The “Draw Batman” trick for better copy

If I told you, “OK, draw me a Batman,” how would you do it?

I've doodled out a few Batmans over the years, and my first instinct is always to grab my pencil and start drawing his pointy ears and cowl.

Then when I had those down, I'd move on to his shoulders and arms.

This approach doesn't work all that well. Usually I realize that his proportions are all out of whack, and as I keep going, the problems just get worse.

My version of the Dark Knight looks more like a grotesque caricature than the sleek, powerful hero you see in the comic books.

Yesterday my 5-year-old brought home a book from the library called “How to Draw Batman.”

As we flipped through it together it hit me that a trained artist take a completely different approach than amateurs like me.

He'll start by sketching lines and circles. A big circle for Batman's chest, smaller ones for his hips, knees, elbows and hands. Then he'll connect the lines.

What he's doing at this stage is establishing a crude frame for Batman's body. He's thinking about proportions and perspective and visualizing the final pose.

Next he'll add rectangles and triangles to rough out the legs, head and chest.

Then he'll start to sculpt the detail of the legs and arms.

Finally, he'll fill in fine details like the face, the folds in the cape, and the muscle definition.

Most marketers try to write ads the way I draw Batman.

You sit down and try to “sound like a copywriter.”

You grab hold of the first “ad-speak” phrase that comes to mind. Then you glue on a few more exciting sounding phrases, maybe throw in some extra adjectives and adverbs.

The copy ends up sounding hype-y and unnatural as a result.

One of the most powerful breakthroughs I've had as a copywriter came from studying in John Carlton's Simple Writing System program.

John forces all of his students to start by writing each assignment in plain English.

No copywriter-speak. The goal is to fit your entire sales pitch into 2-3 concise, conversational sentences.

In other words, focus on WHAT you're going to say first. Get the substance right.

Then you come back and start embellishing it. You work in layers, just like a comic book artist. Substitute a punchier verb for a bland one. Sprinkle in a few “power words.” Play with the rhythm and pacing.

When you approach your writing this way, the difference is stark. The copy feels grounded and solid. The logic hangs together. The emotional arguments reinforce the logical ones rather than distract from them.

Ultimately, working this way makes you a more disciplined—and persuasive—writer.