn’t come without merit, and your stylistic or writing choices matter. There is a time to stand up to a suggested change and defend your original idea, because your client isn’t infallible, and the old saying is wrong: the client isn’t always right. But the writer isn’t always right, either. There are some battles worth fighting, and some not worth fighting. It’s important to know the difference.
These are just a few tips when it comes to writing for your client, your boss, your customer or whoever else. The most important thing to remember is that writing can be extremely rewarding, and everyone’s goal is the same: to create something impressive. All you really need is the attitude and the will to make it happen.