It’s about to get nerdy up in here!
If you’ll bear with me for a minute while I let my inner etymology nerd out, I think you’ll get a ton of value from this lesson.
For one, this essay points to the biggest difference I’ve seen between copy that falls flat, and copy that whips your audience into a frenzy and gets them reading to the end and responding…
Also, it provides a way for copywriters of ANY experience level to immediately start writing more compelling copy.
… With proof of that second point down near the bottom.
I’m going to do some dot-connecting, so hold onto your hats for this one…
Let’s start with the origins of the word inspire…
Today, our most common usage of the word inspire refers to something that moves us. An inspiring piece of art. An inspiring athletic performance. A speech or sermon that has particular fire or gusto. We get inspired by witnessing someone performing at their peak.
But what the heck does inspire mean?
Well, let’s go back to the Latin origins. Inspire comes by way of Middle English and Old French, from the Latin word inspirare. Inspirare is a combination of the in- prefix, meaning ‘into’ and the word spirare, meaning ‘breathe.’
And so in Latin, the word inspirare literally means to ‘breathe or blow into.’
Used in a religious or spiritual context, being inspired means the breath of God is blown into you.
But what the heck does this have to do with copywriting?
Well, in my essay earlier this week about Automatic Copywriting, I talked about letting your subconscious take over with the what to write next decision while writing. I talked about filling your mind with as much copywriting how-to as well as subject matter knowledge, maybe even taking some notes, then ultimately setting a timer and letting your fingers fly.
This will, in my experience, lead to far more inspired copywriting than trying to force it, or plan and plot out every word.
(I also think that a regular meditative practice, which emphasizes breathing, will help you more easily get into the state required for this. This Sunday marks my 100th-straight day of 11-minute morning mediations, pretty much first thing after I roll out of bed.)
So that’s the positive side of this, but I think it’s also important to point out the negative — because knowing what you’re moving away from is as important as knowing what you’re moving toward.
Here’s what I’ve observed…
Novice and uptight copywriters fail to write inspired copy because they hold their breath when writing copy…
Not literally. But figuratively.
I especially notice this amongst freelancers. (In fact, in a moment I’ll point you toward a resource on inspired copywriting, including many examples that came from people who were NOT trained copywriters.)
What do I mean?
Well, very early on in our careers as copywriters, we fear failure. This applies doubly if we’re writing for others, triply if our work will be subject to peer review.
We don’t want others to trash our writing. Our ego — and seemingly, our career — is at stake.
We are afraid that if we write one thing wrong, that’s the end. That we’ll have to go back to digging ditches, or bagging groceries, or slinging newspapers, or whatever the heck we were doing before we discovered this copywriting thing.
And so we dot every i, and cross every t. We follow the rules, and try to adhere to the tactics and techniques we read in the classic copywriting books Roy said we should read.
And the result?
Totally uninteresting, boring copy that does a great job of touting the product’s benefits, but does not inspire action.
And here’s the most sinister part. Peer reviews by writers who are truly our peers in these early years only reinforce this same uninspired approach! Because everyone else is basing their decisions on “How well does this copy follow the rules I was taught?”… Nobody stops to ask, “But does it inspire me?”
Now here’s the thing. This isn’t the sole domain of novices who are still trying to break into the field. There are many pro copywriters who have years or decades of experience — who shall remain nameless! — that suffer from this same affliction.
They’re too busy trying to have their copy look good, to follow all the rules and adhere to formula, to actually write something that inspires the reader.
The best news you’ve heard all day? Copywriters of ANY skill level (including entrepreneurs who’ve never written copy professionally) can write highly-inspiring copy!
Here’s the thing. I’ve found that it can take years for a copywriter to overcome this challenge, writing for others. Especially if you’re bouncing between clients.
That said, I also think it can happen in an instant — when you start to care more about the message and the customer than you do about you and your reputation.
And, in fact, clients will appreciate this more inspiring copy, too.
If they actually buy into the idea that their marketing should have personality (some marketers don’t — because they’re dumb and apparently don’t want to run more effective marketing)…
They’ll like the personality coming through in your writing better. And, so will their customers. So it will make them more sales and profits. Which they’ll like. And which will improve your reputation and confidence.
The secret? Well, I’ve already shared it.
You have to stop caring about protecting your carefully-manufactured ego and image of yourself. And instead, care more about the message and the customer.
Denny Hatch wrote a great book about this, that most marketers don’t have, but all would benefit from. It’s called Method Marketing.
I only found it when in 2008 I thought it would be a great idea to write a book by this title. Only to discover that it had already been written by a well-respected direct marketer! Frankly, it more than deserves its spot as one of my Top 10 Best Copywriting Books, even though it’s not well known and most people wouldn’t put it on theirs. (And even though I would have rather have been the author.)
One of the most interesting things about that book? That Denny is able to profile equally-inspiring copy from both novice and pro copywriters alike. Because Denny wasn’t just trying to put together a compilation of A-list copywriters’ work. Rather, because he wanted to look for work where the writer clearly entered the conversation in the customer’s head, just like a good method actor enters the conversation in their character’s head. (Method acting is the namesake of the book, if you didn’t catch that.)
This can happen at any skill level. When you get it, you’ve got it. And you write directly to the customer, with a message that resonates.
It’s no longer about you, and it’s certainly not about demonstrating your copywriting skill or creativity. It’s about conveying a message in an inspiring way — a way that will have impact and inspire action.
If this unlocks any X-factor that I can pinpoint, it’s this…
Once the copy you write is no longer about writing “good” copy by any textbook definition, or proving your skills as a copywriter…
Once the copy is about communicating with inspiration, and for impact…
Your true voice comes out. Your stories. Your quirks. Your complexities and contradictions. Your thoughts and beliefs — even those that aren’t so mainstream. Everything that makes you uniquely YOU.
And guess what? That’s far more interesting than some sterilized version of you that you show the world because that’s what your ego is convinced they will accept. Even if people don’t agree with you 100%, they’re far more likely to buy from you if they feel you’re showing the real you.
So… This is your permission to be interesting. Be strange. Be excited. Be funny. Be confident. Be timid. Be offbeat. Be a little dogmatic. Be YOU.
Whatever YOU are, be that to the fullest in what you write.
And yes, you can let your writing style be informed by lots of other things, including direct marketing best practices. But if you have the right message, to the right audience, communicated with clarity and in an inspired way…
It will inspire your audience, have impact, get response, and it might… Just might… Create a breakthrough for you!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,