How to Write Better Copy

I have written for magazines, tech startups, and 19 private clients, but never once have I meditated on how I write. But people kept asking me, so I bookmarked a doc and said to myself I’ll add to it over time if . . .

1/ I have something original to say or
2/ I learn something that proves to be valuable.

This week, I opened the doc and decided to punch it up.

Here’s the result.

One piece of context: respect and success as a copywriter (which is the quickest way to get paid as a writer) come not from the technical quality of your writing but from how you position yourself and the results you get for other people.

That said…

1. Benefit + Curiosity is the only copywriting formula worth remembering.

2. People are more interested in why something is wrong than why it is right.

3. Chicago Style Manual > Cashvertising

4. Rough day? Read Bukowski.

5. It’s OK to start a sentence with ‘but.’

6. The most powerful form of persuasion is genuine compassion.

7. Re-read sales pages for products you’ve bought. Unpack your own belief systems and pain points. Geeky, but obvious benefits.

8. If you’ve wedged yourself in with a deadline (it happens), the quick way out to a “good” headline is to ask:

a) What problem do they have?
b) What one thing matters most to them?
c) What desire are they trying to satisfy?

9. When you’ve got time to write 10+ headlines, make the first one Ben Settle’s go-to:

What it is . . .
What it does . . .
What it does for you . . .

Then try and beat that.

10. Vibe check: don’t write the way you talk, write the way your prospect talks. If they’re loose with screamers (!) and thumbs up emojis, that’s a cross you’ll have to bare.

11. When interviewing a customer, you need to ask “Why?” three times before you get the answer worth using in your copy.

12. Lots of business owners already have great ideas but don’t know how to communicate them.

13. One way to deal with objections is FAQ style. The superior skill is turning them into benefit-driven subheads.

14. Get methodical when you read your copy out loud. Ask yourself if anything sounds too “C-U-B-A”

– Confusing
– Unbelievable
– Boring
– Awkward

15. Powerful verbs trump powerful words.

16. Be wary of ‘of’: often an opportunity to tighten phrasing.

17. Engage the five senses.

18. Use flashbacks.

19. Random analogies are great.

20. The word ‘very’ is as useful as a sled in a sauna.

21. The unique mechanism for brilliance is hard work.

22. Write for clarity. You can write to a 5th-grade level on Hemingway App and still confuse people.

23. A forgotten tactic is “just write.” No ideating. No prepping the page. No diddling with your avatar notes. Take the stabilizers off and freestyle. If editing is about killing your darlings, writing is about summoning them.

24. The best way to talk about new things is with new language.

25. You can name and claim old or common ideas with uncommon phrasing. When I ghostwrite, I read everything the client has written. I pull out the words, phrases, metaphors, and analogies that make them unique. Lots of ghostwriters do this. It’s an obvious starting point. But I’m the first to call it a Lexicon Extraction.

And finally . . .

I encourage you to question all of these. Some are tips, others are tenets, but you must decide which are which. Create your own techniques, draw your own outlines. Mix mine with yours, but build your own toolbox.

One of my all-time favorite philosophies, from Marcelo Garcia, 5x Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion:

“If you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game. And I’ll be better at it than you.”

P.S.P. French

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