Copywriting should be fun.
It should be challenging too.
But if you’re finding it too challenging, it’s wearing you down or it’s taking up too much of your time…
You’re probably doing something wrong.
So here I want to give you some tips on how to better manage your time as a copywriter.
Most of this comes from my own personal experience and is a reaction to how I tend to work personally. Needless to say, some of my ideas might not suit you 100%. But hopefully they might inspire you to invent your own approach.
Indeed, here are five top tips to help you write more effectively in a lot less time…
Turn off, tune out
When you sit down to write…
Do just that.
Eliminate all other distractions.
Hold up, hold up. Is this ‘top tip’ really telling me to just turn shit off. That is truly crap.
I know, I’m sorry. I’ve started with a real cliché here but it is completely and utterly necessary. Really.
And despite it being more obvious than a really obvious thing… it has to be said.
Why? Because the world is constantly getting better at creating distractions we don’t even realise are distractions.
Your phone. Your inbox. That email that needs answering right now, even though it’s just a vague question about something happening next week. Your colleague across the room who keeps humming. The glint of the sun on the mirror over there. The food downstairs that needs eating. The fifteenth cup of tea you need to make before you finish this next bit.
I know you know why distractions waste time, so I’m not going to go into it too deep.
But one thing I would recommend is making sure you tell anyone who might potentially distract you unwittingly that you are going to be dead to the world from period X to moment Y.
Eventually people will get the point that you ‘write’ at this time and the backlog of email that initially builds up when you exit the ‘real world’ for a ‘writing session’ will die down.
The reason there are so many Jeeves and Wooster stories
PG Wodehouse was a great writer.
If you’ve not read any of his work, you really should – especially as a copywriter.
Aside from being very funny, his writing is sharp. It’s pacey. And it’s not at all fussy (despite some of the characters being extremely so).
His writing shares a lot of the key qualities of good copy.
Most likely if you’ve read any Wodehouse, you’ll have read some of his Jeeves and Wooster stories, about an idiot toff and his cynically smart butler.
Indeed, there are loads of Jeeves and Wooster stories. But there are loads of Psmith stories too (another of his recurring characters). And there are loads of Blanding stories. And there are loads of…
You get the point.
The guy shat out a lot of copy over the years.
How? Well, I think it has something to do with his approach to writing: he is reported to have fixed himself to a very strict daily routine whereby he would allocate a set amount of time to write each day in the morning.
In his more youthful years he would rack up around 2,500 words between breakfast and lunch. But even in later life he still managed to commit 1,000 words to the page.
Of course, it wasn’t all good stuff. But by setting himself time aside each day, and ‘just writing’ – he always came out of every session with something he could use.
If you allocate at least some fixed time to your writing each day then you’ll come away with something too.
In fact, let’s follow that idea through…
1,000 words a day is 365,000 a year. Let’s immediately cut 25% for editing and you’re left with 273,750 words. Divide that by roughly 15,000 for a long copy sales letter and that’s just over 18 sales letters in the year.
Let’s say you get paid £5k per sales letter. That’s £90k a year before royalties. And all only for working mornings.
Obviously I’ve gone on an insane flight of fancy here, but you get the point. Just 1,000 words a day can go a long way.
Finish on a cliff-hanger
I think I read somewhere that this idea is attributed to something Hemingway said about his writing…
But it could have been MC Hammer.
Actually, no. It definitely wasn’t MC Hammer. Let’s stick with Hemingway.
The point, Glenn, get to the point.
Ah yes, the point is Hemingway (and definitely not MC Hammer) suggested that each day, when coming to the end of your period of writing, you should finish halfway through a sentence or idea.
We’re literally talking halfway through the-
Ah ha! See what I did there. Brilliant. I finished halfway through the sentence. What larks, Pip!
Anyway. The idea here is that if you’re at a point in your writing where you’re engaged and know how it’s flowing – you should stop.
You would think it would be an idea to continue apace if you know where you’re going, but you’ll probably only tire and fizzle out soon anyway and the next day you won’t know where to go and could lose all of the day to burnout or a lack of inspiration.
But if you stop halfway through an idea on day one… you know for sure that on day two you’re going to pick it up again just where you left of and push on again full of fresh steam. Hurrah.
I do this a lot myself and it does help. One of the hardest things about writing is dealing with the blank page… wondering where to go next…
But this cliff-hanger approach, though seeming to be somewhat counter-intuitive, is actually pretty useful. Try it.
Let the meat rest
There you are…
You’ve just finished your second PS and you’ve reiterated all the benefits of the product you’re selling in new and original ways AND you’ve added a brand new bonus that is sure to clinch the sale.
What do you do now?
You go back to the start and re-read the whole thing, looking for spelling mistakes… figuring out which bits are confusing, unbelievable or boring… and reworking some of those bullets on page 8.
That is what you should definitely NOT do.
Immediate reviewing of copy you have just written is sure to waste a ton of your time.
Upon finishing a first draft, you’re far too close to it to be able to do any effective editing. You’re going to miss loads of stuff. You’re going to be far too soft on yourself because you’re tired. And you’re going to spend twice as long achieving half as much as you would if you waited.
So, just like you should always let your meat rest for a while after it’s cooked…
You should let your copy rest too.
Go and do something else – preferably unrelated to copy.
Now, whereas a nice gammon joint should be let to rest for about 15 minutes…
A full long copy sales letter should be left to rest for at least 24 hours, or at least overnight.
Cellophane it and go put it in the fridge if you must, so you won’t be tempted to peak. (Don’t you love the idea of direct response copywriters around the world storing promos in their fridges next to half eaten jars of pesto and half drunk bottles of Sancerre?)
When you return to the scene of the crime the next day, you’ll do so with a fresh, critical eye and you’ll do a much better review job.
The cooling off period
Just as you should give your copy a rest between reviews…
You need to give yourself a rest between major projects.
Not many people talk about this, and perhaps you’ve never experienced it yourself. But my sense is that you might just relate to it.
You see, whenever I finish a major project i.e. a full long copy sales letter and all the fluff that goes with it… for a couple of days I’m a bit spaced out.
If you’ve done your job properly, your head will be full of research about the product… your thoughts will be fizzled… and your ability to write a coherent sentence will probably be shot.
To get straight back on the horse, so to speak, at this stage would be daft. Again, everything you do in this state of mind will take longer, be less effective and likely end up needing more work on it at a later date.
So, rather than feel guilty about the fact you’re frazzled and can’t work as well, admit to it. Own it. And make it a positive.
Be self-aware enough to understand that you waste everyone’s time when you waste your own time.
Instead, give yourself a rest. Take a day out of the system completely. Purge yourself of the product you were writing for. Purge yourself of the act of writing and thinking completely and do something else.
Properly rested, you’ll be able to attack the next project with total dedication and unwavering energy.
And there you have it: five things you can do to reduce the stress and strain of facing the blank page and make sure you’re using your time as effectively as you can.
When you next feel like you’re procrastinating, or you’ve reached a point where the words don’t seem to be coming… take a moment to check yourself, be self-aware and ask yourself if your time wouldn’t be more effectively spent on something else other than copy.
Because as I said at the start…
Perverse as it may seem…
Copywriting should be fun.