• Books
  • Boredom is the cure for boring email copy

     

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    It sounds counter-intuitive, but if your email copy and stories are boring, and you have a lack of ideas, it means it’s time for you to seek out boredom.

    To come up with ideas I always have to step away from the computer and disengage my mind by going for a walk, running an errand, taking a shower, sweeping the floor, or some other task that doesn’t require much in the way of thought. In doing so I come home full of things to write about.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this Albert Einstein quote:

    Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

    Of course I’d love to think that if Einstein was alive today he would instead say social media diverts the mind too much, not reading. I love books and often feel restless if I go too long without reading. I have made a decision, however, to read fewer books and reread my favorite books. To ensure that I read fewer books I am trying an experiment where I don’t read any library books and instead buy the books I want to read. Then I will either resell them or put them in a local Free Little Library if I don’t want to keep the book. This forces me to be more deliberate in what I read and retain more of what I read. It also makes it easier for me to seek out boredom if I don’t have a huge stack of books by my bed.

    Cal Newport advocates taking a break from focus rather than from distraction. This means you have scheduled blocks of offline and online time.He also is an advocate of batching (doing deep work in scheduled blocks of time). I highly recommend you read the chapter called Embrace Boredom in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

    Remember, when all else fails, get bored.

     

     

     

    Image Source/Corbis

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  • Email Copywriting
  • How to write email copy if you aren’t creative

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    A reader asks:

    Amid all of you experts in email marketing, how do you think I can differentiate myself as I’m not really that creative as a writer 🙂 …my experience is more in finance/accounting and enjoy using software such as Excel…any thoughts would be appreciated thanks

    It’s a trap all of us who write copy fall into from time to time: “But I’m not creative!”

    If you like using Excel, that is actually an advantage. I like to use Excel too and enjoy the challenge of using well-designed charts to tell a story in as few words as possible. Excel is also a way to keep track of email topic ideas and map out a series of emails.

    You can use those analytic skills to set you apart from other email marketers. Here are my recommendations:

    Use the computer as little as possible to write your copy. It’s when you are in front of a screen that “I’m not creative!” kicks in all too often.

    Instead, go for walks. Record your thoughts with the voice memo on your smartphone as you get ideas.

    Indulge in people-watching and people-listening as much as possible. Sit in a coffee shop or on a park bench and simply watch and listen. What are people talking about? What are they doing? Write down these observations. These are seeds that you will turn into emails.

    Then, when you are at your computer to write emails, you are basically just taking dictation as you go through your notes and write down the words from your voice memos. By all means, use Excel to organize these thoughts and topics. Go ahead and even write the email drafts in Excel if you want to.

    It boils down to this: do the brainstorming and coming up with ideas when you are away from the computer and the left-brained organizing and structuring of the emails when in front of the computer.

    Writing email copy is a craft and as an analytic person you already have the skills to approach it as a craft, so you are more ahead of the game than you think.

  • Books
  • The comic strip approach to email copywriting

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    Creating comic strips resembles email copywriting in certain ways. If you write email copy you can learn a lot from your favorite cartoonists.

    For starters, like a cartoonist, you must create on a daily basis and work under deadline pressure if you write for clients.

    Sometimes a comic strip is a single gag and other times there is a running story line for several strips. With email copy it’s best to mix it up in this way too (although usually without gags, alas).

    Therefore I’m always drawn to interviews with and articles about cartoonists.

    I recently discovered a 37 page interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, in the book Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue. You can probably find it at your local library.

    It’s one of the only interviews with Watterson, who is something of a recluse. He ended the strip 20 years ago yet it endures in popularity even though he doesn’t do a thing to promote it. I read it in one sitting and savored every word.

    Here is something he said in the interview that resonates:

    Richard Thompson…said he likes to work with small things he notices and his example was “gravel in the street.” That might be a little too small, but I agree with him. Daily minutiae are not actually trivial. It’s a wonderful thing to draw your attention to tiny little moments and small episodes. There can be something simple, grounded, and true when you observe those generally unnoticed small things. I tend to like that scale. Whenever I go to a computer-animated movie, I think, “Oh, please, not another quest.” You know, must we always journey to discover ourselves, find home, and save Christmas?

    I love the unpretentiousness of cartoons. If you sat down and wrote a two hundred page book called My Big Thoughts on Life, no one would read it. But if you stick those same thoughts in a comic strip and wrap them in a little joke that takes five seconds to read, now you’re talking to millions. Any writer would kill for that kind of audience. What a gift.

    Indeed. Those daily details and small episodes are critical components of email copy. The “journey story,” not so much, that is for the about page or sales page. The “gravel in the street” components of the journey story are appropriate for the email copy, however.

    My current favorite comic strip is Bloom County, which Berkeley Breathed resurrected on Facebook in 2015. Without the deadline pressure of a newspaper his creativity is free to flourish once again. He publishes 3-4 strips per week and it’s well worth following his Facebook page for these gems.

    Scott Adams of Dilbert is my other favorite. I’ve listened to his podcast interview with Tim Ferriss a couple of times and it’s one I know I’ll continue to revisit. He gives writing tips and explains his philosophy of humor, among many other things.

    I also like Frazz and Pearls Before Swine. Even Garfield can get a smile out of me sometimes even though that strip isn’t as good as it was back in the 1980s. Garfield Minus Garfield is more fun.

    If you read comics, what are your favorites?
    _____
    If you don’t like Calvin & Hobbes, then you won’t care for lesson #18 in my A Year of Email Copywriting Course. And lesson 12 will be especially soporific because I analyze the storytelling structure of comics and apply it to copywriting. Oh well. Can’t please everybody.

    If you like books, please check out my book reviews.

  • Email Copywriting
  • Is there a “we” in your email copy?

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    Last Sunday, even if you don’t like golf, you probably heard about Jordan Spieth’s collapse during the final round of the Masters.

    He was leading by five shots halfway through the final round. He had a spectacular front nine. Then after two bogeys he got a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole. “Buddy, it seems like we’re collapsing,” he said to his caddie.

    And that’s the thing with Jordan. He always uses the pronoun “we” when talking about his golf game.

    “Of course we’re going to fight back. There’s no give up in us. We tried but it was just one bad swing.”

    “I’m confident in the way we play golf. When we’re on I believe we’re the best in the world.”

    Sure, you could dismiss it as false humility, but I think it’s the case that golf at this level is now a team sport these days, and he fully recognizes and appreciates that.

    Copywriting is similar to golf in that it appears like it’s an individual sport but in reality you need to view it as a team sport.

    Do you ever say, “We wrote a great email series?”

    It can be hard to do if you’re a freelancer, or if you have your own business and write your own copy, but it’s a perspective shift that makes it possible to write better copy.

    It’s important to develop a team, and by team I mean more than Facebook groups, a mentor, and masterminds.

    I devote a lesson to this in A Year of Email Copywriting.

    The more voices your team has, the stronger your own voice will be.

  • Books
  • “You need to ask smaller questions”

    With every turn of the page of Humans of New York: Stories I was reminded of that saying “Be kind; everyone is fighting a great battle.” The micro stories that accompany each photo are fascinating. And must reading for anyone who is a writer.

    My favorite photos are the “microfashion” ones of toddlers in adorable attire.

    My favorite story might be the one on page 326:

    “I’m a neuroscience researcher.”
    “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

    “Listen to your inner voice.”

    “You’re a scientist. Isn’t ‘inner voice’ a spiritual term?”

    “Bullshit! You’ll hear scientists talking about following their inner voice as much as you’d hear a musician or priest.”

    “So how do you know which of your thoughts are your true inner voice?”

    “All of them are! The question is – how much weight do you give them? How much authority do you give your own thoughts? Are you taking them seriously? Or are you sitting in front of the damn tube letting other people tell you what to think?”

    “Studying the brain is like working in a toy store. Nothing could be more fucking fun.”

    “What do you think is the greatest weakness of the brain?”

    “That’s a lousy question! I’m not answering it.”

    “Why is it a lousy question?”

    “What do you want me to say? Road rage? That we get pissed and shoot people? That the newest parts of our brain should have been in the oven a little longer? How’s that going to help you? If you ask a crappy question, you’ll never get a decent answer. You need to ask smaller questions – questions that give you a pathway to finding some pertinent information. The major advances in brain science don’t come from asking crappy questions like, “What is consciousness?” They come from microanalysis. They come from discovering pertinent information at the cellular level.”

  • Books
  • On becoming a “dedicated spirit,” falling in love with a work, and the marriage of marriages

    David Whyte is my favorite poet because he also understands the corporate and business world and brings his poetry into business workshops. In his book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship he describes how we have the ability to fall in love with another person, a work, and even ourselves.

    On becoming a dedicated spirit:

    “…we reach a certain threshold where our freedom to choose seems to disappear and is replaced by an understanding that we were made for the world in a very particular way and that this way of being is at bottom nonnegotiable. Like the mountain or the sky, it just is. […]The only question is whether you will respond, whether you will not turn away, whether you will turn toward it – whether, in effect, you will become a dedicated spirit.”
    We put so much emphasis on finding our calling or vocation when in reality our work often finds us:
    To glimpse our vocation, we must learn how to be sought out and found by a work as much as we strive to identify it ourselves. We must make ourselves findable by being seen; to do that we must hazard ourselves and make ourselves available to the world we want to enter. Finding and being found is like a mutual falling in love. To have a possibility of happiness we must at the beginning fall in love at least a little with our work. We can choose a work on a mere strategic, financial basis, but then we should not expect profound future happiness as a result.”
    He uses Robert Louis Stevenson as an example in the marriage section of the book, which is the only downside of the book, as Stevenson doesn’t interest me much. But Whyte’s insights on marriage are well worth reading:
    “Marriage is where we realize the other person actually is alive and has notions and desires that have very little to do with our own hopes and dreams. Marriage is where we have to be larger than the self who irst made the vows. Marriage is where we learn self-knowledge; were we realize that arts of our own makeup are stranger even than the stranger we have married and very dificult for another person to live with…Marriage is where al of these dificult revelations can consign us to imprisonment or help us become larger, more generous, more amusing, more animated participants in the human drama.”
    I really enjoyed his use of Jane Austen as a example of how to write even if you have less than ideal conditions for writing. If you are a writer Whyte pretty much eliminates any possible excuse you have for not writing:

    The greatest, most prized excuse for a writer is the lament over our lack of time in which to write. It is a false and paper-thin defense against another more difficult, underlying dynamic: The inability to have the will to find the time. It is quite sobering to find with experience that if we write only a hundred words a day – a normal paragraph – we will have a book of ninety thousands words in three years. Three years is about the average time for a good prolific writer to produce a new work, given that the first year is often spent not writing at all, the second year telling ourselves that we must write, and the third in a gradually increasing frenzy building up to perhaps three or four thousands words a day.

    The sober truth is that any of us can find the time to write a book, no matter the schedule of unstoppable events in our life. Finding the part of us that wants to write the book is a different matter altogether.

    Indeed.

    Finally, I appreciate how he looks at the work/life/relationship balance in a different and more nuanced way. The “marriage of marriages” as he calls it:

    “…the need to live in multiple contexts, multiple layers and with multiple people all at the same time without choosing between them. A kind of spiritual and imaginative multitasking.”

     

     

  • Email Copywriting
  • Why an email is like a mustard seed

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    As Seth Godin likes to remind us, small is the new big.

    Jesus had the idea first:

    “The kingdom is like a mustard seed that a person planted in his field. It’s the tiniest of all the seeds, but when it matures it’s the largest of the garden plants and becomes a tree.”

    A mustard seed is so tiny you could easily overlook it.

    Yet Jesus chose this as an image for describing a kingdom

    Email is easy to overlook too.

    Sales letters and VSLs get so much attention.

    But a single email and blog post, sent one by one, builds rapport and trust, and yields more fruit than a sales letter.

    In thinking of my own freelance email copywriting experience, I recall two times I wrote an unsolicited email for free for two prospective clients, who then went on to hire me for many projects.

    There was the time I left a comment on a John Carlton blog post, buried way near the bottom of 100+ comments, yet a few years later a prospective client came across it and hired me for a project.

    Those little seeds add up.

    If you were looking for an image for your own business, a mustard seed might not be the thing that would immediately come to mind.

    But it’s those tiny mustard seeds that will entirely transform your business.

    If you’d like 52 of my mustard seeds, you’re invited to my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

  • Humor Columns
  • You’re not my friend if you don’t repost this

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    Yes, I write humor columns too. This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 10, 2016.

    In all my years on Facebook, I’ve never posted one of those chain Facebook statuses. But who am I to pass up an opportunity to be slightly passive aggressive? It’s time to get off my high horse and come up with some posts. Here goes:

    Please put this as your status if you, or a middle-aged woman you know, have worn makeup in a desperate attempt to look more youthful, only for your face to break out like a teenager’s in return. This is not the type of youthful look you wanted. There is still no known cure for this cruelest of ironies. Many won’t copy and paste this. I did. Will you?

    Unfriend me if I’m wrong. But all of us have a thousand wishes. To be thinner, to have more money, more days off or maybe just to scroll through our Facebook feed and not see political posts. Office workers everywhere have only one wish: to not freeze at our desks every working day of the year and never again here the dismissive words “Just put on a sweater.” Wearing cardigans in mid-July sucks! I know that 97 percent of you won’t broadcast this, but my friends will be the 3 percent that do.

    I don’t normally do this kind of status update, but this one seemed too important to ignore: After all these years of being online, too many videos still auto-play when you bring up a web page, as if this was 1990s Internet. If you, too, have been the victim of an assault of unwelcome audio when browsing the Internet in the middle of the night during a fit of insomnia, or while attempting to surreptitiously check your phone during a boring lecture or meeting, then copy and paste into your status and leave it there for one hour.

    On April 1, 2016, Facebook will change your privacy settings and will own all the media you have ever posted, such as your pet videos and vacation photos, and even including your daily memories status updates from five years ago that nobody wants to read again. To stop this from happening go to Settings > Emotional State > Paranoia > Off.

    Send this column to 10 people in the next 10 minutes or next time I will become even more passive aggressive and start vaguebooking, which I can’t go into right now, because I haven’t felt like this in a while, but I’ll post more information soon.

     

  • Humor Columns
  • Let them eat bread (or gluten-free air)

    Because lately we keep hearing how healthy foods like salad make us fat (why don’t they just come out and say that even air is high in carbs?), I have to hand it to Oprah. She recently lost 26 pounds while eating bread every day. It’s no surprise the Weight Watchers stock soared after she said the equivalent of “Let them eat bread!”

    I could also make the case that bread makes me lose weight. The avoidance of bread, that is. But talking about my own gluten-free diet would cause stock to crash, not soar. Even Ted Cruz spoke derisively about the gluten-free diet the other day, saying he wouldn’t make gluten-free meals available to the military.

    It was being on a leprosy medication a few months ago that drove me to my current diet. I had a terrible, blistering rash caused by accidental gluten ingestion. For some reason, leprosy medication is the treatment for it.

    Unfortunately, the rash attacked my face, making me look constantly embarrassed. which, technically, I was. Another downside is this also made me appear as if I was had just come back from exercising at the gym, which, technically was accurate, I guess, as the Prednisone I was also on made me run around as if I was constantly working out.

    After that ordeal, I changed my diet to go beyond gluten-free, which it has been for many years due to celiac disease, and is now also anti-inflammatory. It even includes things like putting grass-fed butter in tea, which a normal person would find scary. I’m now that annoying person who when going out with a group usually can’t eat much of anything, especially at a potluck.

    I realized things were perhaps a bit out of control when I got all excited over a frozen desert that was pitched on the “Shark Tank” show. The entrepreneurs recited a lengthy list of ingredients not in the dessert (no gluten, sugar, nuts, dairy, etc.). The investors were unimpressed with the taste and no offers were made. But that didn’t deter me. “A food that has nothing in it!” I exclaimed to the family members in the room. “I have to order it!”

    I’ve looked longingly for this product on the shelves of the local grocery stores but to no avail. It seems Monona and Madison stores are committed to selling me food that isn’t made out of nothing and has actual ingredients in it. Go figure. Oh well. At least air is gluten-free.

    This Humor Me column of mine originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 3, 2016.

  • Books
  • On parallel careers and creating your life list

    Being multi-dimensional is the key to happiness according to Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life. This book is packed with helpful tips on how to reevaluate your work in the second half of life, particularly if you are a knowledge worker.

    A second successful second half of life includes:

    Developing a second career.

    Having parallel careers. These are something that didn’t previously exist in your life and are noncompetitive with your main career. They can morph into a second career or post-retirement career. They give you a window into other worlds and don’t necessarily give you an income. Of course these should not turn into the shadow careers Steven Pressfield warns against.

    Social entrepreneurship and volunteer work.

    There is an exercise called a Total Life List that is central to the book. It’s a private, ongoing exercise that involves creating a list of:

    1. Immediate family (current and future)
    2. Extended family (current and future)
    3. Closer work colleagues (people you interact with most often in the workplace)
    4. Friends (current and future goals)
    5. People in your various professional networks (current and future goals)
    6. Various places of current employment and (briefly) what your work entails (current and future goals)
    7. Professional affiliations and associations (current and future goals)
    8. Ongoing learning activities (current and future goals)
    9. Teaching (if any)(current and future goals)
    10. Volunteer activities (current and future goals)
    11. Work with nonprofit organizations, or social entrepreneurship (current and future goals)
    12. Mentoring (current and future goals)
    13. Outside interests of all types, including areas such as sports leagues, amateur interest societies, religious/spiritual activities or study, book groups, or creative areas such as writing, art, or playing music (current and future goals)
    14. Exercise and other mind-body activities (current and future goals)

    If, like me, you have never read any of Peter Drucker’s 40 books, then this book is a good place to start because it is a synthesis of his main teachings.