Learn some tips on how to organize and collect words and phrases for themed copywriting and storytelling!
The Tackle Box / Robert Redford Story
The world seemed huge to me (and chaotic), until I met an elderly man named John Campbell.
It was a Friday afternoon, and an Airstream pulled by a Mercedes SUV pulled in to a campsite I was at in Hamilton, Montana, just off of the Bitterroot River. The gentleman was having a Dickens of a time backing in to an uneven site, so Joe (my husband) hopped in and did it for him in about 15 seconds.
Feeling compelled to return the favor, the man shook hands with my husband and told him he’d be happy to give us some fly fishing tips later once he got unpacked. About a half hour later, we met John by the river with our rods and tackle boxes, just a few skips from our fifth wheel’s door.
Joe, an experienced fisherman, got up and running in a minute, and already had his line snapping the water within a few casts. I opened my tackle box up, and tried not to be embarrassed. Years of my kids playing with my lures always caught up with me, though I had attempted some method to the madness of my collection.
John watched me sort through things, and once I got a fly picked out, I gazed at his hands as he tied on a fly to his hook with minimal effort. John’s hands were weathered, speckled with spots from the sun, and permanently pruny, like his fingers had been in cold water his entire life. A seasoned pro.
John, the Sage Fly Fisherman
“Given any thought to your box, there?” he asked me.
I gave him a sheepish look.
“I’ve tried organizing it a few times,” I admitted. “I can never decide which way I like better. By type, by color, by designated fish, by size… can’t make up my mind.”
“Well, what makes most sense for you?” he asked.
“Fish specie first, but then size. Not necessarily function,” I told him. “Then by color, I suppose.”
John nodded, and chuckled. “Not exactly the norm, but we all have our way. At least you’re collecting and have a variety of options. Wanna know a secret?”
I gave him an eager nod, and he turned to cast his line into the surging river. I stood up and walked toward him, but gave ample space for his casting.
“Doesn’t matter how you organize things, as long as you know what works and keep your bait fresh. The fish aren’t going anywhere, really. They can wait.”
I kept John’s words in my head, still to this day. Whatever works for you, as long as you keep things fresh, and know what works, is all that matters. Your collection of phrases, words, themes, scenarios, and formulas is going to change and grow larger over the years as you continue to write. How you organize and go about collecting your research is entirely up to you.
How You Organize Your Copy Bank, Word Vault & Stories is Up to You
Your next email, post, or web page is what awaits you. It’ll be there when you’re ready with the right tools. The fish waited for me to find my perfect lure. I didn’t keep anything that night, but the catch and release was fun.
There are so many different ways that you can organize your themed copywriting and storytelling. How you go about setting up your tackle box of word tools is totally your choice. Do what works for you.
I appreciated John and what he said because unlike so many other people, he didn’t say there was only one tried and true way. He didn’t admonish me for my non-traditional method. I still knew which lure I needed and what would work for evening fly fishing, even if it meant it took me several minutes to untangle it from the mess my kids left.
Today, though, I’m going to give you some tips and resources that have helped me collect a trove of themes, words for establishing brand voice, themed words, phrases, etc. that I hope will help you, as well.
5 Tips for Organizing Your Copywriting and Storytelling Treasure Chest
Here are my five tips:
- Keep a treasure chest or a tackle box of words and phrases. Your own private collection of word-isms that match your theme and brand voice. Pull them out like lures when you need something new or fresh. I use a combination of Evernote and a bullet journal (black paper and a white gel pen) to keep track of things I find, definitions, and ideas for content related to a single word or phrase.
- Add to your treasures and lures daily. The gold and silver words that sparkle more than the others to attract bigger fish. The phrases you cherish and resonate with you. I find that poetry related to any given theme is often a source of quality inspiration. So is reading books and magazines. Movies? Sure, sometimes. I spent an hour just on the word “vessel” once because it ended up being a treasure trove of ideas. Fresh ideas keep your tools new and interesting and it’s fun pulling out forgotten phrases and words that aren’t so common.
- Only keep what works. Filling your treasure chest or tackle box with tools that serve no purpose and clutter your other better lures only creates disorganization and the opportunity for a tangled mess. In your brainstorming session, you’re likely going to write things down for the purpose of the exercise, but you may decide later it’s just not a good fit. For anything. And that’s ok. Delete it or cross it out. Replace it with something more fitting.
- Stick with your theme; not the latest craze or hip phrase. Like the phrase “that’s so fetch”. It’ll never become a thing, Gretchen. In a society where being cool, hip, and popular was once the thing, being remembered for your uniqueness is valued so much more. Don’t be afraid to be odd; at least you’ll be memorable. Theming will help you tie things together, moving from one email or post to the next without confusing sporadic topics.
- Remember that there are three segments of storytelling: brand, business, and themed. Each one has a time and place, and focusing solely on brand stories is going to limit your reach (and make your audience think you only care about your brand). Think about picking up Storytelling for Creatives, which will help you create stories for all three areas in storytelling, get a ton of first-line examples, formulas, and learn to write some epic hooks.
Who is Bob?!
We invited John over for dinner, since he was alone (it was pre-Covid). We had chili that I had simmering on the stove, fresh bread, and asked about some of his travels. He kept talking about how he had also taught “Bob” for his “film” years ago, and how he was going to be meeting “Bob” at the Sundance festival coming up.
I kept wondering, “who is Bob?!”
John Campbell, turns out, consulted for Robert Redford (“Bob”) for the movie “A River Runs Through It” way back in the day as a fly fisherman. None of the actors knew how to fly fish, so John had done some training and consulting for the purposes of filming with Robert Redford on the Gallatin River, just south of Bozeman.
What a small world. I learned so much more from him that weekend; patience, about family, traveling, and building log cabins. And did lots of fly fishing, of course.
John forgot his floor mats for his Airstream when he left for Colorado, so we’re keeping them for him until we meet again someday. “Campbell” sprawls across the mats with the custom Airstream symbol, and every time I see them in the cargo bay I can’t help but smile and think of John…
…and the treasure of insight he gave me is something I still use today, even if my tackle box is still a little messy.