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Writing to a Brief

Article by B. A. Llewellyn

Writing for money is a job … just like any other job where you want to succeed.  It requires self-discipline, focus and total dedication, as well as talent and desire.  And just like any other job, there are a set series of tasks you must be able to complete before you can add the creative touches that turns your work into a masterpiece.

One of the most fundamental tasks a writer must accomplish to earn their taxable dollars is writing to a brief.  If you want to write for money then you must to be able to write to a brief.  If you want to write a jingle, article, story, novel, poem, screenplay or song then an elementary requirement will be your ability to write to a brief.

You may think you’ve never been taught how to write to a brief, but you’ve been doing it all your writing life.  It is not difficult.

Back to Basics

Do you remember when you were in school and the teacher asked your class to write an essay on “What I Did During the Holidays”?  You were given a few guidelines such as “your essay must be 500 words” and “your handwriting must be legible”.   Your teacher, most probably, also gave you the general directions your essay should navigate, such as “think about the best part of your holidays and tell me the reasons that made it special” or “Write down all the fun things you did”.

You wrote your “What I Did During the Holidays” essay following the instructions you were given – your 500-word essay was written as legibly as you could make it and the theme flowed around the directions you were given.  You wrote to your teacher’s brief, and you did it every week you were at school.  Every pupil in your school wrote to a brief and every written piece was completely different from every other written piece.

You Love to Write

You have been writing to a brief for as far back as you can remember.  It is not hard.  It may have been a bit boring, depending on certain teacher’s requirements, but it was still not a difficult task.  You are, after all, a writer and you love to write.  Writing to a brief comes almost naturally to us all, because we are merely giving the information we’ve been asked to give.   As writers, we are merely doing it more creatively than most.

We even write to a brief when we are only writing for ourselves.  For example, after a break up from a relationship, you may set yourself an internal brief to write a passionate poem describing the pain you are experiencing.  You then write your poem, and through your pen or keyboard, you tell your tale of woe.  If you successfully expel some of your grief onto the page than you have successfully written to your own internal brief.

A Brief Letter

We write to a brief when we write a letter – whether it be business or personal.  Letters, and all writing, has to clearly convey a message to a target audience, even if that target audience is only a relative, or yourself.  Imagine you are writing to your favourite aunt, let’s call her Aunty Jean, and you want to tell her all the latest family gossip.  You also want your favourite aunt to understand your letter so you instruct yourself to write legibly.  You know approximately how long you want the letter to be.  You also know the general directions your letter will navigate which, in this case, are the main events and people you want to talk about.   You even know the sort of emotion you want to convey – in this case, it might be upbeat, friendly and caring.  Your letter is complete when you have finished writing to your brief.

Canvassing your brief

When we write to a brief we are presenting the information we have been asked to provide within the stated requirements.  Those requirements may have been given by yourself or someone else, or both.  Those requirements are your frame of reference.  Imagine a painter choosing a canvas for their art, or being told the measurements of the canvas – the limitations of the canvas does not limit the genius of the painter, it merely gives it a finite space to place that genius.  As writers, we have unlimited creative potential within the parameters of a brief.  The written piece is given its boundaries by the brief we impose on it.

When writing for a specific purpose, such as for a contest or for a client, a writer needs to write to the requirements of the contest or client.  This is “writing to a brief”.  The closer you write to the brief, the closer you will come to winning a contest, or a client’s approval.

Want to Win?

For a writing contest, ensure that you not only read the guidelines but also highlight words and phrases that might assist you in “writing to the brief”.  It is also a good idea to know a bit about the company running the contest – if they have a website, peruse it and pick up the general “feel” pervading the pages.  If they have a vision statement read it – become familiar with their general ethos, so that you can tailor your entry to their value system.  If asked for a specific “feel” to your work, ensure that your work fits within that parameter.  Do not go against the obvious directions given.   Read the work of previous winners and see if there is anything obvious for you to emulate.

“Give ‘em what they want”

If you are writing for a client the same rules apply.  Note key words mentioned in a discussion with a client.  Take copious notes whenever visiting a client or advertising agency, either during the meeting or soon after the meeting.  Ensure you catch key words, phrases and emotions.  Does your client want the audience to cry, laugh, feel angry or loving.  If the client doesn’t know what they want, talk to them about the product, incident or experience you will be writing about and uncover their feelings on the product, incident or experience … then play their key words and feelings back to them.  Those words usually describe the way your client wants you to write your project, and your client will appreciate your quick understanding of their intention.

Where are the goalposts?

If you are given a broad landscape for your creativity, still peruse everything you can from the company or competition providers requesting your work.  Discover every clue you can from the information they provide.  Every hint you catch from their guidelines, visions, previously published works, and everything else you can find is another piece to the jigsaw puzzle that sees your work become admired.  If you can write well to a brief, you’ll be surprised by how smart people think you are.

Be a Winner!

You can practise writing to a brief right now.  Set a series of guidelines for yourself to follow for your next creative writing session, deciding exactly how many words you will write and in what style, as well as giving yourself a specific topic to write about, revealing some sort of predetermined emotional flow which leaves your audience with a certain predetermined feeling.

Alternatively, find one of the many writing contests across the web.  Discover how closely you can write to a contest’s requested guidelines, while still conveying the story in your heart.  Your chances of success will improve with your skill of writing to the brief.  Train yourself to give your audience, or client, or contest provider, exactly what they want while also encouraging your creativity to splash its bright colours onto your canvas.

Good luck.

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Sue Hohman  United States
"I found this article to be very helpful to me. I understand that one must write within the boundaries set by the client, or the author, and still show his creativity. It was helpful to think back on all my stories and articles and wonder if I do this."

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