I just finished a book called, “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” I picked up a few lessons to apply to copywriting.
What I got out of the book was that it’s not “natural” talent or even experience that give us greatness. And if you think it’s hard work, you’d be in good company, but that’s not it either. There are plenty of people who work hard but aren’t the best.
What is it that makes the difference? The author calls “deliberate practice.” It’s not just practice. A good example of it is how most adult city league soccer teams that I’ve observed practice.
Few adult soccer teams have a coach unless it’s informally the captain/manager. Not many practice as a team either. If they do, they typically divide into 2 groups, set up two small goals and then play until people get tired. Do players get better doing that? Not really. Is it fun? Yep. You get to play where you want, take a break when you want, play with who you want… who doesn’t enjoy that?
I was on a team once where a friend and I were able to convince the other players we needed to do some skill specific drills. We practiced playing keep away where the goal is to maintain possession of the ball. We put goals in the middle that had to be dribbled through. We put a limit on the number of times we could touch the ball before passing. We played offense against defense with each playing in our game formations.
Challenging ourselves with these drills made us better than other teams. We ended up moving up divisions each year that I played with them. I’ve seen other teams do that as well. It’s really not rocket science to be better than most everyone else. Deliberate practice will do the trick.
What can you do as a copywriter? Most people have heard you ought to copy other good letters so you get the language into your system. The author suggested 3 models for practicing: the music model, the chess model and the sports model.
When you perform music, you know exactly what it’s supposed to sound like and you rehearse it. If you get hung up at a part, you step back and rehearse that part until it’s perfect. In copywriting, that’s what we’re doing when we copy other good letters. But we have two other ways to improve as well.
Evidently the way you learn to be great at chess is to use the “what you would do in this situation” model. That’s also how Harvard Business School teaches… through case studies. You look at specific scenarios and try to figure out what you would have done. Then you compare that to what actually happened.
For copywriting, you can re-write letters. You can pick a product, write a letter for it and then see how it compares to the real one. You can critique letters.
You can also chunk it down to smaller elements. How would you rewrite just a headline or offer? There are plenty of smaller opportunities if you want to test yourself against PPC ads or catalog copy.
Sports teams condition themselves for specific skills. For copywriting, you can build your swipe file and analyze each letter. You can take courses. You can read books. You can cross train in fields like sales, story telling, NLP and hypnosis, logic and debate. You can getting mentoring.
If you’ve been stuck at reading books and copying good letters take heart. Now you have plenty to keep you busy and take your copywriting skills to the top.