I don’t know how many times I have said that to copywriters when I look at their final drafts. Maybe 100 times. Probably more.
I get to see a lot of first drafts and final drafts. People ask for my feedback. And in 90% of cases I say, “The opening is weak.”
A very few copywriters write terrific leads or openings. Most do a mediocre job. Some copywriters, while doing a great job on every other aspect of a sales message, write a horrible first few sentences.
This is a problem, because if your first few sentences are weak, most of your readers will toss your sales letter or hit the back button before they even get to the good stuff.
So why does this happen? Why do copywriters have so much trouble with those first few sentences?
I tackled this issue, in part, in a recent post about rehearsing your copy before you attempt the final draft.
I’m writing about it again today not only because I think the topic is important, but also because I recently read something that helps make the same point from a different perspective.
In the preface to his book, Fooled by Randomness, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes:
“The rules while writing the first edition of this book had been to avoid discussing (a) anything that I did not either personally witness on the topic or develop independently, and (b) anything that I have not distilled well enough to be able to write on the subject with only the slightest effort.”
It’s (b) that really interests me.
Great copywriting, to my mind, is marked by the sense that the copywriter wrote it “with only the slightest effort”. It flows simply and clearly. The truth of it feels self-evident.
The absence of this kind of natural flow is almost always the result of not having distilled the information and your argument well enough.
In other words, most copywriters begin writing before they are ready. They are still distilling the information in their minds when they write their final draft. In fact, they are using the process of writing to drive the process of distillation.
This is why the first few paragraphs of so much copy are weak when compared to the paragraphs that follow. The act of writing has helped the writer better distill his or her thoughts.
Of course, what the copywriter should do is then toss that entire draft and start again. But too many copywriters are either too lazy to do this, or lack the insight to recognize the flaws in what they have written, or the reasons for those flaws.
Mr. Taleb is absolutely right. You need to work for long enough and think deeply enough about everything you put into your writing, so that the final draft can be transferred from your mind to the page with only the slightest effort.
Do that, and you’ll no longer have weak openings, or weak parts anywhere.
About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach. Read more…