Lesson 8: How to write your guarantee—and everything else
All about writing with candor
If you find writing copy hard and boring, Sam will probably find reading it hard and boring too.
Fortunately, while writing is usually challenging and tiring, if you do it correctly — rather than how you were taught in school — it is also enjoyable and stimulating.
And that rubs off on Sam too.
So what you’re going to learn today is actually how to make writing relatively easy and fun — and, almost as a by-product, how to make it effective as well.
You won’t learn this in “standard” writing textbooks, like Zinsser’s On Writing Well or Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. Those may be technically well-written, and they’re brilliant if you want to hone your overall writing ability (I own them both, along with many others). But quite honestly, I wouldn’t read them until I was already proficient at writing. If you’re looking for advice on how to write useful, practical, business-building copy...frankly they’re useless.
This is simply because the kind of writing that helps you communicate better, that helps Sam feel good about you, that helps you stand out among the pack of mediocre wannabes, and that ultimately explains why Sam should buy from you, does not rely on rules of grammar, good vocabulary, or any “book-learned” academic knowledge of how English works.
It simply doesn’t.
In fact, in many cases, good grammar, good vocabulary, and especially academic knowledge will ruin effective writing by making it muddy, gutless and impotent.
If you want to write with clarity and candor, you need to forget what you were taught in school, you need to ignore how other marketers write, you need to stop trying to internalize the affected style you see on websites and in emails — and you need to instead follow just one exceedingly simple method.
I’ma make it real big for you so you don’t miss it, okay?
Write like you talk.
That’s it. But don’t worry. It’s harder than it sounds. Which is why I will reiterate the key ideas from this lesson in many ways over the coming weeks, tying them into each of the four Cs.
By now, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of why this is so important — why you must write like you talk: Sam doesn’t build relationships with websites or companies. He prefers not to buy from websites and companies. He builds relationships with, and buys from, people.
(You are people, right?)
Which is why hyped highlighter sales pages, for example, don’t really work well. There’s no personal connection, because it doesn’t read like anything a person would say — or certainly not a person you’d want to build a relationship with.
The same goes for verbose, puffed-up “corporatese.” You know the type:
“We are a leading manufacturer of world-class manually-operated medical perambulation devices for persons with lower-body musculature impediments.”
No one talks like that — and if they did we’d assume there was something wrong with them. Normal people would say, “We make quality wheelchairs for people who can’t walk.”
Again, no relationship, no sale.
And this is why many companies fail at email too. They say email doesn’t work; their open and click rates are abysmal — which would be fine if their sales rates were high...but they’re not. They actually make you want to cover your mouth and avert your eyes.
It’s not because email sucks. It’s because their writing sucks. Often they’re simply afraid to write in a way that will work, because they think it’s “unprofessional” or “too casual” and that it will reflect badly on them.
Well, in my opinion it’s unprofessional, and reflects badly on you, when you write stuff that turns off your ideal customers!
So you see that writing like you talk is critical for all copy. What you’re going to start learning and practicing in this lesson will be the foundation for everything you ever write, as long as you live.
Why writing like you talk doesn’t come naturally
Honestly, you are going to struggle with this at first. Some people pick it up fast, and others take longer. But there is always an initial hurdle, and you need to be prepared for that.
This is because writing conversationally has been systematically trained out of you by an education system that produces metric buttloads of bureaucrats, lawyers, corporate marketers, and anyone else you’d care to name who can’t put two words together that “normal people” can relate to.
So you’ll likely fail to start with.
But don’t be discouraged. All this means is that you have to make a shift in your thinking before it will click for you.
You have to get out of “Writing Mode.”
The more self-conscious you are about communicating, the worse you tend to do it.
For instance, every single one of us is perfectly comfortable talking to our friends about something that interests us. We do it every day without giving it so much as a thought. In fact, talking comes completely naturally to us from a very young age — it’s so basic that even thinking about teaching it in school seems absurd. The only people who need lessons in talking are people with disabilities.
Yet if we get up in front of 500 strangers and try to talk to them about exactly the same things we routinely chat about with our friends, most of us completely fall apart.
Why does this happen?
It’s not because our subject matter has changed.
And it’s not because we have inherent trouble with communicating it.
The reason is actually that we become focused on the process of communication. In front of a bunch of strangers we become self-conscious, we feel pressured, and our lizard brain stops cooperating. So instead of just letting that natural, automatic process of communication happen, we try to manually help it along.
What actually happens is, it gets choked.
Exactly the same thing takes place when you self-consciously sit down to write something. You turn communication from an automatic, natural act to a manual, unnatural one. And so it becomes hard and frustrating.
Indeed, from a very young age writing is something we struggle with. We are conditioned to think of it as something hard — something requiring strict rules and methods if we’re ever to achieve an even rudimentary level of ability.
Think about this:
Even though we’re taught to write all the way through school, most adults are incapable of competently stringing two words together on paper.
When people self-consciously think about having to “write,” they implicitly jump the rails from automatic, easy communication to manual, hard communication.
Enough ranting and backstory. What’s the solution? Simple:
Stop thinking about writing, and instead focus on telling
The way to do this is to stop thinking about how your sentences look, and start focusing on how they sound.
You want to get out of the mindset that you are performing a task which is difficult, technical, complex, or in any way different to the task you’d have if you simply sat down with a friend and talked to him about what it is you’re wanting to say.
So the solution is to focus on the process of talking rather than writing.
The best writers are the ones who simply tell. They write as if the words were spilling onto the page from a real conversation. This makes them easy to read — because most people read with an internal monologue. When you write conversationally, your reader can hear your words flow.
Thus, the best way to get started is not to write at all — but to speak.
This might sound strange, but I am not being metaphorical or whimsical. So let’s talk about practical exercises...
I don’t suggest working on your guarantee today. Rather, pick a topic from the ones you identified in yesterday’s homework. It doesn’t matter what it is, provided you’re knowledgeable and passionate about it. That way, you start practicing writing with something you really care about, rather than something that’s comparatively dull, like a guarantee.
(Don’t worry; I will give you a “guarantee blueprint” in the next lesson, with an exercise for writing a tight, strong guarantee for your sales page.)
Right now, focus on something you really care about...
Record yourself speaking on the topic you’ve chosen. Simply explain something about it. It doesn’t have to be long — a few minutes will do. Ideally, do it as a conversation with a friend you trust (maybe the same friend who mocked you yesterday). This will help you avoid a lot of the self-consciousness that comes when you try to record yourself talking to the air.
Play back your recording and just listen to what you say. Take notes. How do your sentences sound? How often do you break the rules of formal grammar? I bet it’s all the time. So forget formal grammar. What patterns do you notice? Turns of phrase?
Transcribe the recording and spend some time cutting out anything you think is unnecessary. Then start looking for places where you say something that in retrospect sounds gitty. Figure out what you wish you’d said, and say that instead. Write like you talk — but with the benefit of hindsight to choose your words.
Once you’re happy that you’ve cut out anything unnecessary, and that you’ve fixed anything that didn’t sound quite right, spend some time making sure the sentences and paragraphs all follow each other logically. Often you can improve a piece simply by moving some blocks of text around to make the flow of reasoning easier to follow.
Once you’ve done all this, you should have a fairly decent piece of copy written. (Again, the topic is not important.) Now read it back to yourself, out loud. How does it sound? Don’t be discouraged if it isn’t high art. It doesn’t need to be. It just needs to sound like you.