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Four lessons cake decorating competitions can teach lawyers about writing and editing

Like baking a cake and decorating it, writing and editing are two separate but complementary steps that must both be mastered to win the competition for your audience’s attention and affinity.

I recently walked in on my kids watching a cake decorating competition show. I couldn’t tell you which one, nor could I tell you which channel or streaming service it was on. 

But I stopped in to chat with them and, of course, ended up watching this show with them for about ten minutes. The show was a classic cake decorating competition where the contestants have to bake a cake and then decorate it. The contestants are eventually judged on how their cakes taste and how they look.

As I was watching the show, it dawned on me that there are interesting parallels between cake decorating competitions and the process that lawyers go through when they write and edit their writing, particularly their thought-leadership marketing and business development content.

(I certainly wasn’t expecting to find inspiration for a blog post while watching the show, but hey, I’ll take inspiration where I can find it.)

Here are four lessons cake decorating competitions can teach lawyers (and their marketing colleagues) about the relationship between writing and editing legal marketing and business development content.

Lesson number 1: Just like baking and decorating are two separate steps, so too are writing and editing

In a cake decoration competition, you can’t decorate a cake that is in the process of being baked. It obviously must be baked before it can be decorated. Baking and decorating are two separate steps. So too are writing and editing.

When writing marketing and business development content like thought-leadership content, lawyers should not edit before they’ve finished writing a full first draft. They should focus their writing on getting down on paper (or, probably more likely, on the screen) all the information they want to incorporate into their document, organizing it, making sure that their writing presents this information in a consistent, logical, structured manner, and that what’s written speaks to their target audience’s issues and concerns. 

After they write a first draft, they should put that draft down for a period of time—how much time will depend on how far ahead they are of their deadline. After that time elapses, only then is it time to start editing.

At that point, when they pick their draft back up, it is time to edit it by working their way back through the document, checking to see if it flows smoothly from beginning to end. Is the grammar correct? How is the style and readability? Does each paragraph flow into the next? Does each section flow into the next? Does the introduction accurately point the reader in the direction the document will go? Does the conclusion naturally follow from the rest of the document?

Writing and editing should be two separate phases, just like baking and decorating. When we edit as we write, we stifle our creativity. We start getting off track because we’re focused on the finished product when we should just be focused on building the product, making sure that we’re covering all the points we want to make and that we want our audience to take away from the eventual finished product. 

Lesson number 2: Baking and decorating, like writing and editing, are both required for a successful outcome

In a cake decorating competition, contestants have to bake a cake so they can be judged on how it tastes, and they have to decorate the cake so that they can be judged on the decorations. Then, after receiving points for both, they hopefully win the competition. It’s the same thing with writing and editing. Both steps are required. 

You’re probably thinking, “Well yeah, duh, you need to write in order to create a written document.” But when it comes to creating marketing and business development content like thought-leadership content, many lawyers tend to skimp on thoughtful editing and just give their drafts a quick run through for style and grammar. 

That’s an abbreviated version of the kind of editing lawyers (and their marketing colleagues) should be doing. As I mentioned in the first lesson above, editing should be an expansive process that looks at structure and readability. And, it is a process that is necessary for creating a compelling piece of thought-leadership content that actually resonates with readers because the content is pleasant to read and easy to digest.

Lesson number 3: Poor baking or decorating, like poor writing or editing, can negatively affect the entire project

In a cake decorating competition, if a contestant screws up when they’re baking a cake, either because they make it taste terrible or the cake lacks the structural integrity to hold up other layers of cake during the decorating phase, it will be a problem that could ruin their chances of winning the competition.

Likewise, even if a contestant baked the most wonderful tasting cake, if they screw up the decorations, that’s going to be a problem too for the overall project. 

So it goes with writing and editing. 

No matter how good of a job a lawyer might do compiling interesting information and organizing it on the writing side of the equation, if their editing is not good, the document will be lackluster.

If their document is a 2000-word article conveying thoughts and ideas that could have been communicated in 1200 words, that’s an editing problem that will negatively affect the quality of the document.

If the document covers its topic well, but there’s no structure, there’s no unifying theme, the intro doesn’t flow into the body, and the body doesn’t flow into the conclusion, those are additional editing problems that will negatively affect the quality of the document.

Likewise, the best editor can’t improve writing that misses the mark. If the substance of a document doesn’t suit its intended audience, or the document doesn’t adequately walk through the ins and outs of a topic, or the document doesn’t explain an aspect of the topic that is required for the audience to understand the theme of the document, the writing is not going to pass muster even if the editor can make the document a joy to read.

Lesson number 4: Just like contestants are judged on both baking and decorating, lawyers will be judged by their audiences on both their writing and editing

In the cake decorating competition I watched, contestants were judged on the flavor of their cakes and the decorations on their cakes. If a cake tasted great, but had crappy decorations, the good was countered by the bad. If a cake tasted terrible but had beautiful decorations, again, the good was countered by the bad. No matter how good or bad each individual component was, the baking and the decorating together was what contestants were ultimately judged on.

So it goes, again, with writing and editing. 

No matter how comprehensive or catchy a lawyer’s writing is, if it doesn’t read well from start to finish because of poor editing, the audience isn’t going to think the document is worth reading, which will of course reflect negatively on the author. And, if the document is well-edited, has no punctuation errors, and has a beautiful style and structure, but the substance is all filler and fluff and provides no value to the audience, the result will be the same: a disappointed audience.

With writing and editing, you must have your cake and eat it too

Before walking in on my kids watching a cake decorating competition show, I wouldn’t have thought there were any similarities between cake decorating competitions and writing and editing, particularly writing and editing legal thought-leadership marketing and business development content. But yet, here we are.

Writing and editing are separate but required tasks that must both be done well when creating legal marketing and business development content like thought-leadership content. Just like with both baking and decorating during a cake decorating competition, the failure to both write well and edit well will kill a lawyer’s chances to take the prize: being seen, thanks to their content, as an authority on the areas of law they practice by their target audience.

Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help your law firm strategize and create compelling thought-leadership marketing and business development content? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your firm.

Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service helps Big Law and boutique law firm partners, and their firms, grow their practices and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

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