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The Perfect Illustration for Anyone Who Wants to Write Great Copy

theater

A good story begins with a character in conflict, amplifies that conflict so life is miserable, and then ends with a resolution …

Even if that means a happy ending in an opera where every character is knifed to death.*

Good copywriting also begins with a character in conflict …

As a copywriter you amplify that conflict so life is unbearable, and then end the story with a resolution (think subscribe to an email newsletter, listen to a podcast, or purchase a physical product).

Look at the copy forumula PAS for an example of what I mean.

PAS stands for Problem-Agitate-Solve. You start with a meaningful ProblemAgitate it so it is unbearable … and then trot out the Solution.

Who is the main character in your copywriting story? Your customer, the reader.

And of course they should see themselves in this drama.

Fortunately, in this drama, nobody is knifed to death, and, on average, everyone lives happily ever after. Depending on how well you write, of course.

Which reminds me …

Want more copywriting advice? Pick up a free copy of Copywriting 101: How to How to Craft Compelling Copy.

*Those are my daughter’s words.

 

Writing Seductive Offers: Everything You Need to Know in 7 Steps

Budweiser

Ever wonder what it is about those offers that you simply can’t refuse?

Whether it’s a Groupon email offering a weekend of horse backing for mere change or the restaurant promoting Tuesday as the night children eat free … these offers have a lot in common.

In fact, seven things in common. And if you’re a writer who’s responsible for selling a product, then knowing these seven steps is crucial. [Read more...]

A Quick + Dirty Guide to Evaluating Copy

Like It

Whether you write ad copy yourself or hire copywriters to do it for you … you need to know how to evaluate great copy. Here’s a fast way to do that. [Read more...]

How Average Writers Can Create Highly-Readable Articles

Warhol Diva

You don’t have to be a great writer to turn dull topics into compelling articles. You just have to know what to do.

Exhibit A …

Robert Smith (not the lead singer of The Cure) has some serious programming chops. He’s also a mathematician, so naturally not your ideal candidate when it comes to writing readable and interesting content.

But he proved me wrong last week. [Read more...]

Outside of wanting to be the world’s greatest writer …

Bicycle

… I have little to no ambition.

The irony is I have little to show for that desire. In terms of production, I have four lifetimes to go to achieve a Shakespeare, Faulkner, or Ogilvy.

Yet I persist in my lazy, meandering manner. Pushing hard to write everyday for Copybloggger, my own blog, my own Google+, my own fiction.

A blog post here. A sales letter there. Some poems, lots of Google+ posts. Emails. Short stories. Comedy routines with the children.

Nothing else really matters. Just carving out my spot in the pantheon of great writers. But nothing else really matters, except this: being humble and generous.

I can not think of two virtues I want to cultivate more than those two (except compassion, but that’s another story), because they do NOT come easy to me.

I am stingy and critical. Forceful in my opinions, fierce in my opposition. “What you just said is not true. Here’s why.”

Steamrolling people is not beyond me. Yet, by the grace of God, I can restrain the self-righteous punk to allow room for more than one idea to exist.

To allow the best idea to win, even if that means my idea dies.

To allow differences, but not division.

And ultimately, quoting Will Rogers, to “never miss an opportunity to shut up.”

It is these two virtues — humility and generosity — I want spoken over my grave, about me. I would give up ambition one for that to come true.

Fortunately, the two ambitions can co-exist, except where it is necessary to demote one ambition for the other. Always the lesser to the greater.

And it’s not a far-fetched idea  to believe that cultivating those two virtues (the greater ambition) will actually help me become a great writer (the lesser ambition).

Regardless of the outcome, I meander on.

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Image source: Rachel Bone

The Minimalist’s Guide to Becoming a Better Writer

Minima

From my position writing seems simple. You read, you write, you critique. What’s missing from that simple equation is the hard work.

It took me over fifteen years or longer to arrive here. And I’m still learning. Still growing. Portions of writing get easier, but I still have my challenges. Yet, if you love what you do, time will fly. I promise.

Yet, don’t waste time.

So, if you like simple, but want simple explained (I don’t care what we are talking about — there are always nuances to be teased out of “simple”), then here’s a cheat sheet to guide you in your journey to becoming a great writer. Enjoy. [Read more...]

9 Ways to Write Clear Copy

Morons have spoken

I was fortunate to skip most of school as a lad so as not to be grammatically brainwashed. But I didn’t learn how to write either.

In fact, I enjoyed being obscure for obscurity’s sake …

As if my cryptic poems and self-indulgent letters pulled the rug over the eyes of my readers. Rightly so, everyone pretty much wrote me off.

Until I learned how to write direct-response copy.

Communication is about clarity. Simplicity in message. Simplicity in meaning. Logically leading from one sentence to the next, so readers can understand what you wrote …  and respond.

Here are some tips to help you write clearly. Enjoy. [Read more...]

A New Direction for “The Education of a Writer” Series

BiblioclasmAs of late, I’ve been giving a lot of thought of where I want to take The Education of a Writer (TEW) series. Here’s the deal …

I’ve lost touch with the story. The arc. How it should end.

I don’t want this to be an episodic, bumpy read. I want it to be seamless from start to finish … especially since I’ve taken you through a decade of my professional life in a short period of time. In other words, I’m not sure how to tie the first post (The Year of Falling Apart) with the last (yet unknown), and I need to figure that out before I go on.

The last post should’ve arrived several weeks ago according to my original plan. But we all know what can happen when plans hit the pavement … like I keep on thinking of more things to share, and still … gaps remain.

Stories that I’ve written in the past should be included in the full story. Stories like:

The Best Thing You Could Do Right Now to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Writing Advice from a Rock Climber, Monk, and Bonehead — Really? 

How to Outsmart Obsolescence

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Killing Your Life-Long Dream

How to Cope with Co-Workers Who Hate to Be Touched

The Creative Freelancer’s Guide to Melancholy

Yet I don’t want to force them to fit.

So here’s my next move. I’m going to gather all of the TEW posts, put them in a Word document, and bind and shape them into an integrated book. Hopefully dealing with it as a whole will allow me to see my way to the end. I want to close as well as I opened.

That means no more TEW posts until I discover the end. Then I’ll start sharing the new posts. Possibly.

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Image source: A-Z of Unusual Words

6 Exercises to Help You Write Concise Copy

French Circus Poodle

If you’ve been with me for a while then you know the emphasis I place on the art of writing concise copy. In that particular post I taught you how to edit an article for brevity. In other words, I made the practice part of the workflow.

Now, I want you to step off the playing field and onto the practice field. We know the secret to going from good to great involves feedback … but it also involves deliberate, purposeful practice.

That’s what these six exercises are all about. Deliberate, purposeful practice. [Read more...]

Still Life

Wave

The sixteenth post in The Education of a Writer (TEW) series. 

Last time we met I ended the post with a mention about being lost. Not knowing who I was after falling hard. And since then I’ve struggled on how to write the next chapter. How to capture that alienation.

Two weeks later and I think I might have done it. You tell me.

Still Life

Strange, the photographs of me that get copied
the most are the ones when I was too young

and too stupid … before I ever even
wrote a thing … and the most popular photo

of all is where I’m wearing a powdered
beehive, a scarlet polo. It is early

autumn in southern Alabama, the
yellow light from the setting sun roasts in

between the pines, and thousands of flies rotate
around my head. I look like the Horsehead

Nebula, that dark cloud of gas over
fifteen-hundred light years away, a cradle

of low-mass stars, completely empty
of mythological content … but loaded

with vulgar objects like a pocket watch,
onions, nine dead peacocks, tulips, a

dragonfly, an assortment of pipes, and burly
maids hustling in a seventeenth century

Flemish kitchen … abandoned, like a burned-
out Tudor Coupe on a bootlegger’s trail.

I wondered where it all came  from. Nothing.
But what is nothing? Nothing is what I

did before I wrote, yet somehow that part
of me is more mythic than the me today

due to a photograph in which I have
nothing in common with except that I

am still nothing. See, I lost that feeling
long ago of being the darling of

God. I paid a heavy toll for my
arrogance. For each word I wrote there was

another that wanted to be written,
but each word buried me one degree deeper

into obscurity until I was
no longer in the realm of language. Nothing

made sense. Abandoned, I kept writing
in the dark, wishing I could see my hands

and the pale ribbon of words cascading
down that hole. And it was from that hole I

heard a voice. It was Volmar, my bald
secretary, beckoning me to climb down.

He showed me the pocket watch, the peacocks,
the pipes, that moment in Alabama.

He then raised his hands. I had a decision
to make: I could return to my desk and

keep writing or I could become my younger
self again, the nothing I never knew. The

nothing I never will be. I chose neither.
So Volmar shut me up in that hole.

I worked in the warehouse. He taught me to play
the clavichord, preserve plants with blotters,

read a celestial map. Five months later
I saw the “The Half-Baked Narrative of McQueen’s

Greatest Show,” and grieved … I was told to write
the vision down, but refused. I was afraid

because of doubt, human opinion, and
the wealth of words.  From that time on I kept

all visions to myself. Then I was laid
low by a scourge, and fell into bed. Absolutely

nothing mattered. Volmar tended me, held
my head as I drank from a glass. On the fourth day

he stood at the foot of my bed and said
I should’ve written down what I saw. I

pretended not to hear him, but he repeated
it. I said, “I do not know what you are

talking about.” Volmar handed me a
ribbon — it was my book — but I turned it

over trying to make sense of what
I wrote, and I nearly destroyed that little

book, tearing it apart, in storm and
disorder, certain it wasn’t me who

thought and wrote and edited something like
that. I eyed it like a drunk, perplexed, trying

to figure out who would’ve done such a thing.
I screamed and shook my fist, “Who in their right

mind would’ve written it like this?” I threw
my face into my hands and sobbed. From the

foot of the bed Volmar watched me, and he
would call out to me and I would call out

to him. He was nearly inaudible
among my fever. But then he said, “You

must write it,” and a sense of calm fell on
me. That night I slept like I’d never slept

before. A day later I rolled out
of bed, walked past that autumn day in Alabama,

the row of peacocks, the pipes, and climbed out
of the hole, and settled in my chair to

write what I saw. The nothing I never
knew. The nothing that existed. After

days and months, still frightened of the dark, wishing
that one of those words would take, finally,

the undefined turned into the defined
in the most auspicious of ways. It was

the word “abandoned.” Another word stuck, and
so on. The mounting words brightened the room

until a window opened, and regarding
it wide enough, I crawled through. Walking, I

marvelled at the white fields bending beneath
the wind, the cattle, the hollow sound of

the woods beyond, the hills. I felt as if
I’d just woken up. I ran into Volmar, straw

hat on his head. He handed me a
ribbon. It was white and cold. I wondered if

all ribbons were white and cold. I read. It
was about me — a perfectly awful

portrait. Page after page the book went on.
It knew. Were all portraits this strange? Volmar

smirked, picked up his basket and walked away.

An album of photographs sits on a

ladder bookshelf in the corner
of the library. That is all that is left

of them: the grandparents and great uncles
and fathers whom I lost in the last eleven

years to cancer and car accidents and
head trauma and plummets from spires … their

fame all but abandoned. Not that they care.

Sitting with my son, a young boy with a
wool cap in his hands, on our driveway

overlooking the dry lawn, tulip beds
beneath the house windows, I taught him the rules

of rugby and the height of the largest
crater on Mars and the life of Jesus.

And beneath the mature beech, Marvin and
Vince (pipe in his mouth) clapped as a ring of children

danced to the little song sung by my daughter
and her friend from Alabama, the one

with corduroy cut-offs and small voice that
consumes the sadness in your heart. My wife,

nothing on her mind but the moment, stooped
to take photographs as the afternoon

grew stronger. It was a scene you might see
in a book.

Next up: “What an Autistic Woman Taught Me about Fear.”

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Image source: Lee Chang Ming