If you’ve ever longed to write with the same persuasive power and attention-holding prose as your copywriting heroes, a one-on-one mentorship could be your most effective way of getting very good, very fast. But what if you don’t have the money or opportunity to mentor with the best of the best (or worse, your copywriter of choice is no longer with us)? What do you do then?
It’s easy. You get inside their head, and you get all the mentoring you need … for free. Here’s how.
Copywriting Class Is In Session … And It Always Has Been
When I first started writing blog posts, web content, and sales pages, I was able to skip a lot of the learning curve by following a simple technique: every time I saw a compelling headline, an effective opening paragraph or a persuasive sales page, I set aside some time and copied it down.
Not copied as in “plagiarized.” I mean copied as in slowly and carefully writing those masterly crafted words down, by hand, in a notebook. The simple act of writing by hand – something so basic that most people overlook or dismiss it – helped me get very good, very fast, and it can do the same for you. Here’s why.
Writing Other People’s Words By Hand Opens Your Eyes
Most people get their copywriting education by reading the words that others write, and I won’t dismiss the usefulness of that. But reading alone will give you just a fraction of the benefit you would gain by writing.
When you read someone else’s copy, you might say to yourself “I need to use that style,” or “I’d never write like that,” but you’re only doing a superficial analysis (and you’re prone to distraction, to boot). But when you write by hand, you slow down. You engage the part of your brain that creates, not just the part that takes in the sights, and it changes your perspective.
All at once, your eyes are opened to the creative process as someone else sees it, and you truly get “into their mind” as if they were personally mentoring you.
Why Mental “Muscle Memory” Is Holding You Back
“Muscle memory” is the term used to describe the way you can condition your body to perform certain movements almost on autopilot by steady practice. It’s what allows you to touch type, or tie your shoes, or even dial a phone number without looking at your hands.
But that muscle memory comes at a price – it locks you into a pattern that you’re destined to repeat again and again (which is great for dialing the phone, but not so great for your writing style). You experience the downside of muscle memory when you write checks in January, and you’re still putting the previous year in the date field by accident. And you’ll see just how strongly this is ingrained in you the very first time you copy down someone else’s writing.
Prepare Yourself For A Bumpy Ride
As you write down sentences that other people have written, you will immediately feel a vague sense of discomfort as you challenge that mental muscle memory – your mind will push back, as if to say “This is not how I would do it!” The words will feel foreign to you because they are spilling out in a pattern that’s different than you’re used to. And it’s weird.
It’s weird because you’re totally used to reading things written by people who aren’t … well, you. But you’re not used to writing things that didn’t come from your imagination. The brain-to-hand transaction is coming through all scrambled … and it could be the best thing that’s ever happened to your writing.
How Challenging Your Muscle Memory Will Help You Grow
The point of copying down other people’s writing isn’t to become a parrot – instead, it’s to evaluate why your copywriting peers and “superiors” write like they do. As your pen moves across the paper, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for why your mentors selected those exact words, why they focused on those specific details and you’ll be able to judge whether each turn of phrase is a teachable moment or a call you wouldn’t make for yourself.
And this all happens on a much more visceral level than a simple read through of your swipe file.
Does it work? It’s how I landed on the Digg front page over and over again in 2008 and how I consistently owned 50% of the “Most Popular” article section at FreelanceFolder during the same time. And it wasn’t because I’m brilliant or anything like that – it was because I practiced.
What You Should Do Right Now To Challenge Your Status Quo
Grab a pen (or at the very least open a text editor) and copy down the first three paragraphs of this post. See how it feels to write in someone else’s style, and as you challenge your own mental muscle memory, ask yourself what you can learn from the experience. Then leave your comments below, and realize that you’ve just done what only the smallest percentage of copywriters will do … and that you’re already a step ahead because of it.
Make this a habit, and you’ll discover your writing gets better and better as you become a more discerning and well-rounded writer. Go ahead and get started – you’ll thank yourself for it.