Search the internet for copywriting tips and you’ll find zillions of them. You’ll find out how to write a headline, make the sale and … ‘write with rhythm’.
We all learned about the importance of rhythm in writing at school. It was called English class.
Maybe they didn’t use that particular term, but any time you read a poem you were actually learning about rhythm in writing – subconsciously at least.
Then, if you went on to become an actual reader of books, you will again have learned subconsciously about a rhythm being necessary to drive the writing along.
That’s especially true if you were into the likes of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and all the other Gods of the modern American novel.
But I remember a tip I spotted in an old Copywriting book. It suggested that any would-be copywriter should study two types of song lyrics.
The first type of lyric was that of the songs made famous by Sinatra. These lyricists included men like Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Yip Harburg – guys who were responsible for classics like I Got Rhythm, The Lady is a Tramp and, in the case of Harburg, the entire songs in The Wizard of Oz.
This was sophisticated lyric-writing of the highest order. One of my favourite lyrics from this era was from Sammy Cahn: Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away / If you can use some exotic booze / There's a bar in far Bombay
Then, at the other extreme, the book suggested you study a second type of lyric – those in Country and Western: Hank Williams and the like. Williams was the original master of country genre:
When tears come down /Like falling rain / You'll toss around / And call my name,
You'll walk the floor / The way I do / Your cheatin' heart / Will tell on you
And the point that the copywriting tipster was making? You need to be able to write rhythmically with elegance (eg Sammy Cahn et al) – while also being able to get a bit more 'punchy and dirty' with your lines (eg Hank Williams, etc).
If you can nail both of those approaches, you’ll write copy with great rhythm.
Anybody who writes for a living will have at times looked lovingly at a little phrase or form of words that they’ve just typed out and said “Wow, how good am I!!!”
The so-called perfect example of wordsmithery that you’ve just created is known as a ‘little darling’, a phrase originally attributed to William Faulkener. It's basically showing off with a pen.
And what do we do with these ‘little darlings’?Do we love them? Nurture them? Show them to our friends?
No. We kill the little buggers. Because good writing has no place for such egocentric flourishes.
Good writing is always direct and to the point.
Good writing caters for the reader – it never panders to the author.
And good writing is full of honesty, not pretentiousness.
And all of that is especially true for copywriting.
By its very nature, copywriting is essentially a hard-nosed verbal sales pitch converted to the page. Or the billboard. Or the cornflakes box. Or even whatever 'meme' is currently trending.
There’s usually little enough room for the key selling message without the copywriter getting all fancy-shmancy and thinking they’re suddenly James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or Marion Keyes.
So next time you catch yourself writing these little darlings, do what Hermann Göring famously liked to do when he heard the word ‘culture’: reach for your revolver... and give it to ‘em right between the eyes.
Hi. I’m a writer of highly effective copy for every marketing sector under the sun. If you've got a copywriting, advertising or design project, please get in touch - I'd love to help.