This stack of paper sits atop the table in my living room.
The page on top of the pile contains an ad with the headline: Mississippi Man Discovers Long Lost Tapes Made By Elvis Presley Before He Became Famous! (here is a link to the ad)
I’ve handwritten this ad out in its entirety(and yes, I know, I know, my handwriting *sucks*). Every morning, for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes a day, I write out ads by hand.
Why do I do this?
One of my goals for this year is to improve my copywriting skills(which is the skill of writing so as to sell or persuade people). When I asked experienced copywriters for advice, one of the most common recommendations that I got was that I should:
- Build a collection of ads that I like/admire(in other words, ads that have persuaded people, sold products and made money)
- Copy each of those ads in my own handwriting to “internalize” and absorb the style into your subconscious
- Do this every day, to “program” persuasive copywriting ability into my brain.
What you see on my table is the result of my following this process.
SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOUR WRITING?
As it turns out, this process of ‘hardwiring’ copywriting skills into your mind by shamelessly copying ads that work is also one of the best ways to improve your writing skills.
As Hunter S. Thompson would tell you, it really works.
It wasnt just drug-frenzy-driven inspiration that was the secret behind Thompson’s verb-packed prose. It turns out he used a much less fancy process to get better at writing.
In the 1950s, when working as a copy boy for Time, Thompson would shut himself up in a room. He’d sit down at a typewriter – and type out his favorite authors’ books in their entirety. Among the books he typed out were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms.
His idea was to etch these writers’ style into his own mind. If the results are anything to judge by, it sure as hell worked.
And if you had to learn from him(to say nothing of the who’s who of the copywriting world, who’ve sworn by the same advice), this act of shamelessly copying writing that you admire can do wonders for your style.
As I’d said in the last edition of this newsletter, the best way to build a creative skill like writing is to model someone who is already great at it. All the better if you model them literally, and copy them exactly.
Like everything else that’s truly worth doing, it’s simple, but not easy. :). But because hardly anyone else will put in the work, this sort of shameless stealing might just be one of the fastest ways to improve your writing.
What’s something you’ve improved dramatically by modeling something that works? Reply to this email and let me know. I read every response – and reply to most comments.
….and here are the pieces from Mint Lounge from the last few weeks.
Surviving a night in an Amazonian jungle in the company of tarantula nests, crickets, and unmentionable insects
In George Everest’s 19th century residence, only broken walls, burnt remains and wandering cows remain.
This was a piece that Shruthi wrote after reading this piece of mine from a few months ago.
In this neighbourhood that is home to an ancient art form, the clangs of metal hammering metal grow fainter by the day
PS – Want to write for Mint Lounge/WSJ? Go here:
Travel writing: http://bit.ly/StoryPitchForm
Travel photo essays: http://bit.ly/PhotoEssayPitchForm
I read and respond to every pitch.
PPS – Want to speak with me? In the spirit of sharing, I’ve been hosting office hours for the last few months. Because of this, I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of folks, and learn and share lots of new/interesting stuff so far. If there’s anything you’d like to chat with me about – or share of what you know, just hit reply and let me know.
PPPS – A ghetto version of the site http://TheThinkingWriter.com is up and live. This week, it’s going to be on its way to becoming fancy. Watch that space. =).