How being a teacher forced me to be a better copywriter

Aug 02, 2023

Did you ever feel like you were running on a hamster wheel all the time as a teacher?

That’s how I felt ALL the time.

You see, despite everything I’ve accomplished in my life… things don’t actually come as easily to me as they might for other people.

I struggle with chronic illness, and it’s been there all my college and working life.

I often experience sudden bouts of exhaustion and fatigue… and I sometimes lose hours of my day just recovering from a bad episode.

Knowing I have limited functioning hours to work with every day has forced me to be ruthlessly efficient with my writing time and organizational skills…

Which I’m going to share with you within the context of copywriting today — especially as a former teacher.

See, it’s almost coming onto week 9 of my 12-week practicum at Stansberry Research…

And one thing that struck me is how important it is for us copywriters to keep getting promos out there…

Or ‘shots on goal’, as they like to call it here.

Sometimes it can be easy to get wrapped up in other aspects of marketing and forget our basic role as a copywriter… which is to get words onto paper.

So I’ll be sharing some of the most important copywriting habits I’ve learned from top copywriters… along with habits I’ve “inherited” from my past life as a teacher.

How do I know they work?

As someone who pretty much only has two hours a day to work with (where my thinking isn’t cloudy because I ate the wrong fucking thing again)…

1 – I’ve managed to put more words on paper in the past two weeks than I ever thought possible.

2 – I’m getting good feedback from my copy chief, Kelly, and Mike Palmer. You know the one.

I thought I wasn’t doing enough or I would never be able to keep up given my health problems… but it turns out there’s a lot you can do in two hours a day.

Hour of Power

I first heard about this from Mike Palmer when I was in Annapolis for the Stansberry Boot Camp… and in turn, this practice came from direct response legend, Gary Bencivenga.

But I only started practicing it when I read Bencivenga’s “Marketing Bullets”.

He made the practice so vivid when he talked about how he would head to his desk first thing in the morning to write for at least an hour, every single day… before shaving or doing anything else.

He also theorized your mind is most ready to execute on new ideas… after it’s been churning through your creative problems in your sleep.

So that’s what I’ve been doing… and my writing output has multiplied exponentially.

I get up, make coffee, set my intentions for the day, put on my headphones, and start writing.

(There’s an even better trick to getting over the fear of a blank page. More on this later.)

Setting your environment up for success

This practice has made a MAJOR difference to my ability to focus.

1 – I use Blocksite to block all social media and email in my browsers. I don’t have social media on my phone. I only unblock LinkedIn once a week to post my content and reply to comments and messages.

(Because as Big Freedia says in the intro to Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’, “I did not come to play with you hoes. I came to slay, bitch.”)

2 – If I’m struggling to focus on my writing itself, I break the task up into tiny little components. Then I set a 5-minute timer to work on the first tiny component. Usually, that gets me into the flow and I don’t need the timer anymore.

Finally, here’s something I started doing about 2 months ago.

It’s been an absolute gamechanger:

3 – I do all my writing in a different user account that I’ve set up in my laptop.

This account has no Slack, no email app, no notifications, no extraneous apps either.

It helps me reduce the impulse to check for new messages if I’m struggling with a certain part of my writing.

Writing

There are TONS of writing tips out there, and I’ve come across even more recently because everyone at Stansberry has been so generous with sharing their writing practices…

But one senior copywriter talked about how much he loves James Patterson’s writing formula/process….

So I looked it up, and here’s the one thing that has transformed my writing completely. As he says in his Masterclass:

“I really recommend just crash through, freight train through, that first draft. Get that story down.”

Now I see a freight train in my mind’s eye whenever I sit down to write.

It’s not about carefully crafting the copy. (That comes with the next step I’m about to show you).

It’s all about getting words on paper, as fast as I can, without overthinking it.

(That’s where the timer helps too.)

If some of it looks ugly, sounds weird, or is awkwardly phrased, so be it. They’re just words to help me get to where I want to be.

Here’s another trick I learned that’s helped me write like a freight train:

If you get to a point in your copy where you need a certain statistic or proof point… leave a placeholder or a comment in the document and get back to it later.

For me, I do all that after my 2-hour window of consciousness, lol.

So don’t let missing examples/research stop your flow.

In a sense, you’re throwing up word vomit onto paper.

At a certain point, it becomes automatic.

You stop second guessing every word and sentence.

You’re just preparing the clay to be shaped into actual copy with the next step…

Editing

This step is why you don’t have to worry about writing perfect copy.

Everything comes together in the editing stage.

Does this section need more intrigue? More promise? More benefit? More story-telling?

Do you need to shift the order of your copy?

You can always work on those during the editing stage, if you didn’t get to them when writing like a freight train.

Don’t you dare submit copy without doing this step!!!

Don’t expect your client or copy chief to proof-read or edit your copy for you…

You should have edited it as thoroughly as you can before your copy even sees the light of day.

A teacher-turned-copywriter friend of mine even says to put your copy away in a drawer for a few days before reading it again.

But I don’t have the time to tuck things away in drawers… so I turned to my teacher skillset again:

I create and use checklists.

See, as a student, I absolutely hated it when teachers gave completely subjective, vague feedback on my writing… even more so when they left a number or letter grade with NO comments at all.

I promised myself to never EVER do that to my students.

What writers/students/HUMANS need is to be able to see DISCRETE parts of their writing they need to work on… and which parts they did well in.

So I would create checklists for different parts of my students’ essays… based on national exam rubrics and discussions with other teachers.

What about as a copywriter?

Ask yourself this:

Whether it’s from experienced copywriters on the Copy Chief forum, or your client, or your colleagues…

Are you writing all that feedback down?

I’ve been writing down financial copywriting feedback since I first joined the Copy Chief forum in April 2022…

And not just feedback on my own copy.

When I was applying for work at Banyan Hill Publishing and they were looking for advertorials to use…

I scoured every old post about writing financial advertorials.

Then I assembled all the feedback I kept seeing across the different posts into a checklist.

Before I even submitted a single word to Banyan Hill… I ran my advertorials through that checklist many times.

I would read my copy out loud again and again like a devout monk… my eyes flitting between my copy on the left side of the screen, and my checklist on the right side of the screen.

By the time I got on a call with one of the copy chiefs at Banyan Hill… he told me I needed to get hired immediately.

This was 3 months after I started learning copywriting.

I wasn’t particularly talented. My copy wasn’t very polished yet.

I was just transferring all the skills I had as a former teacher into copywriting.

I was also keeping myself aware of the standards in my target industry… and trying to internalize those standards in my writing.

That wasn’t hard to do as a Copy Chief member… when you have experienced copywriters sharing their standards all over the forum.

Alright… onto the final and most useful habit I’ve picked up.

I struggled with my writing a lot until I recently incorporated this habit on a daily basis:

Setting up tomorrow’s writing

So it’s morning.

You’re sitting in front of your computer, staring at the blinking cursor… wondering what the fuck to write.

You’re stumbling over words. This isn’t just “ugly rough-draft copy”… You really have nothing to say.

Because this ain’t poetry, boo.

Copy doesn’t just come out of thin air (that’s why the #1 way to provoke a copywriter’s ire is to say copywriting is easy).

You might need to do more research into the product… your target audience… or the proof points you need to make your sales argument, etc.

That’s why it’s so important to set up your writing for the next day.

This means:

1 – Knowing which section of copy you want to tackle during your Hour of Power the next day

2 – Gathering the raw material you need for that section

3 – Mentally running through all that material as a rehearsal for your writing session

Once I set this habit up as a recurring task in my Asana…

Writing like a freight train and increasing my writing output became much easier.

Plus, this isn’t as intense as writing, so I get to do all this after my 2-hour window.

By the way, I DO work after the 2 hours, but only on stuff that’s kinder to my brain/health, like reading and research.

(Again, none of this has been easy. There’s been a lot of teeth-gnashing and crying over my current physical limitations.)

***

All this can very easily fade into the sea of “writing ritual” posts out there on the internet…

But remember:

I only have 2 hours where I don’t feel like absolute shit every day.

These are hard-won lessons that let me thrive, increase my writing output, and write great copy… despite my limitations.

And for all the teachers out there:

If there are 3 things I’ve taken away from my teaching experience… as someone who lives with chronic illness:

1 – It’s okay to admit that I did my absolute best as a teacher to change or affect the things within my control.

2. The environment wasn’t right for me. Different people thrive in different environments!

3 – Now I have an amazing teacher skillset that I get to use in an environment where I am thriving.

I hope this post inspires your next copywriting session!

Also, I know some people will read this and feel the urge to send advice on curing chronic illness/fatigue/etc.

Thanks for your concern, but I got this. 🙂

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