How to Write Better Sales Copy, Faster

Dear Business-Builder,

You could write faster.

Scratch that:  You SHOULD write faster.  Especially your first few drafts. 

Because the quicker you get a solid first draft into your greedy clutches, the more time you’ll have to get to draft #21.

You know; the draft that actually makes your copy good.

Plus, as a general rule, the faster you write, the more money you make.  Write twice as fast; make double the money.

Simple — right?

So are you ready to get greasy-fast?

Secrets of Lickedy-Splittedness

I’ve been called many things during nearly four decades in this biz.  “Prolific” and “The fastest writer alive” are probably the only two I can mention in polite mixed company.

So if you’ve ever felt like the Earth cooled in less time than it takes you to crank out a respectable first draft, listen up:  I’m going to give you some things I do to tear through the process in less time than it takes a Democrat to jack up your taxes.

Here are six little tricks that help me a lot …

The first is compartmentalization.  See, writing an out-of-the-park grand slam; your career-making, signature promotion is not a single act.  It’s a process consisting of many steps, hundreds of actions and thousands of tiny decisions: 

  • Thinking about who your prospect is and why he needs your product …
  • Creating your attention-getting and engagement strategy — your theme, headline and opening strategy …
  • Researching your product, your competitors’ products and their promotions …
  • Organizing your attack; determining the order in which you’ll lead the prospect through your reasons why he should buy …
  • Pouring the appropriate research, notes and ideas into each section of your outline …
  • Writing your first rough draft…
  • Polishing it into a complete first draft…
  • Buffing and meticulously detailing each succeeding draft until you realize that you couldn’t improve it if someone held a gun to your head — and that every new change you consider not only doesn’t help; it actually weakens the copy.
  • Sticking a fork in it because it’s done.

Now, if you’re not willing to do that kind of exhaustive work to create a winning promotion, take my advice:  Quit now.  Lazy people get their heads handed to them in this business.  I hear there are plenty of correspondence courses for wanna-be plumbers online.

If, on the other hand, you delight in the idea of creating something that brings value to consumers’ lives, helps build companies, creates jobs, and helps families put their kids through college …

And if the idea of getting paid quite handsomely for this tremendous contribution to humanity …

Then, my friend … you’ve got a problem.

Because if you have a lick of common sense, you’re going to feel overwhelmed as you contemplate the journey ahead and all the steps you’ll have to complete in order to perfect the project at hand.

That’s OK — it just means you’re in touch with reality.  But you’re going to have to get past “overwhelmed” and to work; the quicker, the better.  And the only way I know to do that is to mentally chop the job into little, tiny, manageable pieces.

I do NOT have to write a promotion today.  All I have to do is the research.  Or part of the research.  Or part of one of the other steps that will ultimately lead me to direct response Nirvana.

Thinking about the work this way does more than just relieve your anxiety.  It blows all that procrastination you’re usually guilty of at the beginning of each project right out of the water.  You’ll get to work faster.

The second trick is something my pal Rich Schefren calls “Getting Into a Flow State.”  Ever have a day when you sit down to work and next thing you know it’s time for dinner … you have to force yourself to stop … and when you reflect on the day, you’re blown away by the quantity — and more importantly, the quality — of what you accomplished in a single day?

That, my friend, is the flow state Rich is talking about.  And getting into this kind of flow state is my goal every time I sit down at my desk. 

Because the fact is, flow states equal money.  Because the more flow states you experience during each project, the faster the project goes and the better your work output will be.

The thing is, though, flow states don’t “just happen.”  They’re kind of like hummingbirds:  They’ll show up naturally if you’ll just create an environment that attracts them. 

For me, that means a light dinner and a good night’s sleep.  An enclosed work space.  No interruptions (no phone; “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door).  No distractions (no people to watch, no iPod, no TV in the background).  And every tool I need to do today’s job readily at hand.

That’s just me.  You’ll have to figure out what works for you.

The third trick is something I do on every job — and that “Legendary Gary” Bencivenga told me he does, too:  Constantly visualize success.  I know; how Norman Vincent Peale of me.  Right?  What could possibly be more hackneyed than to dust off the decades-old concept of “positive thinking?”

Thing is, like all laws that survive the test of time, positive thinking works. 

Gary is a kind of “get to the point” guy, so he visualizes the casual stroll to the mailbox that results in the discovery of a six-figure royalty check inside. 

I’m less driven by money than by ego — and scootie-pootie — so my fantasy is the phone call I’ll get from an amazed client when he sees my copy for the first time … the call telling me he had to put on three shifts to handle the orders … and, of course, all the great cuddling I’ll get when The Redhead sees the royalty deposit on the bank statement.

Whatever your motivation, try keeping it in mind as you write.

The fourth trick is to “Know thyself.”  Once you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ll come to recognize that this isn’t just an intellectual exercise but an emotional one. 

You may feel overwhelmed at the beginning.  Discouraged when a solution doesn’t come fast enough.  Your inferiority complex will kick into overdrive when you see how others have done it. 

You’ll feel excited when you hit upon a new idea.  Increasingly proud as you read and re-read each draft and polish it to a high sheen.  And, frankly, thrilled beyond words when you’re finally done and the damn thing is off your desk.

Heck.  I could almost draw an emotional map that predicts how I’ll feel tomorrow, based entirely on where I am in a project and what I’ll be working on.

The thing is, feelings are more intense than thoughts.  So they can have a way of blanking your mind and freezing you like a biker who just spotted a grizzly in his headlights. 

It helped me when I learned that 99.9% of all negative emotions are not caused by objective truth.  And therefore, the vast majority of all bad feelings are baloney.

Because anxiety, stress, intimidation, depression and all the rest are caused as we filter facts about events or our current situation through beliefs we have about ourselves (“I’m a phony”) … others (“People don’t like me”) … and the world around us (“I’ll never be as successful as Carline”).

Of course, those beliefs are dumb.  And so are the negative emotions they produce.

So when I experience a negative emotion while I’m working, I pause for a moment … ask myself, “What thought zipped through my mind — probably unrecognized — just before I got bummed out?”

Then, after realizing how ridiculously wrong that thought was, I can almost instantly dismiss the negative emotion and dive back into the work.

Try it; it works.

Fifth Trick:  Screw the rules!  See, you’ve learned too many of them.  And frankly, they’re getting in the way.  So forget ‘em.  Consciously, at least.

Instead, focus on your prospect and be a salesman in print.  Think, “If I was in a room with my best prospect and needed to get his attention, engage him, present the reasons why he should buy and close the sale — what would I say to him?”

Then, let the conversation flow naturally out the ends of your fingers, to the keyboard and into your document.

Sometimes, I even close my eyes while I’m typing.  I say this.  He thinks — or says that.  I respond this way.  He reacts that way.

There’ll be plenty of time in later drafts to think about which rules you broke or didn’t follow.  This draft is about speed.  About following your best persuasive instincts.

Trick #6:  Do some bedtime reading.  Let your last act each day be to read what you’ve written that day.  File it away in your subconscious mind. 

And go to work the minute you wake up in the morning so the connections your brain made overnight find their way onto the page.

Do these six thing religiously on your next project and you’ll be amazed how much more quickly it goes and how much easier writing feels.

I promise.

Hope this helps …

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

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10 Responses to How to Write Better Sales Copy, Faster

  1. Pam Magnuson says:

    Thanks!! This is excellent, Clayton. The part about the positive thinking is so important. It may have been around a long time, but it’s still true and still works. (That’s why it’s been around a long time.)


  2. Geoff Carter says:


    Your clarity of expression coupled with those
    little nuggets of humor are truly delightful.

    Do you know… if you carry on like this, you
    could be on TV… Hmmm! Please stick with the
    day job.

    A million thanks.


  3. John Forde says:

    Great advice as always, C.

    Here’s a question for you, while I have the “top of the comments” slot: How do you know when you’re done researching and ready to write?

    I ask because it’s a question I get all the time, and I can only reply with something vague about a gut feeling that the “pig of proof” is choking at the trough.

    Even then, I end up throwing away at least as many pages of proof as I keep in the final draft, simply because what goes in feels stronger or more original than what I dump.

    But high risk is always there of falling in love with all the stats, the studies, the charts, and the rest… until you’ve over-provided. I’d love to find some more tangible way to describe the saturation point for others who ask me.

    And maybe, occasionally, to remind myself that I’ve already reached it.

    John F.

  4. Mister P says:

    Very good Clayton!

    Excellent Tips to streamline my day…

    Especially like the flow thing!

  5. SPOT ON!

    In 1989, I took on a project of maintaining, updating, and improving the reference manual for my employer’s version of the Unix computer operating system. The last edition I worked on in 1992, after expanding and improving it into what I think was the best manual of its kind in the industry, it was a 3000-page, 3-volume tome.

    But I never looked at it as a 3000-page manual. It was a collection of 1453 little manuals of 1 to 30 pages or so, each. And I wrote a computer program that pulled each of those files from a source-code-control repository and built the entire printed and online versions in a few minutes, including typesetting files.

    Producing 3000 pages of camera-ready art took less than 4 hours. The job took 30 hours per week without breaking a sweat. But when the job was relocated in the company, it took 10 engineers to replace me because they didn’t use the
    principles you lay out in your excellent treatise.

    I used the same tactics in building online help systems for nearly 7 years. Top quality content with high usability. I could keep up with 22 staff engineers writing the software, working less than an average of 4 hours per day. But when I left, it took 3 full-time people to do the same job.

    As I was reading your narrative, I found myself looking back at those years and discovering anew — you hit it dead-on. Those are principles that actually ***WORK***.

    And anyone can do it. The secret is in how you think.

    When asked how I could do so much, I always said, “The key to personal productivity is aggressive personal laziness. Allow me to explain: Never do anything the hard way if you can find an easier way to do it *better*.”

    They still didn’t get it. :-(

    Another productivity no-brainer: If you don’t touch type at least 50 words per minute, take some time and LEARN. I clocked myself a few days ago at 77. Jack (John) Forde says he can hit over 90. It’s one of the biggest productivity enhancers I know of.

    When I’m acutally writing, I probably run closer to 60-65 wpm. And I do a bit of editing as I go (fixing typos). I don’t use Word and I don’t use spell-check. I use the Unix “Vi” (actually the newer “vim” editor) that is available for PCs. I wrote most of “The Ultimate Guide TO The Vi and Ex Text Editors” manual still available on Amazon. Vim’s a real barn burner if you want just straight text without the garbage of Word, et al. Again, it’s about productivity.

    I use it to write CSS and XHTML web pages from scratch.

    And everything else I write when I can.

    I use Ubuntu Linux, but Vim is available for PC Windows, and I presume also Apple/Mac.


  6. james says:


    Great insights.

    I just realized that everything must start the mind first before its physical appearance.

    This aspect of visualizing success is critical.

    If you can’t see your copy being a winner in your mind then it is unlikely it will.

    You simply can’t get what you don’t believe in.

    Thanks for reminding us this Clayton.

    James Abugah

  7. Sid says:

    Hey Clayton,

    You must be reading our minds. Everything you said in this latest post SCREAMS Credibility … as usual.


  8. Eric says:

    I love how honest you are in admitting that ego drives you.

    All of us should dig down and take a hard, nonjudgmental look at what makes us tick. No use beating yourself up over your “flaws”. Turn them into positives.

    Tapping into your personal motivators is one of the best ways to get something accomplished.

  9. Syed says:

    I am a complete newbie to copywriting, but interested in learning it.

    I had read an advice somewhere to just copy word-by-word the sales copies of world famous masters. keep doing this and you will automatically improve your writing style by subconsciously picking up finer details from the writings of these masters.

    Is this a good advice and has anyone tried it out when they started to learn copywriting? I want Clayton’s advice on this.

  10. AY says:


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