Put some order around your chaos.

Writing tip #6.

I am not a very organised person. My desk at work is often covered in random notebooks and sketch pads (the ones I haven’t lost somewhere). My desk at home is strewn with paint, tools, and glue. And what goes on in my head is quite the same, to be honest.

For much of my life, my ‘creative process’, if you can call it that, has been like an untied cannon careering around a slippery deck in a 20-mile squall. I mean, it’s worked, I suppose. It’s supported a family of four and taken me overseas and led me to work with some incredibly talented people, but while creativity is and always should be somewhat chaotic it probably could’ve done with some order along the way.

Early on, I didn’t have much more of a strategy than ‘think of some stuff and write it down’. And that’s if I even remembered the ‘write it down’ bit. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become naturally better and faster at coming up with ideas, but I’ve also gotten better at putting some parameters in place. (I’m probably still 85% chaos, but it’s something.)

There’s stuff like the box method and mind maps, which I don’t really use so much anymore but highly recommend to try if you don’t, but these days I tend to just force out headlines and ‘ways in’ to crack open some territories.

This can be as simple as setting yourself a goal to write x amount of insights or headlines. Or blocking out a certain period of time to just write things down. But I quite like how Canadian copywriter, Dan Nelken, approaches things in his acclaimed book, ‘A self-help guide for Copywriters’.

Dan talks about an easy way of writing 100 headlines by starting with ‘buckets’. These are basically just insights, facts, truths, benefits. So find 20 of them. We do a lot of work with Peters’ ice cream, so let’s use Drumstick as an example. These ‘buckets’ don’t need to be super clever either, they’re just human truths.

Drumstick buckets

  1. It reminds you of your childhood.

  2. It tastes like summer.

  3. It’s an Australian icon.

  4. Some people bite the top first, some people bite bottom of the cone.

  5. There’s a range of flavours.

  6. It’s crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle.

  7. It’s the perfect way to cool off on a hot day.

  8. They have limited edition flavours.

  9. They’re fun to share with friends.

  10. They can be a multi-sensory experience.

  11. It’s the yummiest thing in your freezer.

  12. Your housemates might steal them.

  13. Sometimes you might scoff your dinner down just to get to dessert.

  14. They’re great to eat by the pool.

  15. It’s exciting to rip open the wrapper.

  16. You’ll eat it so fast you don’t have to worry about it melting.

  17. We couldn’t survive summer without it.

  18. Families fight over their favourite flavour.

  19. They have mini versions for sneaky snacks.

  20. They’re the perfect road trip pit stop pick up.

As you can see, there’s a real mix of stuff here. There’s insights, facts and behaviours, and possibly already some ideas, headlines, or campaign thoughts. I smashed those out in like 10 minutes. If you can’t think of 20, use google, use ChatGPT, look at the company’s website, you’ll get your 20. Don’t overthink them. Simple is good.

From here, if you take these 20 buckets and write 5 headlines or variations on each one, you’ve got 100.

It seems blindingly fucking obvious, and I’ve probably subconsciously done this before, but I’d never really seen the process contextualised quite like this. It’s almost a scientific version of ‘say it straight, then say it great’. Just get 20 things down, then expand on them 5 times, and voila - 100 ideas.

I won’t go any further, because Dan continues on this, and you should just buy his book. I don’t read a lot of advertising books because I prefer to take creative inspiration from outside of advertising, but Dan’s book is worth grabbing.

I love this approach because headlines are often more than headlines. They can be the entire idea. Headline writing has become undervalued, perhaps even disrespected, and arguably another reason why the digital era derision of ‘traditional advertising’ has led to the invention of the adblocker and the skip button. Because a lot of digital advertising has no insight or idea underpinning it.

You’re not yourself when you’re hungry. Great headline. Even better platform.

There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard. Great headline. Even better platform.

Finger lickin’ good. Great headline. Even better platform.

For a head earned thirst. Great headline. Even better platform.

And so on.

Headlines are headlines. But they’re also ideas. And if you’re a writer, you should get good at writing lots of them. (Because most of them are going to suck, let’s be honest.) So if you’re a bit of a loose cannon like I am, maybe start by tying yourself down somewhere - and headlines are a good place to start.

Dan also has a newsletter and a course you can check out here - https://www.nelkencreative.com

Writing tip #1


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Writing tip #5



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