To Master Copywriting, Use a Mentor - Here's
by Marcia Yudkin
In the last few years, I've had a number of people apply to my copywriting program whose work samples showed the same weakness - formulaic writing. Their work showed signs of having adopted many of the trappings of good persuasive copy - headlines, subheads, emotional appeals, call to action, etc. - but the writing did not flow convincingly. Worse, the content was often wildly mismatched with the psychology and motivations of the target audience.
After asking a few questions, I learned that all these applicants had graduated from a popular beginning copywriting course. In inquiring about my mentoring program, they realized that something was awry with their work, but they didn't know what. They also lacked confidence about their writing.
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The course in question is a very good one, as far as it goes. But because it includes very little feedback from an experienced copywriter, the students gained knowledge but not the ability to apply that knowledge.
Copywriting is a complex skill. And if you think about it, most highly complex skills are best learned through substantial feedback from someone who is an experienced, skillful practitioner. This is why we don't allow medical school graduates to practice until they have satisfactorily finished an internship and residency. It's why law firms have new law school graduates who have passed the bar work under someone more experienced for several years. It's why most well-known musicians and actors had teachers and attended master classes.
A copywriting mentor helps the budding copywriter bridge the gap between formulas and how/when to apply the formulas, through guided practice and detailed feedback.
With a mentor, the copywriting student can learn to recognize his or her mistakes and shore up his or her weak points. These are idiosyncratic. For instance, one student tends to favor abstract words while another one goes overboard with metaphors and colorful language. Yet another struggles with the proper prepositions or getting paragraphs to flow.
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A good mentor spots the weaknesses, communicates them to the student, explains how to remedy the problems and reinforces these teaching points until they stick.
An important part of my work with many of my copywriting students involves guiding them to trust their instincts. When I point out something they apparently missed, they often say, "I thought of that!" And I reply, "And what did you do with that thought?" They just ignored it. By the end of the course, they are confidently paying attention to such valuable inklings. This is the beginning of expertise.
Finally, a good mentor teaches how to think through what a particular client or copywriting assignment or target audience needs. Through guidance and practice, the student learns how to get started on a project, how to ask for the information needed without putting the client or themselves into overload, how to sift through a mess of information and use it to best advantage.
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Through a well-structured mentorship program with someone who knows how to teach (not every skilled practitioner can), beginners start out formulaic and finish with a voice of their own. They can move ahead with confidence, knowing how to apply the principles of good copy intelligently and artfully. Those mentored finish well on their way to mastery.
Copyright 2009 Marcia Yudkin.
All rights reserved.
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