Jason Fried’s quote about the value of copywriters is becoming a bit hackneyed, though I accept its perennial value for anyone promoting themselves as a freelance copywriter.

Yet within his quote is a very important observation that’s often overlooked. Here’s the quote in question, from the excellent book ‘Rework’:

“Being a good writer is about more than clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit.”

OK, the stuff about clear thinking and making stuff easy to understand – naturally, that’s quite correct (what else would I say being a freelance copywriter myself?). What we’re interested in here is that bit at the end. Here it is again:

“They know what to omit.”

The thought occurs to me frequently, usually when ploughing through reams of notes and analysis, that being a good copywriter is actually about juggling and pruning ideas. We prioritise what’s important and put emphasis on the things that matter – like who you’re writing for, and what you really want to say.

We soak up information, but then there’s this unspoken step that involves discriminating what actually makes it into the final edit, based on our analysis of your brief and the end reader.

Some things get emphasised, others get dropped. And it’s this process of pruning that I find clients have the most trouble with, when writing copy on their own. Because they know so much about their product or service, they believe everything is important – so it’s too hard to be merciless and discard superfluity.

Hiring a freelance copywriter is a handy thing to do because we’re outsiders who don’t bring preconceptions. We just bring impartial analysis, fresh ideas and an open mind. No baggage.

That’s what I think Jason Fried is really getting at when he talks about clear thinking.