A Conversation with
the Legendary Copywriter
Gary Bencivenga
Part 5 of 6

Dear Business-Builder,

Wendy here with another piece of the interview Clayton did with Gary Bencivenga.

Today they both reveal their secret for writing blockbuster copy.  (Hint:  Knowing your craft and your marketplace is only part of the equation for success.)

If you follow their advice, you’ll be practically invincible. 

So without further delay, let’s get back to that interview …


Like you, I imagine, I always have an incentive in my compensation agreement where the better I do for the client, the more money I could make myself. I really want a very strong likelihood of long-term success with it. Assuming all of those factors are positive, the next step I would take is to envision a blockbuster success. As I said before, every achievement begins in the mind before it manifests itself in the material world, so I would envision a great success.

In my mind, I would hear my client calling me in two months saying, “Gary, you did it again. This is unbelievable. The phones are ringing off the hook. The postal trucks are lining up, bringing these bags of orders in. Oh man, the next time you’re in town you have to let me take you to dinner.” I would envision the entire phone call with a thrilled client absolutely jumping up and down with how thrilled he was that I wrote the package and how the responses are just pouring in, burying his mailroom with checks and orders.

I would see this whole vision in my mind. I would taste the celebratory dinner that I was going to experience with my wife, Pauline, to celebrate this latest triumph. Your subconscious mind wants to manifest the images you place before it with great emotion. So indulge your fantasy about success.

See the accomplishment in the rehearsal studio of your own mind. Tell your subconscious, “This is what I like to experience, help me do it!” So if you start celebrating before you’ve even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, just getting that very exciting vision of how you’re going to experience success, it frees up tremendous subconscious resources for you to achieve that success and very effortlessly also.

You’re effortlessly teaching your mind what’s going to be happening. Your subconscious mind, as Maxwell Maltz taught in Psycho-Cybernetics, is a goal-striving mechanism. When you give your subconscious a target that you want to hit, it will pull into itself and eventually share with your conscious mind all kinds of resources that you never knew you had within you to make that happen.

This is the goal that you’re telling your subconscious mind that will be enjoyed and experienced in a month or two, six months, or whatever your time schedule is for completing the job and having it tested. This is what’s going to happen. Most writers don’t go through any preliminary stage like this. There are lots of ways to do it, but whatever methodology or ritual you have for doing this, the key is envisioning the success even before it unfolds. That very process helps the steps unfold and you want to make it very vivid to your senses because that will make it real to your subconscious mind.

You want to feel the emotion especially. You just want to close your eyes and feel how great it’s going to feel that you’ve chalked up another big winner and that the word is getting around in the industry that “Wow, this guy is almost unbeatable. Almost everything we’ve given him, he hits a homerun for us. He’s unbelievable.” You just fantasize about all of these things. You combine that with your knowledge of the craft that you’ve accumulated throughout the years and you combine that with the specialized knowledge of the marketplace. If you combine those three things, I can guarantee you’ll almost be invincible.

How can anybody else beat you when you have all that going for you? We’re not like athletes where, mentally, they reach the peak of their knowledge just at the very time when their physical skills are going into decline. The quarterback at age 35 knows so much more than the young rookie about how to read a defense and how to craftily send a receiver downfield for a touchdown pass. His mind is so much further ahead and educated than a rookie quarterback just out of college. Unfortunately for people who earn livings from physical skills, their physical skills deteriorate at the very time when their mental powers are at their peak.

In copywriting that doesn’t happen. We need to always build on our knowledge base. Over time you must build these three key areas of knowledge.

First the knowledge of what works in direct marketing, your knowledge of the craft.

Second, your knowledge of a given marketplace – whether it’s health or finance or chiropractic, or whatever interests you or wherever you’re getting your current work from.

And third, the knowledge of how to unleash the competitive and great instincts that you have within you that you don’t even know about. It’s the 90% of your mind that you don’t normally use. Once you unlock that 90%, if you add that to the mix of knowing your craft and market, you will be virtually invincible in whatever you chose to do.


That’s wonderful.


I’m sure, Clayton, that I’m not telling you anything you don’t know because when I look at words that you write for your clients, there’s no way I want to tangle with that stuff. I’m sure there are a lot of other copywriters who feel the same way.


That’s very kind. Psycho-Cybernetics is one of my favorite reads.


You’ve never told me that, but in a way I knew it. I knew it because you couldn’t produce at such a high level without the tailwind from your subconscious mind. You’re at an emotional level when you write. And that can only be achieved through your subconscious mind, which is, in effect, channeling the desires, hopes and dreams of a lot of other subconscious minds. It’s only when your subconscious mind is engaged that way that you can produce work of the compelling power that I see you produce. Not having ever known that about you, I knew that you must have been somehow harnessing your subconscious mind in a way that most copywriters don’t.


I have my entire life. I think part of the process for me too is envisioning early in the process the client being completely blown away by the first draft. Understanding the purpose of the first draft is to have a second draft and a third. The purpose of the final draft is to accomplish all of the other things – career growth and the out-of-the park homerun and all of that.

I also spend time thinking about under-promising and over-delivering to the clients as well as the longer effects. I’ve also found that one of the little ideas in Psycho-Cybernetics that’s extremely valuable in terms of allowing your subconscious to work, is getting away from the work in one way or another. Napping, for example.


That’s very true. That’s when your subconscious gets the chance to connect with the conscious as Gene Schwartz put it. He used to talk about that all the time in his methodology where he would put himself in front of his typewriter or computer and not put any pressure on himself to do anything. He used a little time clock and he would punch in 33 minutes, 33 seconds on it, just so he wouldn’t have to punch in more than one button on his timer. And every 33 minutes and 33 seconds he would get up and go for a stretch and when he came back for his next 33 minutes and 33 seconds, somehow the answers were ready for him. To relieve the stress and pressure of having to write great copy, Schwartz had only one requirement. He had to stay in his chair for the entire 33 minutes. He didn’t have to work on the copy if he didn’t want to, but he didn’t allow himself to work on anything else or to answer the phone or to read the mail.

That’s the same process. You have to get away from it so the subconscious can give you the answer it’s just dying to give you but can’t because your conscious mind is so rigidly trying to force the issue. So when you open those channels by napping or getting away from it, the subconscious at that point can whisper the answer in your ear and it just bubbles right up to the conscious mind.


I wrote the Health & Healing launch package in one day by a swimming pool in Huntington Beach and I did it just that way. I wrote for an hour and I swam for an hour. I wrote for an hour and I swam for an hour. By the end of the day I had a complete first draft.


Isn’t that amazing? Oh, Gene Schwartz, in recommending that very methodology, said that’s how Mozart used to compose his concertos and symphonies. It’s obvious, of course, that Mozart was a genius, but people were amazed at the process he used. He would play billiards – I think billiards is what they called it then. And Gene Schwartz said that Mozart would hit the billiard ball with his pool cue and then write some notes. It was an activity that got his conscious mind off of what he was working on and then by the time he went back to the music notation, the next phrases were all right there, he didn’t consciously have
to think about it.


How many hours a day would you write? Is there a hard and fast rule?


It’s hard and fast. I always believed that if I can get three hours of quiet time, I can achieve anything in the morning. And those three hours includes researching. In the research phase – once I’ve agreed to take something on – I’ll devote about 40% of my time on the project to research, maybe 40% to writing the first draft, and then 20% for polishing and rewriting after that.

I love to write. I guess I’ve had an aptitude from an early age. And once you get successful at something, you really feel like you have the aptitude to do it. I really do like the writing process. Winston Churchill said that he hated writing but loved having written. A lot of people are that way; they hate the process of writing. But I enjoy it.

Once you get into a rhythm and a groove, as I’m sure you have over the years for approaching your assignments, it’s not that hard. If you do enough research, the writing comes fairly easily.

To answer your question, I would usually like to do three hours in the morning, and I still try to do that. I still get a little antsy if I don’t. I wake up and get three hours in on something, like a major project that I want to work on.

Those early morning hours are, to me, the most productive time, especially if you can harness in the subconscious before you go to bed. You just go to bed reading something over and posing a question you’d like to have solved by the morning. Your subconscious mind tends to millions of cellular and biological transactions every night. You’re breathing and swallowing and goodness knows what else, literally millions of other activities. It’s nothing to give you a headline by the morning if you just say, “I’d like a good headline on this in the morning. I’ve just read it over and I have no idea, so you come up with it. You’re the power behind whatever my conscious mind does, so give me a good headline or ten or twenty in the morning and I’ll just be ready with my notepad.” And that’s pretty much what happens.

I know Dan Kennedy has said that’s how he is so productive. He’ll tell his mind what he wants to have written when he wakes up in the morning and it all flows out like a computer dump. It’s not like you’re sleeping fitfully – it’s totally subconscious. If you let too much time go by, however, if you don’t get to your writing until the afternoon, you might have lost it. That’s why I like to do my writing first thing in the morning because my mental computer’s been running all night with whatever I wanted to write about and it just pours out almost word for word.


Absolutely. It’s amazing because I do the same thing.


Do you really? Wow.


Years ago I got into the habit of going to bed very early around eight o’clock and getting up at four in the morning when there would be no sounds in the house, no distractions, no phones ringing and be able to just totally engage in the work without interruption for several hours.


Yeah that’s what I like. I still wake up naturally, no alarm clock. I wake up with the morning light and sometimes I wake up 4:30 or 5:00. We’re on the east coast out in the Hamptons – the sun comes over the ocean really early.

I used to stay up late. I used to do very well being a night owl but Pauline wakes up really early. She bolts out of bed at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. When she does, I find it hard getting back to sleep so I had to get in sync with her rhythm. And once I did, I found it much more productive for me to wake up at that time anyway, using the night as a time when I just sleep soundly and let my mind review whatever it’s reviewing to give me my answers in the morning.

Early in the morning too, as you say, there’s no phone ringing. But you’ve got to train yourself not to get into your e-mails and see what’s happening. There are so many things that tug at your attention. Try to get into the discipline of – and I’m saying this obviously for your listeners or readers who don’t do this, because I know you must already do it – training yourself to focus on one major task at that precious, most productive time of the day.

That’s really the 10% of the day that’ll give you 80% of your results. So you should really save it for that most important assignment that you’re working on at that moment. Then the rest of the day will be phone calls and e-mails and meetings and things that come up or people coming to the door. You know a million things that distract you, but at least you will feel very productive for that day because you’ve logged your two to three hours first thing in the morning, and you’ve got something to show for that day. And if you could do that pretty much every day, it’s amazing how much you’ll write, how much you’ll produce.


I also find that the work we do on each package is easily divided into two camps: 1) the creative work; and 2) the detail-oriented work. And quite often they require two very different aptitudes. I’ll tend to focus on creative issues very early in the morning. Then, when I feel my creative energy flagging, I move to more detail-oriented tasks such as research and other things like that.


I couldn’t agree with you more, Clayton. In my mind the tasks break down the same way. I like to reserve the really tough problems for that high energy period in the morning. And I find they usually get worked out right away. But you have to have that focus, that clarity – almost like a still lake – to follow the thread of a new creative line of thought. And then there’ll be many parts of a package that are just much more mundane things, but are just as important in the long run because you need the foundation for the brilliant, creative idea that leads off the package.

I call that “grinding out the yardage.” Instead of a beautiful Hail Mary pass that covers 70 yards at once – which I toss in the morning – this is just three feet and a cloud of dust … three feet and another cloud of dust. For the rest of the day it’s a series of small gains. It’s just grinding out the yardage, reading the stuff that’s got to be read, capturing a little bullet from this paragraph and the next one and the next one after that. It’s rote mechanical work and it’s time consuming, but it’s got to be done. But if you put those two halves together, that’s where the power is.

Watch for Part 6 Next Week.

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Clayton Makepeace Signature
Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor

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5 Responses to A Conversation with
the Legendary Copywriter
Gary Bencivenga
Part 5 of 6

  1. Cathy Sutter says:

    Clayton –
    I’m thinking that you and I are on the same wavelength since this segment is exactly what I needed to read.  I have Maxwell Maltz’s book just lying on my dresser.  Hate to admit it…I’ve had it for awhile but have only read a few pages.   Now this is a gentle reminder to read and apply the knowledge. 

    I’m a long-time believer in the power of the subconscious mind.  Just the kick in the pants that I needed.  Thanks so much for this one!

    –Cathy  :)

  2. Dave Weber says:

    We are like the Carpenter who never learned to use his tools correctly, our most important one is us yet we fail to fully understand our complex human equation and how it really works,
    when we do we will be a lot better off.

    Thanks for this it was terrific.


  3. James Nailen-Smith says:

    I have known about the power of the subconcious mind since I was about 8 years old but it is strange how we forget to use it. I have always been a believer after my father, (God rest his soul), gave me some advice when I wanted to learn more about the worlds different countries for a school geography project. He bought me a book with all the information that I needed and told me to read a couple of pages evrynight as I was going to sleep. I would read the same 2 pages over and over, eventually closing my eyes and almost reciting the information. Then I would fall asleep and have total recall the next day.

    I ended up being able to list the capital of any country asked, plus that country’s population, its capital’s population, chief import, chief export, currency and local attractions. Part 5 is a reminder of exactly what we can achieve when we set our mind to it and when we do not forget what we have learned in the past. Keep up the brilliant work.


  4. Reading this was like adding another ruby to my crown. It makes persistent in the paper chase. 

  5. Phil says:

    I’m printing this stuff out and keeping it in my most important folder

    thanks again

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