During the previous run of The Copy Workshop, I thought a live fireside chat with a professional copywriter would help invigorate the classroom, so I invited my friend, Carolynn, to speak to students.
And while traditional speakers give tips, tricks, frameworks, and takeaways – Carolynn gave us the opening scene of The Godfather.
[To find out why and what else she gave us, click here to enroll in The Copy Workshop]
One student asked for Carolynn’s #1 piece of advice for improving copy. And her answer made me burst out in laughter, which I promptly suppressed when I realized it was also my answer, I’d just lacked the courage to say it out loud:
“Go to therapy.”
That was her major copy hack. And mine too.
Therapy teaches the lessons few copy workshops (except mine 😉 ) can teach you, and that is to own your role:
- Develop and hone your self-awareness
- Be accountable for your behavior
- Sit with discomfort
- Develop your tolerance for tension and uncertainty
- Take responsibility for what is yours (and let go of what is not)
Therapy isn’t talking about your problems and analyzing the past (if that’s been your experience, I’m so sorry. And please go find a better therapist). Therapy is more like the gym. It’s work, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, and you have no idea why TF you need to do 600 burpees in 12 minutes but you will because by the end will have learned that you can.
It took me years to see where my writing became defensive, snarky, or unnecessarily verbose. More writing didn’t help me to see – self-awareness did.
And so did being called out by other writers who were more skilled and less attached to the outcome than I was.
Which is *ahem* the same skill as a good therapist.
If you’re blaming your audience for not buying. Blaming the algorithm for no one seeing your content. Shaming the customer who didn’t buy. Shaming the partners who didn’t participate. Shaming your friends who didn’t share or help you. <—— all that comes out in your copy.
Makes it defensive, entitled, and petty – or overcorrects to apologetic and cowardly.
And you’ll never know that’s what is happening. Because without objective eyes, you’ll only see your effort. Your hard work. Your late nights spent mulling over what to say. Your identification with your blame and shame that is sabotaging your efforts – your abdication of responsibility for your role in the dance – you’ll never see it.
It’s the customer who is a jerk, not you. It’s the reader who didn’t get it, not you who didn’t explain it. It’s the lazy reader, the stupid viewer who can’t appreciate quality, the prospect who led you on and wasted your time when he never even wanted to buy anything.
That might be true. But it’s also irrelevant.
In relationships, we each have a role. It’s a dance. And when you’re copywriting you’re dancing. You are not manipulating, forcing, or extorting people. You’re dancing with them. You aren’t responsible for their side of the dance, but you are responsible for how you show up. And if it’s not working, you have to own what you’re doing that’s not working. Or find a different
market dance partner.
Copy is a practice of owning your role, seeing the other person, meeting them where they are – and then letting go.
It isn’t about proving you are right or forcing anyone to do anything. It’s about inviting them to. About creating the conditions where a “yes” is inevitable for the right person, at the right time, in the right place.
Copywriting is about creating the conditions where a “yes” is inevitable for the right person, at the right time, in the right place.
Many of us spend years trying to reach people who aren’t listening or don’t want what we have. Step one is to let them go and find the people who are listening and want the thing we have. Step two is to meet those people where they are, not where we think they should be.
[Step three is generous tension but that lesson is for workshop students only.]
Cultivating empathy and self-awareness in your life is what will make you a better copywriter.
That’s why there is so much noise and such little signal on the internet. Mediocre copywriters all sound the same (I know because I was one). They take on a tone of a used car salesman or overcorrect trying too hard not to sound like one, but the outcome is the same. Their copy is too on the nose. Struggling with acne? Would you like more love in your life? What if I told you…
It’s ok to be cheesy, it’s not ok to be tone-deaf.
The type of copy most of the internet heralds as great, isn’t. It’s cheap, it’s ineffective, and it’s un-self-aware.
Don’t bother with learning copy if you’re not also engaged in self-work. You may get superficial, accidental, or quick wins, but you will miss the bullseye 9/10.
Or as my favorite marketing bro says, “A blind pig can sometimes find truffles, but it helps to know that they are found in oak forests.” – David Ogilvy
Go to therapy.
Learn to see.
Find your oak forest.
Only then will your writing improve.
PS: You don’t *have* to go to therapy to learn to see. There are many ways to learn to see in the same way there are many ways to learn to paint. But working with an instructor and taking a painting class helps. There are limits to doing this alone. Which is why I recommend you don’t.
Part of what’s required to learn to see is a mirror – someone reflecting back at you what isn’t working. I have two of those people who do that for my work. It is painful and I spend most of my time telling them they’re wrong and ineffectively venting anger and rage at them until I realize they weren’t wrong and I was defensive and that joke wasn’t funny and I should have taken it out.
It hurts to rediscover constantly that you are not, in fact, a genius. But a person. Who isn’t exempt from getting in her own way.
And you can’t get out of your own way, and truly face the market, until you learn to see.
[Enrollment for The Copy Workshop closes Sept 8th. This is the LAST time we will be running it. If this is something you’ve been wanting to do – enroll today before class fills up.]