Good copywriting doesn’t appear from thin air. “Pantsing” may be a good way to let the ideas flow freely, but outlining in copywriting ensures your ideas stay organized and on-target.
Now, some pantsers may not want to hear this, but outlining and pantsing aren’t enemies.
Here’s an example that proves my point.
In college, I tutored essay writing for 5 years.
Since I was so used to seeing essays every single day, by the time I started doing business blogging, I was an old hand. I no longer needed to write detailed outlines, clarify topic sentences, consciously focus on stylistic choices, etc.
It was almost as if I could “pants” my way to a finished article.
The same goes for copywriting, as I explain below.
But first, let’s explore the meaning of these two terms.
Outlining vs. “Pantsing”
In fiction writing, there are two approaches to the writing process … outlining and pantsing.
Pantsers write by the seat of their pants.
Nothing is planned … they just drift along with their stream of consciousness. Words flow from their fingertips to the page on the fly. Stories are formed organically, as if by magic.
In my opinion, pantsing appeals to writers for a couple big reasons:
For one thing, pantsing feels more free.
You can just let everything hang loose. There are no rules … you are a rebel … no one can tell you how to write or what to write.
You aren’t confined or constrained by some plan that yesterday’s you came up with.
For another thing, it seems more magical and genius.
Pantsers may deny this, but there can be a bit of elitism in this approach. Certain members of this group feel that this approach is “true writing,” because of the reasons mentioned above.
Outliners are the other group. And, as their name suggests, they like to outline before they write.
With outlining there is actually a plan to follow.
Before outliners actually put finger to keyboard, they know the beginning, middle, and end.
It’s impossible to “write oneself into a corner” with a stale storyline or lost characters that dead-end in Nowheresville, Massachusetts.
Outlining in Copywriting
Copywriting isn’t fiction – it has different goals, different requirements, and a different mindset.
Copywriters aren’t writing to be creative … they’re writing to sell.
So most of them have no qualms about outlining until their face turns blue.
At least at first.
When I started studying copywriting, I needed to learn the structure of sales promotions. And I needed to consciously map out where to put (and how to write) copywriting elements such as features … benefits … claims … proof … credibility … guarantees … and so on.
Over time, of course, I relied less and less on outlining in copywriting, because so many steps had become second nature.
Conclusion: There Is No Spoon Outline
Once you learn the layout of a city, you no longer need Google Maps.
Once you understand the Matrix, you see that there is no spoon.
And once you learn the structure of sales promotions, your copywriting process no longer needs hyper-detailed outlines.
Now, I’m not saying that you don’t need some form of outlining in copywriting … or some kind of structure. You do. All the best copywriters do in-depth research, which often results in long documents overflowing with notes.
When I’m doing research, at minimum I make use of spreadsheets and text documents.
However, the more you practice, the more steps you can internalize, the faster you can write, and the more you can write “by the seat of your pants.”