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How to Overcome Writer's Block and Create Great Ad Copy

How to Overcome Writer's Block and Create Great Ad Copy
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The following excerpt is from Craig Simpson and Brian Kurtz’s book The Advertising Solution. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

The tendency for the mind to go blank and lose touch with any creative impulse has stymied the efforts of many copywriters. But legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz claimed never to have been plagued by writer’s block, and it was for a simple reason: He’d developed a surefire method that enabled him to get right to work, without wandering around in that limbo of helplessness.  

Related: 11 Ways to Write Powerful Ad Headlines

He would start by reading the book he was to sell, maybe four times. Each time he read it, he’d highlight lines and phrases he thought were important or sounded interesting. By the time he was finished, a lot of the book would be highlighted. At that point, he’d give the book to his secretary, who’d type up all those powerful lines and come back with 40 to 50 pages of words and sentences that came right out of the book.

To make this relevant to you and follow Schwartz’s method, you would simply gather all the information you have about what you’re selling, then go through it just as Schwartz did, highlighting the critical information and exciting points.

Now let’s get back to Schwartz: Thanks to reading the book he was selling so many times, he knew the material backwards and forwards -- probably better than any of the book editors who’d worked with the author directly. And with all the most powerful lines of the book distilled into one document, he was ready to go to the next step.

For this phase, Schwartz always followed the same procedure. He would bring up his secretary’s typed pages on his computer. The information on these pages would form the vocabulary of the final sales piece. Then he’d pour himself a cup of coffee and place his pad and pencil in front of him. He’d set his timer for 33:33 -- 33 minutes and 33 seconds -- the amount of time a person can best focus attention.

And then he’d hit the start button.

For the next 33 minutes and 33 seconds, he would sit there. The rules were that he could do anything he wanted during that time, as long as it related to the copy. He could ignore it or work on it, but he could not do anything else. He couldn’t read another book, write a letter, play with any gadgets he might have on his desk, make a phone call or get up from his chair. He didn’t even try to write a great sales piece. For those 33 minutes and 33 seconds, he had no goal or responsibility to himself or the client, other than to sit there and relate to the copy.

Related: 17 Tips for Increasing the Selling Power of Your Ad Copy

Eventually he’d get bored. So he’d start looking at the copy staring back at him from his computer screen. As he scrolled through the pages, some sentences would catch his attention. He’d feel no writer’s block or anxiety because he wasn’t really doing anything but reading the copy and allowing it to tell him what to do.

Some sentences would look like they belonged together, so he’d move them around, putting them into different categories of copy that would later become the different sections of the final piece he would create. These categories might include things like opening copy, closing copy, ailments and solutions, success stories and testimonials, expert tips, etc.

Occasionally some combination of powerful or intriguing words that looked like they might be the basis of a great headline would jump out, so he’d move that to the top. Other combinations would jump out that looked like subheads, which could be used as lead-ins to the different categories he was forming, so he’d move those words into place. Some copy would look like it could make a good sidebar (like a list of five super foods for vibrant health). As he went along, he’d fix some awkward wording or polish the copy a little if it seemed obvious to him, but he wouldn’t do any real writing.

Then the timer would go off. He’d stop right where he was, even in mid-sentence, and take a break. During the break, he’d stand up from his desk for five minutes of “compulsory leisure.” He could get another cup of coffee, play with the dog -- do anything but work on the sales piece. When break time was over, he’d go back to his computer and do the same thing again for another 33:33. He’d do this for four or five hours a day.

Can you see how easy this is, and why he would never suffer any writer’s block? He was never actually writing the way we think someone should: sitting down and attempting to create brilliant copy out of his own mind. In fact, he believed that trying to create brilliant copy out of the imagination was a sure way to create copy that wouldn’t convince anyone of anything.

All he was doing was sifting through the material he’d already gleaned from the book, rearranging it and highlighting the best points. In a way, the piece was writing itself. He was just facilitating the process.

You can see how using his method would eliminate the fearsome writer’s block -- those awful hours of just sitting there doing nothing. It seems that anyone who really loved and knew their product or service could use this method to pull together all the elements needed to create an amazing sales piece.

But this was just the beginning. Until now, Schwartz had worked on the piece just by pulling information out of the words that were already set out before him. Once he finished this phase, he was ready to go on to the next -- he was about to “create.”

Schwartz believed that creativity was a habit that could be cultivated so that it became automatic. In order to understand how this process worked, it helps to understand the nature of the human mind as Schwartz saw it. He said that the genius of the human mind is its ability to make connections between things in new ways: We can take two separate thoughts and bring them together under a connecting umbrella so that one thought is formed out of two. We don’t have to create something that never existed before (an impossibility). We just have to connect things in a way they’ve never been connected before.

But Schwartz believed the connections are made outside our consciousness. So what we have to do is trick the conscious mind by focusing it on something simple, such as making a cup of coffee. While the conscious mind is occupied with this straightforward task, the unconscious mind can start making connections that will seep into the back of our conscious mind and then work their way to the front, where we become aware of them.

Related: 8 Tips for Producing Advertising That Sells

Schwartz claimed he made the best connections and got his best ideas while shaving. He was always open and ready for these revelations to occur, and he would just write down them down as they came to him. Then all he had to do was integrate these new connections into the copy he’d been working on.

By now he was completely immersed in his subject matter. With his deepening understanding of the product’s unique features, maybe something would now jump out at him as the best headline, which he could then tweak by adding an image that came to him while he was shaving. Or perhaps it would become clear to him how to organize the copy for the best flow. The sales piece would begin to form itself.

The system obviously worked for him. His success proved it, and I have no doubt that it can work for you, too.