Learning Copywriting: What’s The Right Mix of Study vs. Practice?
Recently I critiqued a landing page for a client named Jeff, and it was one of those good news/bad news scenarios.
The writing was pretty good… but NOT for a landing page.
I gave Jeff a homework assignment to study Gary Bencivenga's amazing “Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club.”
Jeff buckled down and hand-copied that sucker—a great move that gave him several new ideas for his landing page.
But it also brought up a question:
I re-read Gary Halbert's advice to aspiring copy-writers.
Your advice: Before writing the first ad piece, he suggests A LOT of reading, then hand- copying, then re-reading worth note-taking, then a rest, then some more preliminary work, etc. He really stresses a lot of hard work before attempting to do it yourself.
If I'm serious about doing this right, about becoming great at copy-writing, dare I attempt to write my landing page now (this could be my subconscious resisting sitting down to write it; it COULD be perfectionism)? A big part of me wants to put myself at the feet of this teacher and do whatever he tells me which would suggest patience with the method (I'm thinking here of the Danleson and Miagi relationship from Karate Kid)…
This is the dilemma whenever you're learning something new.
How much time do you devote to study vs. doing? What's the ideal mix of meditation and motion?
I hesitated to contradict the late-great Guru Gary, but I had to go with my gut on this one.
So I told Jeff:
You should dive in and rewrite the page now rather than doing more study first.
For one thing, Jeff is not a complete neophyte. He runs a successful business, and while he's relatively new to copywriting, he has been a student of marketing for a while.
And he's also got a knack for storytelling.
All that means he has a pretty solid foundation already—more than he realizes.
Learning copywriting, like any other skill, is an iterative process.
Study, do, study, do.
As you write, you'll encounter challenges and get stuck. You'll naturally start to look for solutions to these problems, and that gives direction to your study.
And when you find an answer to a question you're actively seeking, the technique will be seared into your brain.
You'll also become more attuned to how other writers solved the same problem—usually in a much better way than you have.
My personal routine for continually upping my game as a copywriter includes daily reading (I am to read 20 pages a day of a marketing or copywriting book) as well as daily writing (1,000 words per day at a minimum).
And whenever I feel my writing getting a little stale, I'll spend a few weeks hand-copying ads.
Study and practice—practice and study.
To improve your skills fast, learn to balance both.
Only then a copywriter will you become.
P.S. Turns out good ol' Gary agrees with me. A few days after I talked to Jeff, I was reading through back issues of Gary's newsletter, and in the *very next issue* after the one where he lays out the advice Jeff mentioned, Gary encouraged new copywriters to get ads out there fast so they can learn what the market responds to. Smart guy, that Gary H.