Listen very carefully: I’m going to tell you a secret.
And, I need you to promise you’ll never… never… repeat it to anyone else. You see, what I’m about to divulge is from my past… and it’s embarrassing.
So you’ve got to promise.
This is what happened: In 1983, I did my GCE ‘O’ level exams. These have since been replace with a watered down version called GCSE exams. In the U.S. it would be whatever high schools kids do to graduate.
Oh, before I go on I need to tell you there’s a lesson in this story for you if you want to be a copywriter. And it’s one that could improve your skills by leaps and bounds. Even if you’ve been at it a while.
Anyway, I’m embarrassed to say I failed, miserably. It was Human Biology.
In fact it was so bad I received a ‘U’ grade – Unclassified. (Tell anyone and I’m coming looking for you, got it?)
I’m not making excuses (okay, maybe a little) but I don’t even remember covering a lot of the topics the exams were based on. But that’s another story.
A classmate, who lived close by on the same street as me, also failed. But he got a grade ‘D’. That’s the grade after ‘C’ (in case you’re wondering). So we both had to redo the whole course the next year if we wanted the certificate. (Actually, he could have re-sat the exam as his grade wasn’t that bad, but he wanted to do much better – remember this for later).
Once the course began again I realised why I failed the first time – it was mind numbingly boring. Even with a different teacher. They just couldn’t make it interesting.
And throughout that second year I failed every test we had in class. In fact it was a running joke amongst the other students whether I would receive a grade D or E.
However, come the end of the academic year and with a week and a half to go for the exam, I decided I wasn’t going to fail a second time and knuckled down to revise.
Every day I took out past exam papers and copied down the most popular questions from previous exams. I then looked up the answers in the textbooks and began to copy them out by hand. The majority of the answers were in essay format.
I took a piece of paper and pen and I copied out each and every single one of these essays word for word. And I did it over… and over… and over again.
I also recorded the essays on an audio cassette recorder (it was one of those old flat ones with the chunky buttons. If you remember them you must be pretty old by now).
The first thing I did each morning on waking was to press play and listen to the essays. Then I’d get up and, after all the usual stuff you do on getting up in the morning; I sat down at 9am to copy out the essays again. All of them.
I did this throughout the whole day, getting up only for necessities. I looked up questions, found the answers and copied them out. Rinse and repeat.
Then, at the end of the day when I got in bed, I would listen to them again. I did for the whole week and a half leading up to the exam.
It got so, I didn’t even have to look in the books anymore: I could just write those essays from memory.
When it cam to the exams I wrote reams of content for the answers. Now, here’s the funny thing –even though they were after the same answers, because the questions were worded differently my essay came out different to the answers I wrote out at home.
I don’t mean they were wrong. Far from it.
What happened was, I actually understood everything I was writing and was paraphrasing the exact same material in my own words.
To cut a long story short, my classmate passed this time around with a grade ‘C’. So he didn’t get the grade he hoped for despite doing well in class tests.
I, on the other hand, received a grade ‘A’.
When I showed him my result paper he burst out laughing saying, “That’s unheard of – from a grade ‘U’ to an ‘A’”.
And indeed it was.
Anyway, enough about me. What about you?
What has this got to do with you and copywriting?
I’m glad you asked.
See, if you’ve ever read Gary Halbert’s newsletters (if you haven’t, shame on you, wannabe copywriter) you’ll see he advocates – no, insists – people copy out good copy by hand. He firmly believes it’s the best way to become good yourself. And I’m inclined to agree.
I did the same thing during my revision, but taking it a step further with the audio recordings.
Keep in mind I was just a kid finishing high school at the time and hadn’t even heard of Gary Halbert. You could say I ‘invented’ the copy and tape method. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
Marko’s Copy and Tape Method of Advertising Instruction
(Boy that sounds naff).
Still, it goes to prove these methods work. And I still use them to this day.
Every single day I copy out at least one good advert. I pick out million sellers and control beaters and go at it.
I’ve been doing this even more lately as I needed to get my writing back on track after a pretty dark spell. And I’m happy to say… I’m back!
So, if you’re a beginning copywriter (or even an experienced one) get yourself a writing pad and pen, and start writing. Copy out some ads by hand. No computer allowed.
It will probably be a struggle at first, especially if you haven’t picked up a pen since school, but I guarantee you’ll get used to it. Heck, I prefer it now. I find I’m much more creative when I write out my letters and articles before I type them up.
In fact, I don’t like typing any more. I actually prefer writing by hand.
Also, all the top copywriters I personally know of write the first draft by hand, without making any corrections.
Allow me to explain what I mean by that last remark and how it can help you.
In my exam, I kept writing without stopping to make corrections. The words just flowed from my pen to the paper.
You see I’d done the ‘research’ and prepared well, I knew my subject intimately. And I found that by writing without stopping to make corrections I could get a lot down on the paper. Once I had finished writing I went back to check and correct any errors.
It’s the same with copywriting. Just keep writing and getting words down on the paper. You can edit later.
Remember that you can’t edit anything if there’s nothing there.
Give it a go and see how you do. You may have to push yourself for the first few weeks, but don’t give up. I sincerely believe you’ll be astonished — and very pleased — with the end result.
And let me know how you get on. Maybe I can help you out.