Unleash Your Inner Dork to Become a Better Copywriter

Dork

An advertisement that has been pounded out in the white heat of enthusiasm can be tamed and made effective. But it is impossible to put life into dead copy. ~John Caples

Whether you’re promoting a product, a program or just an idea, exuberance sells. One of the reason blogs can be so effective is that their writers tend to show more enthusiasm than polish. And that’s not a bad thing—if you have to pick one over the other, enthusiasm wins.

Here are a few tips on how to get infectious enthusiasm into your writing. When you write with passion, you’ll grab your reader’s attention and persuade her that you’ve got something worth getting excited about.

Write as fast as you can

When you find something that gets your heart racing, start writing while that excitement is hot. Great ideas (or the perfect turn of phrase) don’t always stick around. Get your thoughts onto paper or pixels as quickly as you can.

This is why professional writers keep a notepad or a handful of index cards handy all the time. An audio recorder works great too–and most newer cell phones now have a record function.

(I have yet to figure out a good writing system for the shower, which is where I get about 80% of my best ideas. If you know of one, will you let us know in the comments?)

While you’re taking the time to catch your great idea, write down as many details as you can. Don’t worry if most of it is junk at this point. If you keep your pencil (or keyboard) moving, you’ll come up with some phrases and ideas that capture your state of excited inspiration, and those can become the seeds for your inspired copy.

It can’t be faked (for very long)

Remember the classic Saturday Night Live sketch, “It’s a dessert topping / it’s a floor wax”? That, and most of the ad parodies SNL has done since then, point to the absurd phony enthusiasm that many ads adopt.

Fake enthusiasm can be spotted from a mile away, and it’s an immediate turn-off.

There’s nothing wrong with doing a few jumping jacks to manufacture some energy every once in awhile. Probably even Tony Robbins doesn’t show up to work every Monday morning with unstoppable energy. But if you’re “faking it until you make it” most of the time, it’s going to show.

If you’re feeling burned out about your topic, take action to get the excitement back:

  • Get on the phone and talk to some customers who are getting genuine value out of what you offer. (This technique alone can keep you going for a long time.)
  • Have a long chat with the product creator and let some of her geeky energy rub off on you.
  • Dive into some research until you unearth a fascinating feature that you can translate into a spine-chilling, exciting benefit.

If you’re consistently writing about a subject that doesn’t excite you, and your efforts to jump-start your enthusiasm aren’t bearing fruit, you need to be on the lookout for a new gig. Life is too short to read boring copy—or to write it.

It won’t be cool

Enthusiastic copy isn’t cool—at least, not while you’re creating it. It isn’t polished. It isn’t sophisticated.

In fact, it’s usually kind of dorky.

Any creative person who’s worth a damn has a dorky side. Good creative work can’t survive cynicism. I’m willing to bet that even Bono gets a little secret thrill over something lame—maybe it’s brand new white shoelaces, or blue Jell-O or LOLcats.

Being a dork just means you can get insanely excited about something that not everyone can see is cool. Mr. Jalopy (a master of enthusiastic copywriting) is a dork about Laundromats. I’m a dork about content and relationships. Roberta Rosenberg is a dork about landing pages.

A dork is someone who’s not afraid to be excited. A dork is a great thing to be.

Business writers call it “passion,” which makes it seem a little more dignified, but don’t kid yourself. The key to enthusiastic writing is to be an unabashed dork about what you’re promoting.

Capture your enthusiasm while it’s fresh. Make it real. And don’t be afraid to embrace your inner dork. Get the juice back into your writing–your readers will love you for it.

About the Author: Get more online marketing advice from Sonia Simone by subscribing to her blog today.

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  1. Ahhh I like being a dork. In teaching and being a football coach I often have to suppress my inner dorkdome so that I may have more “cred” as the kids say.

    It is always nice to know that there are many times, and probably more times than not, that being a dork is a big advantage in todays world.

    I forget who said it but “There will come a day when dorks rule the world.” I say that day is already here.

    Thanks for the good article and the good copy to read.

  2. Ideas in the shower are more common than you think! A few ways I’ve dealt:

    1) My mirror is within reach of the shower, so I keep a dry erase marker on the counter and reach out and write ideas on the mirror when needed. If your shower is glass, you might be able to get away with doing this on a wall away from the shower spray.

    2) There are these bath crayon things my daughter has, but they aren’t really reliable. But they’re fun colors.

    And to be honest, in a pinch I’ve resorted to dashing out of the shower and trailing water across the floor just to get pen to paper.

    Now how’s THAT for being a dork?

  3. Excellent piece Sonia ! Enthusiasm is the key to produce great results and a good copywriter needs that.

    Its true that those who are creative tend to be eccentric and dork sometimes, and thats when they produce their masterpiece.

  4. >> Any creative person who’s worth a damn has a dorky side.

    Whew!

  5. Thanks for the shout-out, Sonia!

    And if you think I’m a complete dork about landing pages, you should ask me about my “dorkitude” concerning the importance of crafting solid marketing plans before ad bucks are spent. Total dork, believe me. :)

  6. Oh, Sonia, as usual, you make my day. Thanks for being a dork for us!

  7. Well said. I find that the best articles on the topic I’ve seen. It’s true too. Excitement and energy translate on in text. I usually drink a cup of coffee before writing, just for the energy. :P

  8. Energy and excitement really is important for good writing! I follow a precise routine before writing; exercise, breakfast, shower and then off to the pixel punching!

    Also, a great way to keep track of thoughts while on the road is to Jott them! I’ve been using it for 6 months now and it has proven very useful. I even started a small blog series on it over at:

    http://textrapolate.com/2008/05/jott-episode-one/

  9. I never really thought of it quite like this–I usually DO try to kid myself and think of it as “passion” or “enthusiasm”–but you’re right. “Dork” really is the better word. You can’t beat real enthusiasm.

    And, I’m chuckling at Amber’s shower ideas–I don’t have any good answers for that one, I just keep repeating my good idea to myself and hope it doesn’t wash away down the drain. (grin.)

  10. Angela West :

    My best writing was done for a product that I believed in 100% after working with it for years. Awesome article – I never realized this until I read it. I just need to harness that same energy and apply it to what I am doing now. Great advice as always – you are a golden god.

  11. I too get ideas in the shower and forget them by the time I’m done washing. Here are a couple of note-taking products for wet conditions: There’s this Erasable Shower Note tablet > http://www.etravelergear.com/ershownottab.html and Rite in the Rain products > http://www.riteintherain.com/Default.aspx. I’ve not had a chance to try either, so I can’t say how well they work.

  12. Finally, it’s justified! :)

    Great post that everyone can probably relate to. I’ve had many moments where things just flowed out with true passion. And there’s been times where that happened but I didn’t record those thoughts, so that is def something I can work on.

  13. Children’s bath crayons do work well on the not as wet end of the shower and do wipe off easily.

    There are shower dry-erase boards.

    How about a voice recorder in a plastic bag or hanging just outside of the shower.

  14. Sonia – Love the “write as fast as you can” tip.

    Question:
    You can put enthusiasm into your writing by just going for it while the idea is hot. However, do you recommend publishing this type of work?

    It may be enthusiastic, but like you said – not very good copy. However, if you go back and edit later – won’t you end up watering it down? It’s kind of a catch 22.

    What do you recommend for balancing the two?

  15. Woo hoo, I am a golden god! A golden dork god, I think.

    Super cool, Ian, thanks!

    I’m surprised Brian even posted this, as he is not actually a dork, at least he doesn’t appear to be. In fact, I believe Brian is actually Badtz-Maru, the only cool Sanrio character. They’ve never been seen in the same place at the same time, you know.

    You have to admit the resemblance is striking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_4-3MrXadU

  16. For the shower problem, I recommend a manservant . That way you can just shout the ideas from the shower and he will dutifully record them by whatever means are at hand.

  17. How’s this? Get yourself one of those shower-writing systems set up in the shower, have some coffee or some energy-drink, jump in the shower, and get to writing your most creative and enthusiastic stuff!

  18. Sonia, I’ve never considered you a dork either. Until you posted that video, that is.

    Nerd Alert!

  19. As Ian mentioned:

    http://www.riteintherain.com/

    I’ve not used their products either, but my husband has. He used to keep one of their small notebooks in the shower. He said it worked well enough to do the job, but not perfectly. He said the coating on the paper made it hard to get the pencil markings to show up. If he had used a different hardness of pencil or his space pen he might have had more luck.

  20. Hey, I could have posted the “I don’t have to share” Badtz Maru video, but that seemed uncharitable.

    @ghostwriter, I like it.

    @David, I personally don’t think of polishing as watering copy down, just making it stronger and removing the extraneous gunk. If you keep asking yourself, “is this the strongest way to get this point across?” I think you’ll keep the good stuff and get rid of the junky stuff.

  21. Yep, I’m a dork too about SEO, Soccer, and reading. Great article!

  22. LOLcats are lame? Madam, you have crossed the line.

  23. Here’s a link to a site that asked the question “how do you capture ideas in the shower?”. Any good ideas here? (I’m writing this in the shower…Not. Just being a dork)

    http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2765capture ideas in the shower?”.

  24. Hmmm, do they still make those soap crayons anymore for shower writing?

  25. Curiously, I know how important freeflowing uncensored ideas are in creative pursuits, but still, I’d censor myself when writing promotional copy. It just felt so danged lame, but now, NOW I feel like I have permission to be a dork! Yay for dorkness passion, demo’d live in this comment! ;)

  26. http://wiki.xtronics.com/index.php/Shower_Board_as_a_white_Board

    This is an idea to get your idea onto the side of your shower door.

    Personally, I just yell bloody murder until my fiance comes storming in, at which point I explain I have an awesome idea and she must document it at once.

    If she isn’t around I use soaps and shampoo’s on the walls. If she were around when I did that… let’s just say I wouldn’t be around much longer.

    Great post – I personally *try* to do this. But lately it’s just so damn hard for me.

  27. The best way I’ve come up with to write ideas while in the shower is a white board. The spray is usually not enough to make the ink run.

  28. All this time I have been shielding my inner dork from the world. At least I think I’ve been shielding it. Let me check with some friends … apparently not :-0

    This message is for more than copywriters. Everyone should release their inner dork once in a while. It’s very healthy. Blogging is an excellent outlet for this. You get to write about what you care about. I’m not a copy writer but if I think an ad is dumb I can say so. If I want to share my annoyance with bad PowerPoint I can. If I want to pontificate about relationship marketing my pulpit is ready and waiting.

    Sonia is making a very important point here, openly expressing yourself opens your mind up and allows you to see things you haven’t seen before. There is power in writing it down, and in writing it down fast. When you see an idea in its raw form all kinds of new thoughts come forth.

    Great post, as always.

  29. Your comment about “show more enthusiasm than polish” struck me about an upcoming blog post idea about which customers would rather see, intent or technique?

    I’m not a polished salesperson, but I do like helping people. But I still wonder if my desire to help them is more important than having a good way to sell your product. Part of me thinks you should have both and that your intent should come through your technique. You can’t just have a desire to help and not understand what problems the customer is trying to solve.

    I’m still thinking through it, but it helps to see someone think intent is more important than technique.

  30. Sonia,

    Take a digital voice recorder into the bathroom, hit record, rinse, recite…repeat.

  31. I love it, I think I’ve mobilized a Dork Army here.

    @James Hipkin, I have personally experienced a lot of liberation in giving up on hiding my dorkiness. :)

    @Jay Ramirez, those are very good points. I think enthusiasm is more important *but* I don’t think you should choose–I think you should have both enthusiam (I love the way you’re expressing that, “I like helping people,” that is fantastic) *and* technique.

    When you use some gentle technique but you have a lot of passion behind it, that works. And when your technique gets you into the head of the person you’re helping, that’s even better.

    @Bucktowndusty, If there’s anyone who could be fatally electrocuted trying that, it would be me. Plus my little boy would wander in and insist on knowing who I was talking to.

    I am going to try some of the white board/rain-proof paper ideas, thank you all!

  32. I nearly always have my PDA in my bath, wrapped in a waterproof pocket.

    I use it mainly for reading. (and yes, I’ve read copyblogger in my bath).

    It’s a big big HTC Universal, with a nice 640×480 screen and a big, big keyboard — big for a PDA, anyway. I use it anywhere and anytime to takes notes.

    so I can takes notes in my bath. I’ve done it.

    The problem is, when you read in your bath, you loose the drifting that leads to non-conscious ideas.

  33. Yippee yi o!

    You’ve got me excited! I’m now gonna unleash my inner dork! (Oh, I already have?)

    Yes, it really is all about the enthusiasm.

    PS little recorder is what I use in the shower. Of course, I have to reach my head out to use it but it works

  34. Smart post, swell comments.

    @David — if you think about the edit process like simmering soup (all the great ingredients are in the pot) then you’ll see that your cooking (as you read it aloud, “trim & trade” words for “evocative economy”) and your tightening actually CONDENSES the flavors, rather than thins them. Mmm, sauce…

    An attorney I know uses his dictaphone in a baggie in the shower… that’s a bit much for me. I like to zip through a shower or zone out in a bath.

    When not zipping or zoning, I find that if you want to recall anything more than a few words (the whiteboard is great for that), finding a way to capture your verbal pitch of your idea is best. Your passion can put you on a roll and you can often SAY it faster and in more detail.

    For that I use a great service-tool called speak-write.com (formerly YouDictate.com) that lets you use any phone or computer or dictaphone to dial in, enter your code, and chat away, using keys to pause if needed. They confidentially transcribe it nearly-instantly and you can have it faxed and/or emailed to more than one place, in any format, for about 1.5 cents a word, and the work is flawless. You can also have them send you the sound file of your recording, in case you want inflection or whatever.

    They’re free to try; I send all my can’t-face-a-blank-page clients to them (no affiliation at all) just because it’s a great way to brain-dump a first draft. Great for making smart use of a private commute, house hunting, a mid-day stroll, etc., too.

  35. Wow, GirlPie, that is the coolest thing ever, I am going ot try it out. Thank you tons for the recommendation!

  36. Being a SCUBA diver, we use a PVC tablet with a regular #2 pencil underwater. I must say I never tried it in the shower, although I may start doing so. Hmmm…

    Excellent article about writing fast and capturing the flavor of the moment. Thanks!

  37. I think do that Its Great ideas (or the perfect turn of phrase) don’t always stick around. Get your thoughts onto paper or pixels as quickly as you can seem to this moment.

  38. That’s really funny. I get the large majority of my best ideas in the shower too. I’ve been known to actually take an extra shower in the middle of the day if the ideas just aren’t coming.

    Anyway, I have used a scubadiver’s pad. Like this: http://www.idea-sandbox.com/blog/2008/04/dive_slate_shower_idea_catcher.html

    There’s the dry erase idea, but not all showers have glass doors, and the crayon things don’t write reliably enough for me. The scuba pad works best for me.

  39. Sonia,

    It would appear there’s an untapped market here that wishes to capture shower-inspired ideas. Perhaps we need to think backwards here. Perhaps we need to bring the shower to the computer. We need Brian to release an audio product called “The Copyblogger Shower Sounds CD” that is nothing more than the relaxing sounds of shower water falling – and him singing on a track perhaps (well maybe not, but still). :)

  40. @ Ghostwriter: your comment nearly resulted in coffee splattered over my laptop! Too funny.

  41. Sonia,

    My daughter had the old bath crayons that were almost useless, then we “upgraded” about a month ago. Crayola has a new company manufacturing them, and for cheap and readily available, they work like a charm. Seriously.

    I’d planned to try out the dive slate Paul recommends at Idea Sandbox (linked to by Ray), but the new crayons are so good I forgot all about it. All I need is a few key words to remind me what I want to say later, and the crayons do that.

    Great post.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  42. @Kelly, interesting, I will check those “upgrades” out. We had some non-crayola for my little dude, but they would not have worked at all for me.

  43. We divers use a small PVC board and a pencil when taking notes underwater. Nice article!

  44. YES!! You think I should tone down the ad copy for my ebook?!

    I shouldn’t tell you how COOL the ocean breeze tickling my face as I sit on MY NEW YACHT, which I’ve afforded via writing killer sales copy online?

    Surely, you jest. ;-)

  45. To Write in the Shower :

    Go to your local dive shop and buy a dive slate. You can write on it with an ordinary pencil.

    I get some of my best ideas in the shower too.

  46. Sonia , its awesome …!!

  47. How did I miss this?!!!!Fun Fun fun. Sudden market surge in dive pads and slates, Wall Street Journal reports…..

  48. Heh… dork army!

    Well, I guess I would be a business blogging dork, then.

    Now we just need a dork army cartoon show and action figures.

  49. Dorks unite! Or untie! Or something.

    MM, I think of you not as *a* business blogging dork but as *the* business blogging dork.

    Write in the shower, that is a handy tip, thank you!

  50. Great post! It’s so true. You can always tell when the person who wrote the copy really didn’t give a damn about what they were writing. Be passionate about what you’re writing about and the reader will catch that same passion.

    Love the tips about writing in the shower!!

  51. I totally agree with you. I always carry with me a small notebook and a pen, coz you’ll never know when that great idea will just pop out of your mind. I usually got a lot of idea at church during sunday mass. In the shower room, hmmm…. I haven’t tried it. Oh well, it’s nice article… I really like it…

  52. Great article! Having enthusiasm about what you write is really important for creating an article that people would like to read.

  53. The easiest way to write in the shower – without having to transcribe or clean-up – is a ream of Tyvek paper (which is waterproof) and a Fisher Space Pen.

    Scribble away, take the sheet with you, done. No cleaning walls, copying notes or running out of space.

    Google ‘waterproof paper’ and you’ll find a lot of suppliers. 500 sheets will last a very long time indeed.

  54. For the shower problem, I recommend a manservant . That way you can just shout the ideas from the shower and he will dutifully record them by whatever means are at hand.

  55. The best way I’ve come up with to write ideas while in the shower is a white board. The spray is usually not enough to make the ink run.

  56. We divers use a small PVC board and a pencil when taking notes underwater. Nice article!

  57. Go to your local dive shop and buy a dive slate. You can write on it with an ordinary pencil. I get some of my best ideas in the shower too.

  58. Technically I think what you’re referring to is a GEEK — someone who is rabidly enthusiastic about some obscure subject, such as a collection of pine cones. A dork is just awkward. But I think that the two traits often combine. And certainly a slobberingly enthusiastic post about something that would make most readers go “huh” is dorky writing.

  59. There are waterproof sound recorders, i have one from sony.

  60. My idea for writing in the shower: before you get in, spray a large portion of a wall that does not usually get wet with shaving cream. If inspiration hits you, just write in the shaving cream! I do not know if this actually works, but I would be curious to see if it does!

    I am a dork about books that have random maps and secret codes in them. And about random things like elastic bands that come flying through the air and hit you on the nose.

  61. For capturing ideas while in the shower, use a grease pencil on the tiles.

  62. Well…here is one for your ‘shower’ problem. Sketch pens work fine on tiles that adorn your bathroom walls. So keep a few sketch pens handy- may be near your soap case or toothbrush- where you can reach easily during showers.
    Scribble your ideas on the walls.
    It will be better if you find a corner where water won’t wash out your ideas.
    My wife has successfully adopted this technique to jot down whatever she remembers while she is working in kitchen.

  63. Hey Sonia, thanks for pointing out nerds rule! I like how you converted passion into dorkism. Would never have made that connection.

    I notice when my mojo is off. I lose that constructive, hopeful outlook and become all snarky and cynical. Who needs that stuff! B ad energy spoils an otherwise good post.

    Joe :)

  64. Dorky as charged! I love the license to just get the words out that you’ve given us. The copywriting and blogs I love the most are the ones that aren’t technically perfect — I can spot a corporate communications staff trying to write cute and/or edgy, a mile away. This is why I find it laughable that so many companies require a marketing or english degree for copywriting, blogging, and social marketing positions (No one cares where the comma goes if the copy reads like the wind.)

  65. a good writing system for the shower in my opinion would be a waterproof iPad attached onto the wall, removable ofcourse… is there such a thing as a waterproof iPad attachable onto the wall and removable when you need it somewhere else rather than in the shower?? thats what i want to know. but i think it would work…

  66. How about a dry erase board in the part of the shower that doesn’t get wet?

    This post makes me feel better as I just wrote in my e-book “How dorky would it be, if I had told her, ‘I don’t pay full price for anything – that’s how I roll.’”