Benjamin Franklin’s old school “hack” for better writing
Comes a question from subscriber Aadeeti:
“I really enjoy the way you write. I have always wanted to be a compelling writer but I can’t bring myself to write long prose. I can write poetry but prose does not come easily to me. What do you suggest to improve my content writing skills.”
Ask a roomful of people this question, and the answer you’ll hear from 80% of them is:
Here’s the problem I have with that advice:
Now there IS a grain of truth to this “just write” idea. You’re definitely not going to get better without putting in some serious hours at the keyboard.
But this advice springs from the crazy idea that good writing “comes from within.” Like it’s some natural talent that some people have and others don’t, and if you have it all you have to do is get out of your own way and let your innate brilliance shine forth.
Which is ridiculous. Writing is a craft that you have to practice and hone just like any other skill.
And the fastest way to improve any skill is by imitating the masters.
That’s how Benjamin Franklin (and many other famous writers through the ages) learned to write.
He would copy out the work of writers he admired, observing as he wrote the words chosen by the author. How he structured his sentences and combined ideas into paragraphs.
200 years ago this was how everyone learned to write. They called it copywork. Then some “educators” decided that rote copying like this wasn’t the best way, because it was more important for students to “express themselves.” And now college professors lament that they waste the first year of college teaching remedial writing to students who can barely string 2 sentences together. Hooray for progress.
To Aadeeti my advice is:
Pick a writer that you really look up to. Maybe you like the tone and rhythm of her writing. Maybe his use of sensory language makes your spine tingle. Perhaps you find his essays so persuasive you can never bring yourself to disagree with him.
Every morning when you wake up, sit yourself down and set a timer for 30 minutes. (Longer if you can.)
Grab a pen and a legal pad and start copying one of your favorite pieces of writing from that author.
Word for word. And no typing—that’s cheating.
This exercise forces you to slow down and pay attention to every syllable. You’ll see things in the writing that would slip by unnoticed if you simply read it passively.
When I wanted to learn copywriting, I signed up for a program called Copy Hour. Every morning for 90 days I’d get an email with a new ad or long-form sales letter to copy.
I wore out 3 pens and 10 legal pads and got some nasty hand cramps…
But today the structure of a sales letter is so engrained in my muscle memory that I never need to use templates. I just sit down to write and the copy arranges itself in the right order.
It’s still hard work. But since I’ve spent so much time modeling success, my instincts are trained. I’m not flying blind.
This will work with any type of writing you want to master.
I highly recommend it.
And if copywriting skill is what you seek, go here today: