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10 Steps to Cracking the Summary: How to Write Text for Difficult Client Summaries

Commercial copywriting is very different from writing poetry and reflections.

It is directed and awaits a definitive result from the reader. In fact, its real value is judged by these results.

I’ve been writing commercials for over ten years and I still love it. But sometimes the summary is very difficult. It may be a poorly written summary, or it may be because I have done a dozen similar reports before.

But when time is running out, don’t wait for the muse. It’s about getting down and doing business. When all else fails, I fall back on these ten basic steps:

1. Pretend until you get it:

It’s a cliche, I know! But my first step is always to start writing freely. Everything that comes to mind is written on paper. Rude words or bright daydreams – they all collapse.

When I write freely, I usually try to write as fast as I can. Sometimes I imagine that I am a computer programmer with 30 seconds to hack into a superior security system and prevent the world from exploding. Other times I’m popping bubble wrap on my keyboard. You get the idea: all the super silly situations that make my fingers fly across the keyboard. And about the obstacles in my mind.

What results from this does not really matter. But it is incredibly energizing. It tricks the mind into believing that creating something from nothing is very easy. I mean, just look at all the words on the screen? Right ?! They weren’t there before! Right ?! That means I must have created them! Right! I am Cre-a-Tor!

2. Cool weather:

After the mad dash to save the world, I usually go straight to the fun of the report. Here I apply the same fast-forward approach as in Step 1, but applied to a word, phrase, or abstract idea that I like.

And it gets even more forgiving than that.

I try to entertain myself with this single word or idea. I freely write things that make me laugh, make me want to research a fact, or make me email a friend or share an interesting link.

I’m looking for things that inspire me, whether it’s related to the product, the story behind the product, the industry, whatever, it doesn’t matter. I go as far and off the page as I can, so this involves two to three hours of free writing and scribbling on the net. But I limit myself: I wait for something concrete to show up somewhere in the process, and I stop after three hours.

3. Give me a break:

A while ago I read a great article on how to stop eating emotionally. I found that one of the tips in the article worked just as well for a fool (since, in my case at least, giving myself a fool leads to an emotional fill-in). At this point I usually get out of my head and out of my space and take a break.

I go for a walk / bike to town / call a friend / sleep on him / any or all of the above.

I think getting away from my desk keeps my mind from spiraling downward. Because when I feel creatively dead, it’s easy to get obsessed with my abilities.

I try to avoid the internal conversation where my mind tells me that I am only fooling myself, that I am a shit at my job, that I am not joking with anyone, blah blah blah.

So instead I go on a field trip where I don’t think about the summary at all. Somehow my brain reflects on everything I’ve been poking around over the course of the morning and makes all the necessary connections. Phoof. A) Yes.

4. That one thing:

Now I am relaxed and inspired. It can be the next day or the same. Never mind. Now I have a clear vision of what to say.

Most importantly, I know HOW to say it.

I formulate my only message clear and concise and post it on the wall. It is the only thing I want to communicate. I do not write the tone of the message. Now it is ingrained.

5. Become the queen ant:

Now I bring forth as many ideas as possible and put them on the wall. Even if the ideas suck, by allowing them to live in a role that I keep creating. It tells my mind that I can. So I don’t detect anything. I put everything on the wall or on paper.

6. To hell with the customer:

This is where I read the report again. This time, consciously and critically. At this point I fuck the client.

I look past all the corporate speeches that real people don’t care and discover what they do care about. I wonder: What would act if I were them? No. Really ACT.

7. Kill your babies:

Then I go over my ideas. Again, consciously and critically. I ask each of them only two questions: Do you say that one thing? I think

8. Polish the diamonds:

At this point, I hope I have some ideas that I believe in. Time to polish them until they shine.

9. Become deadly rational:

After all this fluttering, pacing and talking to myself, I understand that the client (whom I have decided to fuck) may not be on the same page as me.

So this is where I turn on the corporate pitch and usually write a justification. On my foundation I explain my thoughts, perceptions, tone, and creative execution.

10. Check your spelling:

Again. Just do it. For me, the only way to spell check is to print my work and read it out loud. Because I’ve been through hell and back for this damn brief and I’m not going to let a stupid little spelling mistake ruin the impact of the pow-wow.

That is all. Ten Steps to Responding to the Nightmare Writing. It always works for me.

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