5 biggest copywriting lessons from a retired copywriter
Yesterday, I attended a webinar lecture from retired copywriter Jim Clair. I’ve talked about Jim several times throughout these emails, and for good reason. He’s one of the “good guys” when it comes to copy, business, and life. In fact, Jim’s responsible for me getting back into fiction, which was mayhap the best thing I’ve done for my copywriting career as of recent.
Anywho, yesterday he hosted a webinar lecture called How To Read Good To Rite Good. The main premise being that as a copywriter, you should be reading until your eyeballs bleed. In a world where everyone puts too much emphasis on “taking action,” reading offers its junkies a way to be passively active, actively passive, and improve their writing without spending 25/8 h-u-s-t-l-i-n-g.
It also offers this oft-overlooked, but grossly important fact:
Reading—and by extension, improving your writing and honing your copywriting craft—can, and yes, should, be fun.
Plus, when I once asked the great Sean D’Souza how to get over the dreaded writer’s block every copywriter fears… here’s what he told me:
Writer’s block doesn’t exist. Have you ever heard of chef’s block? No? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist either. Just like a chef, when you have writer's block, you just need more ingredients.
(And in this analogy, more ingredients come way from books, both fiction and nonfiction alike.)
With that preamble outta the way, lemme dive into the 5 biggest takeaways I got from How To Read Good To Rite Good.
(Before we dive into it… if you’re reading this the day I’m sending it out, you still have about 24 hours to watch the replay recording for free before they take it down, and send it behind a paywall forever. You can check it out here: https://copyskills.circle.so/c/events/reading-for-copywriters)
Alright, let’s get down and dirty:
Lesson #1: The best way to write better isn’t just to read more, but to read better.
Jim has his own system for reading both fiction and nonfiction books, which he mentioned in the replay. If you’re reading this too late to watch the recording, well, maybe I’ll write about it in more detail as I hone my own system for reading both fiction and nonfiction books. Maybe not. Don’t blame me. Opportunity—and by extension, success—always favors early actors.
I’ll give you a hint though:
Lesson-hunting, as defined by skimming through books at breakneck speed to extract all the lessons, so you can apply them to your life and business, is the worst way to read. Instead, check out lesson #2…
Lesson #2: Reading is having an intimate conversation with the author. When you spend too much time focused on extracting lessons, you cripple your relationship with the author. Towards the end of The Dark Tower books, Stephen King reinforces this point. He says that he doesn’t need fan mail and hate mail, and that simply reading his books gives you more of a relationship with him than sending him letters will.
Again, I won’t go into too much detail on this. Jim’s the expert on reading, not me. So let’s move on…
Lesson #3: Having fun while reading helps you extract more from every book you read.
This one hit home with me.
Because when I started my career, and when I dove headfirst into the world of copywriting, I was one of the readers that Jim makes fun of.
I read copywriting books, self-help books, business books, etc. just to extract the lessons as quickly as humanly possible, then proceed to forget most of what I learned.
I could fill an entire library with the half-read books I zombied through. But more insidious than that? It zapped my love for reading.
I’d always loved reading, dating back to my childhood. In fact, I read the 5th Harry Potter book, upon its release, in a couple days. I was mayhap 11 at the time.
But when I got into business and copywriting, I stopped reading all kinds of fiction books. I thought they were stupid and a waste of time, because I couldn’t extract “life hacks” from them.
Getting back into fiction was one of my biggest “wins” from last year, for no other reason than it restored my love of reading. And, of course, my writing improved as a natural extension of having more fun while reading.
Lesson #4: Read more fiction.
Fiction is fun. And it’s the single best way for a copywriter to spend his free time.
Well, it’s fun. It relaxes your brain, helping you switch from focused thinking to diffused thinking. And it actively improves your writing. It helps you understand structure, style, and flow in a way that nonfiction can’t.
It jettisons you into the author’s world, a powerful principle every copywriter would benefit from learning. It teaches you visual copy, sentence structures that hook you, and it’s a masterclass in getting people to read your entire story.
For example, King’s Dark Tower series contains 4,250 pages spread out over 8 books and released over 30-some years. I don’t know of any copywriters writing 4,250-page long sales letters or video sales letters.
I’m not saying your copy should be that long. But there’s a lot to be learned from masters of the craft like King who keeps his readers hanging onto each page, over 4,250 pages, 8 books, and 30-some years before the first and final book in the Dark Tower series.
Lesson #5: Develop your “reading touch” (as Jim calls it).
Jim went as far to say that this secret is the single greatest thing he’s learned. His biggest regret is that he didn’t learn this secret before he retired from copywriting.
So, what’s “reading touch?”
The ability to speed up or slow down your reading, with more emphasis on the latter than the former.
In the lesson-hunting, what-did-you-do-for-me-lately, hustle-and-grind-25-8 culture we live in, speed reading is something that offers to improve your life in 6 weeks (or less). “Just read these 9 books every entrepreneur should read before they turn 30” tweets out Hormozi’s Twitter ghostwriter.
But that’s a lie. Speed reading is bunk.
And the true way to get more out of reading—both in terms of “lessons” and in terms of fun—is by slowing down your reading. This is particularly helpful with fiction. Jim even said that you should read so slow that you can pick out each word in a given sentence as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.
(I tried this yesterday after listening to Jim’s lecture, and boy, is it harder than you think. And I’m not a particularly fast reader by any stretch of the imagination.)
Jim also argues that this increases your reading speed when you need to skim through a stack of books for market research purposes. I’m too ignorant to form my own beliefs on this right now, but methinks I’ll yap about it when I’m in a better position to do so.
One last analogy Jim mentioned:
Developing your “reading touch” is like driving.
Some boring parts of the highway where there ain’t nothing but a tumbleweed (I’m looking at you, Kansas), you speed drive through. Conversely, you slow down when you’re surrounded by breathtaking views during your drive (I’m looking at you West Virginia and Colorado).
Of course, there were many other lessons you could learn from Jim, which is why I encourage you to check out the replay while you can. (You can find it here for the next 24 hours: https://copyskills.circle.so/c/events/reading-for-copywriters.)
Including one secret to doing market research that’s the best I’ve heard in a long time. And no, I’m not gonna steal Jim’s thunder here. If you missed the replay, sorry, but pay closer attention to the modern day OGs of our industry, so you don’t miss stuff like this again.
I’ve yapped on and on about this. I think we’ve both had enough.
In the meantime, if you need help boosting your email revenue and freeing up your time, let’s hop on a quick call to see if partnering makes sense.
Book a time that works for you here: https://calendly.com/johndbrandt/discovery-call