Eric Ahrendt Writer

Good, Better, Best

Posted on June 22, 2014 by

St. Jerome’s hoary advice regarding effort and work quality, which I find nearly impossible to apply to my marcom writing, is: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better, best.” As a priest (later a saint) living in the fourth and fifth centuries, he had a lot of time to spend on projects—unlike me and most other freelance writers today.

When I get an assignment, the client can barely finish explaining it to me before asking when I can deliver it. I know they want it right away, but I try to give myself at least the time to write it, get away from it overnight, and review and improve it the next day. (This goes for something short like a blog post or a marketing email. I clearly need more time for an eBook, website, etc.) Clients usually give me at least that much time, although it’s not uncommon for them ask to have something back the same day.

The issue is this: I know that what I give them back is not my best work. Why isn’t it? Because there’s simply no time to move the writing up the good-better-best ladder. The “good” is doable—that’s a draft that you spend time on and revise as you write and read through again and improve. The “better” is also usually doable if I’m given a deadline that’s a day or more in the future because I can improve that first draft. But the “best”? That takes more research, more thought, and more drafts—which means more time, and that’s something you’re not going to get.

It’s also a question of cost. I charge mostly by the hour (sometimes a flat fee) and the more time I spend, the more the project costs. The “better” version of the assignment is almost always perfectly acceptable to the client, and, in their eyes, spending more money to get an incremental improvement isn’t worth it.

You could say that I should simply spend the extra time necessary to produce my best work and not charge the client for it. There are two problems with that. One is that the assignment is due so quickly that I simply am not given any extra time, even if I wanted to use it. The other problem is that since what I’m doing is running a business and not producing Art, I can’t continually give away billable time for nothing. Still, that’s exactly what I do occasionally, such as when I need to do a stock photo search for a simple email and it takes me half an hour to find the right image. I don’t charge the client for that because it would make my fee unacceptably high for such a simple assignment.

I know advertising and other creative marcom assignments represent the intersection of Art and Commerce, and that producing Art takes time. But the Commerce side is dominant—no client is going to give you all the time and money you need to create Art. So you do the best you can with the time and budget you’re given, and let it rest. For a copywriter, that’s the equivalent of St. Jerome’s “best.” Even if you know it’s really only “best under the circumstances.”

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Most of these posts are my opinions and observations about marcom writing; others are about somewhat-related subjects I felt were post-worthy. I'm just hoping none of my current clients leave me after reading these.


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