You ever get the fear?
All the time.
That feeling when you’re staring at a blank page and just don’t know where to begin.
How in the holy chicken nugget are you going to spew forth copy from nothing?
You start sweating. Pacing the room. Eating more biscuits than any one person should.
You start imagining yourself in other careers—train driver, estate agent, children’s entertainer…
Who wants to be a copywriter anyway? It’s a silly career.
Oh, look, an interesting article about how Prince Harry shaves his legs. Oh and that reminds you, you really should sort through your collection of dust particles. And yes, it IS time you finally sorted out the way the tea towels are folded.
Sometimes, it feels like you’ll do anything to avoid facing that blank page.
Hell, I guess it’s not just copy.
You might experience it before writing a poem, creating a piece of art, or just drafting an important note to a friend to apologise for killing their pet lemur by mistake.
Whatever it might be, it just seems so daunting to ‘begin’ at all.
So you look to existing work—and that makes it worse. How the hell did this person manage to do it, you wonder?
You read a section in a sales letter that goes into detail about a subject you barely know anything about and wonder how you’re going to write something like that.
You scroll through pages and pages of copy and wonder if there’s been some kind of mistake—surely sales letters are not usually this long?
You look to the news and it seems no one is talking about anything to do with what you’re supposed to be writing about and you picture whatever you are able to write floating away into an empty void (not dissimilar to the empty void created when Coldplay make music).
The mind is a powerful piece of machinery, whether it’s working for you, or against you.
Of course, this fear, this apprehension, this feeling that you can’t do something you’ve likely already done a thousand times before—it’s just a form of paranoia.
It’s a quirk of the creative process that everyone goes through.
I’ve been writing copy for nearly two decades and must have written hundreds of thousands, probably MILLIONS of words on subjects I once knew nothing about.
Yet I still get the fear like everyone else.
When you come to sit down to a fresh project, it’s only natural.
The question is: how’d you overcome it?
The good news is: when it comes to writing copy—especially LONG copy—there are many ways to do so.
The bad news is: I’m only going to share three here.
In seriousness, though, I want to share three very practical and easy-to-follow ways that I haven’t seen discussed much before.
Perhaps the best way to set yourself up to write copy is to use the copy-boarding process mastered by US copywriters, Joe Schriefer and John Forde…but there’s plenty written on that, so I’ll not add to it here. (For now at least.)
Instead, I’ll share three ‘old school’ tips to get your juices flowing…
TIP ONE: Start with a bullet
“Nobody talks in bullet points,” Bill Bonner, founder of Agora, once said.
At least, I think he did.
It could have been Harry Styles. But that makes little sense. Why would he be discussing the merits of bullet points in copy?
We’ll say it was Bill.
Anyway, despite Bill’s chiding of the format—we copywriters still can’t help but love a good old bullet point.
I think it was old-school DR guy, Gary Bencivenga, who was always considered ‘the bullet point expert’, which is a comical concept (to be an expert in bullet points). In fact, I’ve just checked and he has an e-letter called Bencivenga’s Bullets (which is more comical still). Check it out, though—it’s actually very good.
Anyway (again with the use of ‘anyway’—what lazy writing, Glenn), the reason I mention bullets is that they’re an excellent way to kick-start the creative process when you’re stuck staring at a blank page.
Go to the product or service you’re looking to sell and jot down key points—anything that pricks your interest or you find entertaining in some way.
Then try to write a little headline, some body copy that continues the interest, and a call to action.
It should look something like this:
- THE CHILDHOOD SECRET KENDRICK LAMAR DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW: For the first time ever we reveal a hidden truth about the famous Compton rapper’s past. He’s tried to cover it up and keep it from the media but our team of expert researchers have uncovered the whole story. (Turn to Page 12 of this special new report to discover his secret.)
This bullet is created from nothing more than the fact that Kendrick Lamar’s real name is Kendrick Duckworth. But despite it being a silly example, you can hopefully see how quickly you can take one tiny element of something and write a mini headline, a bit of copy, and a call to action.
Do this five…ten…even twenty times and, I assure you, the creative juices will start flowing.
It might be that you end up ditching the bullet points when it comes to the final version of the copy itself, but this exercise will definitely get you going. In fact, it’s a good exercise to do each day just to keep your writing strong.
TIP TWO: Start with the offer
If you’re really struggling to hit on a headline and lead but you have the idea and you want to progress the writing in some way (as you’re undoubtedly on a deadline), you could start with the offer.
Writing offer copy isn’t strictly easier—and you should be no less creative in the way you approach it—but let’s face it, it is a bit more straightforward.
Take a look at all the bonuses or special reports you have to give away and find out what the guarantee is and whether there’s a discount on what you’re selling and start drafting out the ‘back end’ of your copy.
By doing this, you’re getting words down on the page and eliminating that ‘blank page’ paranoia that can set in if you leave the cursor flashing redundant for too long.
But please be sure to revisit what you write once you do finally write the ‘front end’ of the promotion.
You don’t want your offer to be disjointed and you need to make sure the thread of your headline and lead is carried on through to the end.
TIP THREE: Write “little leads”
A third option I use myself quite a lot is to write what I guess you could call ‘little leads’.
These are short 200-500 word passages of prose that could be considered leads for the promotion—but you’re not going to give them that weight right now.
Copywriters are writers. And sometimes, to get started, you just need to write. That’s the aim of these little leads. To allow you to just write.
As you did with the bullets, you need to find something in the product, service, or maybe something in your research, that you find interesting.
Once you’ve identified the little idea—put your creative writing hat on and go for it.
Don’t worry about the old Ogilvy dictum of ‘writing to sell’—just write for the f**k of it.
Even use language you wouldn’t normally use in copy if you must (though make sure to burn it after).
Most importantly, this little lead will get you started writing and help you overcome the blank page paralysis.
In fact often, writing these little leads will inspire a bigger idea you could use as a proper lead or the opening to another section of the promotion. Two birds. One stone. Nice.
And indeed, there you have it…
Three ways to overcome the fear of a blank page.
Hopefully, next time you’re stuck on a project and you’re just not sure how to start, you’ll try one of these techniques and it’ll get you going.
If not, at least you can take some comfort in the knowledge that somewhere out there, there’s a copywriter just like you who’s staring at a clean white page and panicking just the same.