10 (or so) principles of writing at Velocity

We’re in the lucky position where the Velocity writing team is growing like crazy – we’ve made three new hires over the last couple of weeks alone. 

But that got me thinking: if I could go back to my first day at Velocity, what would I tell myself? What lessons have I learned over the past few years that I’ve never bothered to document, that helped me go from (very) junior to senior?

That’s when I made this list. Until now we’ve been using it an internal guide for new starters, but actually, I think it could be helpful for any new writers out there.

So let’s get into it…

The principles:

1. You’re here to think, not just to write.

A very small percentage of this job is wordsmithing. As a Velocity writer, you’re going to be handed some big, gnarly problems that require you to sit down and ‘ponder’ long before you put pen to paper. So don’t feel bad if you spend a lot of time staring at the wall at the beginning of each project – we all do.

2. You’re here to be curious – about everything.

You’ll progress faster if you make an effort to dive into the research, immersing yourself in topics that you might never have heard of prior to being handed a brief. And you’ll progress much faster if you can form passionate opinions about those topics, reflecting them in your writing.

3. You don’t have to be loud, but you do have to be confident.

Confidence in your writing, confidence when you’re presenting, confidence when you’re defending your work, and the confidence to ask questions (both of your teammates, and of clients, so you can do your best work).

4. There’s no single deck that can teach you how to do this stuff.

Try not to ‘templatise’ your thinking because of the things you’ve seen other writers do. The best writers here are unique. They approach problems (and solve them) in totally different ways.

5. BE your audience.

To do this job well, you need to have skin in the game. That means speaking to your audience as an insider, not an outsider. For example – if your client offers product demos, try one. If there’s a geeky Reddit forum about the challenge you’re solving, read it. Do anything that helps you immerse yourself into your audience’s world, so you can write like you actually come from it.

6. Break the mould.

We don’t have to suggest eBooks and blog posts every time we do content programs. Think big, bold and different – never safe. A good example: Luke and the dev team made a game for a client once. A game. That’s your bar.

7. Account Managers aren’t the only people who should be hyping up their team.

Make sure you always have the right attitude when you encounter problems – be positive whenever you can be, and always try to find the right answer whenever something goes wrong. Never be defeatist or say something’s ‘never going to work’. Demotivating your team will only work against you.

8. Not only writers have good ideas.

Sometimes clients tell us to rework entire pieces. Sometimes they tell us to add way more stuff. Sometimes they jump in and write directly into our pieces and break our flow completely… A lot of the time, it’s annoying. But remember – they’re all smart people. Whether or not they can articulate their ideas is irrelevant.

Listen to your clients, and try to make the best you can of their feedback. It’s very rare that their suggestions should be pushed back on entirely. (And don’t forget what that does to your relationship in the long run.)

9. When you get to senior, you’ll become much more than a writer.

Once you become the lead on your accounts, you become the face of those accounts. It means you’ll have to interact way more with your clients. It means you’ll (sometimes) have to play a role in time management. It means you’ll need to be accountable for what all the other writers on your account are doing. It means you need to be thinking about the future of the account and what you should be producing down the line. Embrace these things – it’ll be scary at first, but once you’re in the swing of things you’ll be flying.

10. Bad briefs are your job to fix.

If the client gives you an unclear brief, it’s on you to clarify it. If an account person gives you a bad brief, it’s your job to tell them where the holes are. Never stew for hours on a bad brief then blame that brief for the work being late.

One thing to remember though – briefs definitely aren’t supposed to have the answers in them. The key things you need are goals, audience and budget. Things like formats, title ideas, themes, structures and CTAs should be entirely your prerogative (in fact, the clients who give TOO much direction in their briefs are often the worst ones to work with…)

11. Bonus: on the writing itself…

Once you’ve been writing here for a while you’ll form your own unique tone of voice/style. But here are a few pointers on how to make sure you’re always on-brand:

  • Just try to sound like a human. No one says “best-in-class” or “leverage transformation” in real life. Use exactly the kind of language you’d use when you’re talking to your (smarter) friends. That’s what’ll make your work stand out from all the crap on the internet.
  • Write stuff that feels natural when you read it out loud (*ESPECIALLY SCRIPTS! Read those as often as you can when you’re developing them – you’ll be surprised how many things look good but don’t sound good…)
  • Shorter sentences are (generally) better. Good rule of thumb: if it’s going over 3 lines in a word doc, it’s way too long.
  • There’s a place for humour. If you’re talking about a serious/big/expensive business problem that someone reading your work is going to be facing, they probably aren’t in the mood for relentless punchlines. That doesn’t mean never be funny, it just means get the balance right.
  • Be controversial/have a hook: clients (and more importantly, their audiences) remember the pieces that break the mould. For example, Doug’s “Crap” post, or “Insane Honesty,” or “Why Everyone Hates the Procurement Department” – these are the pieces we’re known for. So try to be just as bold in the titles and pieces you come up with.
  • Be active, not passive – say “you” rather than “CIOs/CEOs/marketers” in your pieces. Remember, you’re not presenting a narrative to your audience – you’re having a conversation with your audience. And use verbs as much as possible (especially in CTAs) like “help”, “get,” “start”, “read” etc so you’re directing your readers towards the right actions.

12. Bonus bonus: have fun!

This job is about learning new stuff, working closely with smart people and using your imagination. If you like those three things, you’ll love being a writer here.

That’s it!

Hope this was helpful. And if there are any lessons you’d like to add, or any you disagree with, do let me know in the comments below.

Also, check out our careers page – maybe we’ve got something for you.



(P.S. How nice is this week’s blog post image? This one was done by Scott.)


Comments

“Bad briefs are your job to fix” – brilliant insight. After nearly 30 years in this business I can count on one hand the times I’ve been given a brief that was complete.

    Thanks Chris! Glad you can relate – although 30 years of that experience do NOT sound fun. Perhaps one of us should write a post on how to deliver a good brief!

A great read, thanks.

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