Categories
Copywriting

Helpful Hints for Writing

Preamble: This post was originally written in late 2006. It's my answer to a common question I get quite often. It needed an update, so here it is.


Someone recently asked me this question: “I was wondering, ‘What keeps Michel Fortin writing?' I mean, Michel, what is your 3, 5, or 7-point formula to get an article on paper? What are some of the specific steps you follow?”

1. I Subscribe to Stuffs

I try to stay on top of my industry.

I'm subscribed to many newsletters and blogs, and I read every day. The wonderful byproduct of being immersed in my industry is that something I've read will stir a few ideas in my mind about something worth writing.

Pocket is my best friend. So is my RSS feedreader, Feedly. They have a folder and tag system that I love, which is great for saving and organizing articles.

Not only that, but Feedly's premium version has a built-in machine learning tool called “Leo,” which, based on my reading history and saved articles, will prioritize my feeds so I first read articles I want or prefer. If I don't have much time, at least I get to read as many of the most important ones.

I have feeds filed in several categories, including SEO, PPC, Copywriting, Marketing, WordPress (my preferred CMS), Google (all things Google), and Psychology (including ADHD).

I can also do an external keyword-based blog search so that Feedly finds feeds I might like to follow. Of course, I also have a search based on my name, my clients' names, and any brands I follow.

As for email, I file newsletter issues that I may use in the future and delete the rest as soon as I read them. But nine times out of 10, I will view the online version of the email and save it in Pocket.

In terms of software, I have used Ulysses, Grammarly, and Google Docs. But these days, I write directly into WordPress (Gutenberg). I might also use my text editor, which is UltraEdit for Mac.

Aside from Pocket and Feedly, I also use Google Keep. I used other note-keeping tools like Evernote and OneNote, but I still come back to Keep. It's simple. I also use a few Chrome extensions that add some needed features, like color-coded categories, adding indents, “save to keep,” etc.

The latter is important. If come across an article that has a passage I want to cite or need, rather than saving the whole thing (and forgetting what passage I wanted or why it was important), I select it with my mouse and right-click to save the selection to Google Keep.

2. I Start With The Skeleton

Articles ideas don't have to be new. What's new is my take on it. Something on which I want to opine or express my point of view. So a new article may be as simple as my own way of looking and expressing an existing topic.

I start with an outline, a skeleton article, with a series of bullets to prompt be about things I want to talk about. Sometimes, there are quite a few of them. Other times, there are none at all. I just start with a story or goal.

But if I do start with a skeleton article, I write down bullet points that represent what I want to cover in that section. Basically, they're idea blocks. But they're not written in stone. I prefer to remain flexible since, after I start writing, the flow might take me in a different direction.

The skeleton allows me to see, at a glance, the overall flow. I reorganize them if I feel there's a better structure and organization of ideas. Some points are best mentioned in strategic locations (whether it's storytelling, pacing, or clarity), and the outline allows me to do exactly that, even before I start writing.

I write in two ways:

  1. I start writing and let it go. (Cue Frozen soundtrack.)
  2. I start with the outline and expand each idea block.

The first often occurs when I have a pretty good idea of what I want to write about. Sometimes, I'll start with a personal story — something that happened or came across — that I feel will be a fitting idea to discuss.

Confession: I never put “ideas” aside for future content topics. I know some experts do this, like Jonathan Stark and David C. Baker (but I think David uses a dual approach, like this one).

I only use the articles I save (see previous section) to prompt me. When I get an idea to write something, and it's really good, I try to write it then and there. Largely because of my ADHD, my short-term memory is atrocious. So when I have an idea, if I don't write it the moment I think of it, I'll forget it.

If I'm really pressed for time, I'll save it and make notes. I'll create a new post in WordPress, add the skeleton points I want to cover, and save it as a draft.

But I try to avoid this because, when the idea hits me, I tend to think of a hundred things I want to go over in that article. So even with the notes, I'll forget the bulk or depth of ideas that I wanted to address. I then get frustrated, which impedes my writing.

3. I Put Meat on Them Bones

Writing keywords in bullet form to expand on into full paragraphs is a way to give me a high-level view of the article structure at a glance — much like I do when I create content architectures for SEO purposes.

The bullet points are based on topics I want to cover, but the flow is important to make sure the reader gets the point I'm making. I'm not fabulously skilled at this, but it does help. I also write copy the same way. And essentially, the bullet points often become headers, too.

But bullets point are prompts. Guideposts, not goals. I might change them or go in another direction entirely if I feel there's a better idea or storyline.

I start with a key idea or point, perhaps a lede or hook, but might change this once I expand on the bullets and realize there's a better way to start the article.

I finish with a simple recap, as you may already be aware. But sometimes, it's a key point, an actionable step, a question to ponder, or a cliffhanger (maybe leading to another article).

I temporarily put my “critical editor” hat aside and I just keep writing. It's not easy, but I try to simply let it flow and don't even stop to read what I've written. Once done, I stop, read again and edit for style and grammar — of course, with the kind help of Grammarly or Google's spellchecker.

Sometimes I'll take whole sentences out I feel were just fluff. Other times, I'll add new ones in for more depth. I'll also rewrite passages I feel aren't clear. And I'll cut and paste some paragraphs where I feel they belong best.

In terms of proofreading, I re-read. But when I have a chance, I read the article out loud. I do this because I often miss things that are blatantly obvious. I read like I write. So I will miss things that are easier to spot when I “hear it” instead.

Plus, if I pause, fumble, re-read (because it doesn't sound right) at any point, then I know that I need to rewrite it for clarity.

There you have it.

It's not as magical as some people make it out to be.

Remember to be a sponge in whichever field you're in, and to squeeze the sponge when you need to. Thought leadership comes from having insights, but you can't pull any insights out of thin air.

If you ever feel you have writer's block, it's usually an excuse. It's your inner critic trying to force what you want to say to be perfect. As Dori Clark once said, “It doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to be good and to be done.”

Once you start, even if you don't know what to say, ideas will start flowing.

But if you feel you truly have nothing to say, then that's a clue that you need to read more, get more information, learn more, subscribe to more stuff, and do more research. Because the sponge, after a while, will become so full that your ideas will be more than flowing, they will be overflowing.

Categories
Copywriting

60-Minute Naked Truth Salesletter Formula

One of the most popular threads on my now defunct discussion forum for copywriters was one started by my friend Dean Jackson.

If you don't know Dean Jackson, he is a Torontonian, a real estate mogul, an information marketing millionaire (author of many programs, including the highly successful “Stop Your Divorce!”), and a darn-fine copywriter.

This post was extremely popular for a number of reasons.

In it, Dean shared his quick-and-dirty formula for writing salesletters really fast. It's a great shortcut if you want to write a barebones salesletter in less than an hour.

Above all, the idea behind this formula is to get you to start writing. Too many marketers and copywriters get stuck at the beginning, such as at the headline, and they fail to get any traction. They often blame it on “writer's block.”

According to Dean, this formula has helped him write several million-dollar salesletters for himself and others. With his gracious permission, I'm reprinting it here on this blog, along with some of my own editorial comments and tips…

Please note, this is not going to result in an extensive or exhaustive salesletter. But it will provide you with a skeletal outline you can either use as is, or easily expand from.

Remember, most people find that the hardest thing to do is to get started writing. It's easy to get caught up in trying to figure out the best hook or headline.

That's why its power lies in its simplicity. This formula is an easy, kick-into-gear way to get a really quick headstart. As Dean noted, “I'd rather be golfing than sweating out a sales letter, so I'm very interested in achieving quick results.”

It all starts with deciding exactly what you want someone to do. Once you've determined that, then it's to sit down for 60 minutes or so to write an unedited, rough-draft, handwritten letter baring the “naked truth” of what you really want.

Without any distractions. Without going into any tangents. And without stopping.

Dean suggests taking a pen and a legal pad, and start writing a stream of consciousness, by hand, to one individual person you imagine as your ideal prospect.

I personally don't mind using my computer, but I believe Dean suggests doing it by hand because it's harder to edit yourself when doing so. Editing as you write is one of the biggest crutches for copywriters that impedes their writing.

Also, getting to know your perfect prospect is crucial.

In our course, we share with you the exact process we go through to find markets and create “buyer personas” using spying techniques, sideways strategies, and unique and unconventional keyword research methods.

In it, we show you how to create a perfect prospect profile, a “buyer persona.” It's a perfect complement to Dean's technique as it will allow you to develop a clear understanding of who your prospect is, what do they want, and how do they want it.

Knowing this beforehand will allow you to sit down and write a salesletter faster than you've ever dreamed possible. The reason is, the information you uncover during that research will provide you with a ton of information you can use in your writing.

Nevertheless, the key is to write the letter as if they are the only person who is going to receive the letter. You write to that person and that person only. Personally, one on one.

At this point, you shouldn't concern yourself about the grammar, the look, or the techniques of copywriting.

As they say, “Write first, edit later.”

No one is actually going to see the letter at this point, anyway. You can edit it yourself afterward, or have someone else or hire someone else to edit it for you.

The key is to do it and do it as quickly as possible. Get yourself a timer, if you can. Limit yourself to 60 minutes. That way, you won't be tempted to stop along the way to edit yourself. Don't do it. Keep writing, and write like there's no tomorrow.

You must get yourself to sit down with the thought of having to get it all done in less than one hour. Write down just the essentials at this point. Keep it simple, keep your perfect customer in mind at all times, and keep it flowing.

Now, here's the 10-part letter formula.

Start with “Dear Dean,” which can be the name you give your perfect prospect. Remember, you can change it later. Don't worry about the headline at this point. Next…

1. Start with the purpose of your letter.

“I'm writing to you because I want you to…” Insert your naked-truth reason you're writing, as if you were making your request known to a lamp Genie who could grant your wish, like, “Take out your credit card and pay me $39 for my new book called…”

2. Reasons you are writing to this specific person.

“The reason I'm writing to you specifically is because I think you want…” And then list the reasons in bullet form, such as reason #1, reason #2, reason #3, and so on.

3. List the features and benefits of your product or offer.

“Here is a list of what you get when you [buy my book]…” Again, use bullets. First list the feature followed by the benefit after “which means,” such as “You get [feature], which means [benefit].” Write as many as you can drum up at this point.

4. Top 10 questions and/or objections.

You can say, “If I were to guess the top 10 questions or objections you will have about buying my product today, they would be these…” You then follow that by another bulleted list of the top 10 most asked questions or most pressing concerns.

5. Answers to those questions or objections.

“So here's how I would clear those up for you…” Same idea as point #4. List, in bullet form, the answers to each and every question or concern you've uncovered.

6. Explain the guarantee or how you are removing the risks.

“I want you to be completely without risk, so here's my guarantee…” Then explain how your guarantee works, how it reduces or removes the risk from the purchase in their minds, and how to take advantage of it if they need to.

7. The most important part: the call to action.

“It's really easy to get started. You just…” (whatever it is they must do, such as “click this button,” “fill in this form,” “call this phone number,” “return this coupon,” etc). Provide the exact, step-by-step instructions on how they can take action.

8. The result of their taking action.

“Once you decide to get started here's what's going to happen…” Describe what's going to happen once they go ahead. Educate them on how they will get their product, and how they will consume it. Tell them how to make the best use of their new purchase.

9. Add an element of scarcity or a sense of urgency.

“You need to do this right now because…” Tell them why they need to take action today. Is there a limit or a deadline? What will be the consequences if they don't take action? What are the ultimate costs of not going ahead today?

10. Finally, testimonials from satisfied customers.

“Here's a list of people who have already [done this] and exactly what happened for them…” Add testimonials or case studies from other customers. Of course, I don't need to remind you that they must be real and genuine. 😉

There you have it.

When you're done with this exercise in hopefully one hour or less, it's easy to start taking the barebone copy elements from it and dressing them up to take out in public.

You can add more, rearrange the elements, expand points, add proper transitions between each section, make it flow neatly, tighten it all up, and so on.

Once you've done this naked-truth, skeletal salesletter, headline ideas will naturally jump out at you. You will have some groundwork from which to come up with several headlines and possible hooks that will appeal to your perfect customer.

Remember, the headline's job is only one thing: to get your prospect to read your letter. Once you've accomplished that, the rest should be smooth sailing.

Tell me (or Dean Jackson) what you think! We would love to get your feedback.