Great writing is a lot like great marketing.

Betsy Lerner on how to find the right words and use them to move readers.

Great writing is a lot like great marketing.


Betsy Lerner on how to find the right words and use them to move readers.

It doesn't matter if it's fiction, poetry, or copywriting—

Great writing moves and inspires people. It sticks with them. It makes them feel and desire.

In her 2010 book, The Forest for the Trees, editor Betsy Lerner sums up what it means to be a writer and how a writer can achieve the best outcome from her work.

While this advice is meant for authors looking to get published, Lerner's wisdom is just as relevant for the copywriter looking to move product.

Great writing moves readers toward understanding

What is great writing? It's an age-old question.

Some think it has to do with sentence structure and word choice. Some argue it's all about that little thing we like to call "voice." Others say great writing is all about the ideas presented.

But Lerner has a better definition:

Great writing is meant to crush us, entertain and move us, return us to ourselves with some greater understanding of the world and its workings.

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

Great writing imparts something in your reader they otherwise would'nt have known.

That's true in fiction and poetry as much as it is in marketing.

Writing requires solitude

Sometimes you just have to lock yourself away and do the work. In fact, that's a necessary step in the writing process.

The great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

But, as Lerner suggests, locking yourself away will result in connection down the line.

Words, after all, are not meant to be hidden away.

Every situation is an opportunity to write

The natural writer is the one who is always writing, if only in his head—sizing up a situation for material, collecting impressions.

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

Listen to what your employees, colleagues, and customers are saying. Observe people using your product.

There's gold in them hills.

All you have to do is recount or describe those situations. Do this well and you'll have enough content to last a lifetime.

Just do the work

We said this already, didn't we? Well, it's important enough to say again.

The degree of one’s perseverance is the best predictor of success.

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

Sit down and get your ads, your newsletters, your blog posts, your emails written. Get the story down and hit publish.

It's the only way you'll stay relevant longer.

Pay attention and take notes

Struggling with writing this week? Take out your notebook, fire up the CRM, sort the mess on your desk.

If you are struggling with what you should be writing, look at your scraps. Encoded there are the themes and subjects that you should be grappling with as a writer.

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

Customers are always asking questions. All you have to do is answer them to come up with a compelling story that will sell what you're selling.

Writing, like marketing, isn't all about the money

We all have to make a living. But writing with the intent of selling ends up looking like spam.

Writers should want money; writers deserve money. And I salute any writer who feels he is fairly compensated. But I will never believe that writers are motivated solely by money—at least not at the outset of their careers. Writers want love, and they hope that through their work, they will be recognized as gifted.

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

Instead of desperately trying to get people to click here or buy now, focus on creating good art. Answer questions, say something interesting, and solve a problem.

That's the mark of great writing.

And as counterintuitive as it may seem, great writing sells better than writing that intends to sell and nothing else.

— Mike Doane


P.S. Don't walk away empty-handed

Above the Fold is a newsletter about the power of marketing. Every week I'll send you stories just like these on the art and craft of corporate myth-making.

C'mon, flip the page already.