For most of us, COVID has meant change. The pandemic has pushed us all, in ways that may not be entirely welcome, into new terrain, including, perhaps, having to now have to write about things that you know sweet eff-all about.
And even if you’re comfortably knowledgeable about your field, the world moves pretty fast, to paraphrase Ferris Bueller (and date myself). Nothing stays the same for long. Most of us are required to be constantly learning. And you may be compelled or commanded to write about it.
So what to do when your boss wants a pitch deck on that new product you don’t understand, or you’re blogging about something that’s feeling a little hazy, or you want to post something about NFTs, but non-fungible just sounds like something related to mushrooms?
I get it. I write about new industries, technologies and ideas all the time. As a generalist copywriter, I jump around from:
- Sales brochures for engineering instrumentation companies
- Investment attraction scripts for economic development videos (check out this recent one for ONB)
- Story-rich op-eds for non-profit arts organizations
And so on.
When you’re writing about something new, you don’t need to be the subject matter expert, you just need to start writing. So believe me when I say: you can do this.
Whether you’re in a new role or an entrepreneur moving into terra incognita, there are just a few absurdly simple things you can do to write about something completely new to you. I’ve outlined my process below.
Before you know it, you’ll be banging out that whitepaper on AI or posting about the music of the Baroque period or waxing poetic about, I don’t know, the electoral college.
This is the appetizer portion of your search. Give yourself 15 minutes, max, to scan a few headlines and articles, jot down some key concepts and words, and note the additional questions that arise.
Don’t stress if this little dip in the information ocean leaves you more confused than when you started. The idea here is to get a very loose grasp of your subject and get ready for step 2.
Find an Expert
I know this sounds obvious, but you might be surprised at how many people would rather get a COVID test than have to speak to an expert.
I get it. It’s intimidating approaching someone who has all the answers when you’re the one with all the questions. When you don’t know or understand something, it’s natural to feel vulnerable and protect yourself from embarrassment by hiding.
But a Google search will often only get you so far. And the great thing about a conversation with an actual live human is that you get to ask follow-up questions that inevitably arise when you’re in the thick of the learning. Plus, they’re more likely to use everyday, conversational language to describe the subject than a written piece would.
And guess what? Most experts LOVE to be asked about the thing they’re good at.
They’re passionate about their subject and love to share it. Here are a few ways to reach out:
- Approach an internal contact, like the resident subject matter expert in your company
- Reach out to someone in your social media or real-life network
- Ask for an introduction or referral
Whatever you decide to do, don’t hesitate. There are people out there who will gladly help.
Ask Stupid Questions
I know, I know, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
But there are definitely questions that make us feel stupid. Usually, that’s because they seem really basic. But I guarantee that if something doesn’t make sense to you—if it’s opaque or confusing or maddeningly dense—you’re not alone in wondering what the what?
And here’s a little something I learned as a reporter: The most straightforward questions are the best questions.
I used to craft complex and cunning queries for my interview subjects. I wanted to get something interesting out of them, especially if they were public figures or celebrities who did many interviews and tended to give canned answers.
However, my complex questions would often backfire. They made my interviewee feel dumb or annoyed because they didn’t understand what I was asking. It would kill the momentum of the interview as I scrambled to explain what the hell I was getting at.
So, yeah, stick with simple questions. The more basic, the better.
A few faves:
- Then what happened?
- Why is that important?
- What does that mean?
- How did that make you feel?
- Why? Why? Why?
Share Your Draft
Once you’ve got your first draft, ask your expert to look it over. Again, I know this can be intimidating, but it’s a lot less embarrassing to address mistakes and gaps early than to keep your work to yourself, post it or share it, and THEN discover the error of your ways.
Again, 99% of the time, they will be happy to help.
Boom! You’re ready.
And there you have it, the manageable way to tackle the unknown in your copywriting adventures. Whether it’s a personal blog you’ve wanted to start about home renovation or increasing your skill set to give your business a competitive edge, my no-brainer process works for any situation.
So, what new subject are you grappling with? I’d love to follow along with your writing adventure in the comments below.