Writing Headlines Under Pressure? These tips can help.
When we’re short on time it’s easy to for the pressure to overwhelm our ability to write a great headline. Sometimes we’re simply staring down a deadline, other times we’re trying to capture a moment, like writing social copy after or during a big event. Either way, time can challenge our ability to write our most creative copy. When you find yourself stuck in a ‘write fast’ situation, it helps to have a few copy tricks you can pull out in a pinch. Here’s a few that might help.
Find an insight in the content
Like I mentioned in a previous article, you can’t write a good headline without a good insight or two. It’s difficult to write something interesting without a unique perspective. If you’re trying to write something fast, try to steal an insight from the source material. If you’re writing for social, see what people are saying in the comments or take a quick look around how people are talking about relevant hashtags. There’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration in someone else's insight as long as you give it your own personal twist.
Take a twist on a common phrase
There’s all sorts of phrases that have more meaning than the words within them. See: Go the Distance. It’s not you it’s me. We’re not in Kansas anymore. These famous lines are cliche, but they also carry some cultural cache that you can tap into. When you’re stuck for time and your brain feels like it can’t come up with any fresh ideas, take a relevant common phrase and riff off it. The more you make it your own the better.
Repeat the action word
This formula is an old copywriting trick that infuses a headline with more power by repeating one of the words. Action verbs tend to work best. Using a repeated verb plus having found an insight, gives you two pieces of the copywriting puzzle. Find a way to combine them that leads to interesting results.
Start with a negative and go to a positive
This is a classic formula that helps lead to a punchy payoff. You can think of it as “It’s not X it’s Y,” but it doesn’t need to be that prescriptive either. Similar to the idea of “yes and” that I mentioned as a great habit for better copywriting, this formula helps you ‘build’ off of one idea and leads it into another.
Get creative and combine tactics
These are only a few tips and you don’t have to think of them separately, in fact you’ll get much better results if you blend them all together. For example, “Don’t go the distance. Go further.” is a headline that uses all the tips I’ve mentioned above, twisting a common phrase, repeating the word ‘go,’ and putting it in a do/don’t structure.
You won’t always get the best headline from falling back on old tricks. Besides, it’s our job to always try to push the envelope. Nonetheless, when time is of the essence, having a few formulas and having a few quick insights to pull from can lead to lines that work in a pinch. Most importantly, when you’re feeling the clock ticking, remember to take a deep breath and relax. The more you focus on the clock, the less you’re mentally focused on your words. Remember to breath. Then don’t forget to write.