Why so many writers get it wrong

Image courtesy of Ryan Houck

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” in which he says that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. That’s almost five years of solid eight-hour work days, no vacation, no coffee breaks, no time off.

So, if you take what Gladwell says as a rule of thumb, it’s no wonder many would-be writers, aka, anyone whose job title is anything other than “copywriter,” struggle to meet today’s demands to continually produce original blog content, web content, email programs and the like. Every business person I meet can tell an eloquent story about their business, but when it comes to sitting in front of a blank computer screen trying to figure out what to write, that’s another matter.

Consider this. I’ve been a copywriter for more than 20 years. Let’s say that, during this time, I’ve worked 40 weeks a year, approximately 30 hours a week–a wild underestimate. That means I’ve spent, very conservatively, 24,000 hours doing this job (it’s actually a lot more). More than double Gladwell’s golden standard. This is not to say that I’m better than you. It is to say that I’ve honed my craft. So, while I’m sure you can write, and you may write very well, there’s a lot you’re likely to overlook. It’s not your fault. It simply hasn’t been part of your job description so why should anyone expect you to be an expert, any more than they’d expect me to be an expert at putting out oil rig fires?

There’s a lot more to copywriting than putting words on a page. That’s actually the easy part.

The tricky parts are many. Constructing the argument, as we direct response copywriters call it, is one. Which hook do you use right up front to gain your readers’ attention and their approval (which they give by continuing to read)? Which support point do you raise when, and in which order? What makes a good offer? How much do you sell the offer? And, most importantly, what’s the emotional hook? Everything you write MUST have it, because people act on emotions, even in business. The list goes on. And on.

The important point is this. Successful copywriting doesn’t just happen. Meeting sales goals via the written word doesn’t happen by accident. A lead-generating email program doesn’t just write itself. Sure, some people luck into success at writing these assignments, just as love at first sight actually does happen in real life. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.