Two years ago I embarked on a journey to become a better writer. Unlike most writers I wasn’t concerned with finishing a novel, making a name for myself or even getting published. See, I was a copywriter. All I wanted to do was improve my ability to sell products and services through my writing.
I was lucky to have some great mentors when I first got started. A great mentor can shortcut the process to competence and even greatness. What a mentor cannot do is actually make you better at writing. I imagine that is true of any kind of writing. To reach competence, excellence and even greatness requires one thing. You MUST write!
With that in mind I began a daily writing ritual. It’s one hour of writing every morning. Before I do any paid work or projects I complete my one hour writing ritual. That ritual evolved over time but the guts of it remain the same.
The first thing I do is write bullets. I’m not talking about the kind of bullets you seen in a bland corporate presentation. I mean sales bullets. The kind you see in a kick-ass direct response message. They knock you out of your seat while you say to yourself:
“Holy crap! I want this”
My First Challenge
For my first year, all I did was write bullets every morning. I spent an hour just writing bullets. My skills improved. I felt it. The feedback I received further validated my feeling. Then, I ran into a brick wall. I felt my progress slow to a crawl. A mentor confirmed this when he offered me some feedback on my work.
I figured out the problem. I got good at writing bullets but I was poor at editing. Like writing, editing is a skill. It requires practice. I realized my edited work wasn’t much better than my initial work. Often, my edits hurt the overall quality.
I created an editing checklist and changed up my routine. One day I would write bullets. The next day I would edit them. After that modification in my routine I felt the quality inch up again. I had no concrete proof but I felt it. You know the feeling, right? You can just feel that you made a breakthrough.
Feedback and testing provided marginal proof that my skills were on the rise again. The better you get at a skill, the harder it seems to judge your improvement.
Then it happened again. A few months ago I felt like I was plateauing. I knew it was time to change things up. I felt my work lacked the conciseness and clarity I desired.
“How can I say this in fewer words with crystal clear clarity and no loss in meaning?”
Another Brick Wall
A great sales bullet packs a lot of benefit in as few words as possible. The reader should get the meaning instantly. There should be no thinking required. My work was good enough at this point but I wanted better. How could I make my writing more clear and more concise without losing any power?
I changed my routine. Instead of doing one hour of bullets, I now do forty-five minutes of bullets and then fifteen minutes of metaphors. Each day I’ll pick a phrase, adjective or feeling and think of five metaphors to describe it. It’s been three months since I started this exercise. I’m just now seeing the smallest of benefits.
At some point I expect to plateau again. When that happens I’ll change up my routine. What change will I make next? Who knows. I do know with certainty the day will come. If I desire never-ending improvement, I’ll need to change up my routine to make my next leap.
The Big Takeaway
There is one secret to getting better whether you are a coypwriter, novelist, poet or whatever.
- Create a ritual that supports your writing
- Do it everyday
- Get feedback. Put your work out there
- If you sense a plateau in your skills change things up. Make it harder on yourself
- Make your ritual the most important work in your life. Your morning ritual should be the first thing you do everyday. Client deadlines, personal projects and your job play second fiddle to your ritual. Commit to your writing ritual as your highest priority. Demonstrate to yourself that getting better beats getting paid. Stick with your commitment and eventually you’ll get paid too.