How to Write Copy That Kills: Part 4: Write

(Bloggers Note: This is the fourth in a series of six posts: How to Write Copy That Kills. Today’s post is the fourth element: Writing.)


I recall the first personal meeting with my editor last February. We met for breakfast in Memphis. What I expected to be an hourlong meeting lasted four and a half hours. The waitress thought we were waiting for lunch.

At the time, I’d yet to put a single word on paper. Light Wins was only an idea. It was a fairly well-organized idea in my mind, yet it was just an idea.

Bradley Harris is not easily impressed. We took our seats and he said, “What have you got?”

So I went through the background, concepts, and the book’s “meat” if you will. And I shared the peripheral possibilities, marketing opportunities etc., etc.

As we bounced back and forth, more ideas developed, and I could see in his eyes he knew we were on to something. Brad was actually a little excited.

Then he said something I’ll never forget.

“May I be blatantly direct with you, Steve?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“This is all wonderful, but you don’t have **** until you have text. I need text, and I need a lot of it.”

And I took a deep breath.

The long road started there. You don’t have **** until you have text.


The headline on this post is admittedly misleading. I can tell you how to observe, think, plan, pursue and execute, but I can’t tell you how to write killer copy any more than I can tell you how to travel to the moon.

At best, I can share with you a few things that work for me:

  • First, you must have text. Just write. Whatever your preferred style, whatever time of day or whatever place you prefer, just get there and write. Short spurts, long binges. It doesn’t matter. Just write. No excuses.

  • Get objective opinions. Pay someone if you have to. Your friends’ opinions are no good. They’ll tell you what you want to hear. Toss something out there. Test and tease a nugget here and there in your blog. Zero comments may mean you have some tweaking to do. Let’s be honest. If you have zero comments, you may want to think about living in a van down by the river.
  • Get into character. I’m a different person when I write. Nobody knows that person but me. Whoever you are when you write, be that person. Put on your writing clothes, your hat, special glasses, sip hot tea, whatever you have to do to be your inner writer, become that person at the moment you sit before the keyboard and let nobody take you away from who you are at the moment.
  • If you’re a binge writer, go on a media fast before the binge. The world will distract you. It will raise your blood pressure. A few days prior, pretend newspapers, magazines, television and internet news posts don’t exist. Clear your mind. I’ve been able to do this to the point where I can literally think when I sleep. When the stars line up, my subconscious can write copy when I’m in certain stages of sleep. You may not believe that, but it’s true. And that makes for some exciting times when I take my first cup of coffee to the keyboard in the early-morning hours.
  • Don’t push yourself into a pattern. This is the anti-thesis of what many will tell you. You may be going along well on a focused chapter, then have another idea that kills. Stop, and write what just came to your mind. Stay there for hours if you must, then come back. Ideas have a way of vanishing if they aren’t written down. I regularly take 15-minute breaks just to get up and walk around, but continue to think. Inevitably I come up with two to three ideas, then I can go back to the keyboard and keep the momentum going.
  • Gauge your gut. When I write something that’s killer good, I literally tingle – and honestly, I’m not impressed with my work most of the time. But once in a while a phrase goes on paper and I’m forced to take a breath. I’m my own worst critic, so if it moves me, it will probably move a reader. Check your gut.
  • Think about Boris. Boris is the fictional character my editor uses to let me know how a reader is reacting. Boris is conservative, grumpy, overweight and set in his own ways.

When Boris grumbles, I’m losing him. If he gets up to pour a scotch rocks and comes back to read more, I’ve got him. Think about YOUR Boris.

  • Stop trying to be perfect. The copy will not be perfect on first draft. It may have grammatical issues, and may not have the perfect flow. It doesn’t matter right now. Get the ideas down. Move on. Perfect later. Injure it first, then kill it.
  • Come back later with a scalpel. Days ago you used a rusty dagger to cut out a rough form. Give yourself time, then come back with a scalpel to make your precision cuts and additions. This may be the hardest part of the entire process.
  • Reward yourself at whatever intervals you choose. Maybe at 10,000 words you go out for a steak. Do something you love for yourself. I don’t set specific intervals for rewards, but I know instinctively when I should reward myself. Walk away and go party, whatever that means to you.

Just remember, you don’t have **** until you have text.

For the previous posts in this series see:





7 thoughts on “How to Write Copy That Kills: Part 4: Write

    • It’s amazing to imagine a “Boris” sitting there reading your copy. Probably the single most significant contribution, well not really, that my editor has given me. Although it REALLY prevents me from making mistakes in style that he would otherwise have to point out later. THINK about what the READER is THINKING … and thank YOU for reading.

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