How to think about writing difficult articles especially if you’re a copywriter

By Quentin Pain

June 19, 2022


Ever had a problem and been stuck? Many of us know about speed writing, which works supremely well (and I highly recommend), but there’s a different way of doing this, used by academics for centuries, and that is to state the problem as clearly as possible at the top of a blank piece of paper, then start writing down your thoughts clearly in full sentences.

The idea is that it slows down your thoughts enough for you to make sense of them (instead of having them fly in and out and forgotten about in the chaos of unstructured minds).

But here’s the best bit ala Jean Moroney – only turn to paper if you’ve been stuck for more than a minute.

That way you’ll make the best use of your time. Try it for a week and see how you do.

With that in mind, let’s look a little more deeply at thinking.

Ever heard of the phrase ‘overthinking’? Whatever you think of it, let’s do some right now, starting with the biggest problem all copywriters face: Why do people buy?

Answer 1 (the ‘overthinking’ method): People buy for numerous reasons. If we take the most obvious – “because they need it” we start by looking at their needs (note the word ‘needs’). We do this by asking our audience or target market a sequence of questions.

For example, we might ask: “when did you last buy some gloves?” followed by “and why did you buy them?”. With that we’ll know whether they needed them or not. The trouble is, if they reply “because they match my hat and scarf and I look fantastic in them”, we divert ourselves into ‘wants’ (instead of needs).

This tells us that people don’t just buy things because they need them (whatever they may say), they buy for numerous reasons (obviously!).

Are we any clearer? Kind of. We have learned one thing though: it’s not as obvious as it seems so we’ll need to think more deeply. Eventually we may end up in a loop (or a deep depression!).

Answer 2 (no overthinking): People buy because they need something.

Let’s take a real issue to do with overthinking: procrastination. Why do we procrastinate?

Answer 1: “because we’re perfectionists” Why are we perfectionists? “Because nothing is ever the way we want it to be” Why is nothing ever the way we want it to be? “Because we’re useless” Why are we useless? ….

Answer 2: “because we’re perfectionists” – “Really! Just do it and stop faffing around.”

There’s a fine line between overthinking and not thinking at all. The only guides we have are our emotions and physical symptoms. If we get a headache, it’s a sign. If we start to feel depressed, it’s a sign. If we get agitated, it’s a sign. And so on.

Yet we’re continually told the gold is just one shovel away (as are our funnels apparently).

Do you overthink things? Has your thinking ever led directly to results – or does every success just seem like luck to you? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Here’s the definition of thinking: “the process of considering or reasoning about something”. Do other animals think, or is it just humans?

Harvard University Professor Marc Hauser is adamant every animal thinks. In fact he has solid evidence, and when you think about it, it’s obvious anyway. We’re all animals, and every animal evolves according to its needs. Thinking is how we make decisions, so it makes sense that without decisions, few animals would survive (am I overthinking this?).

Many of us believe our pets have superior thinking (and other intuitive) abilities. If you have a pet, try this Hauser inspired test: Place a mirror in front of your pet’s feeding bowl. Every time you feed your pet, pat its head (the idea is that the pet sees itself and its head because you are drawing attention to it).

After a few days of this, next time you pat its head, place some material (e.g., chalk dust) in your hand when you pat its head so it leaves a clear mark.

If your pet spots the mark and tries to remove it, congratulations, you just proved your pet is self-aware (a sign of intelligence).

So what has any of this got to do with copywriting? It’s called a lede (to use the print world’s language, or leader to bring it more up to date). The first part of the body copy of any piece of sales material is there to draw in the reader. To increase their  interest to read more. Can this be overthought? I don’t think so. It’s too important, but it’s not just us who overthink things.

Overthinking only happens when we hit an obstacle. It’s the same with all types of selling.

If a prospect starts to dither over whether to purchase or not, there’s a good chance they’ve gone into overthinking mode (and if you’re the seller, I’m sorry to say it’s your fault).

If you have an option to buy on a dedicated sales page, but you also have options to sign up for a newsletter, get a sample, or click on numerous other links, then you’re creating an overthinking opportunity for your buyer.

If your sales copy has more than one big idea and they’re not perfectly aligned, or it has more features than a meteor battered planet, then, you guessed it, your poor old prospect is going to have too much to think about.

And that, in a nutshell, is overthinking. It’s impossible to focus because there are too many distractions.

The way out (and the way to get what you want) is to create binary decisions. Turn every choice into yes or no. E.g., “should this eBook be $7 or $27?” – the answer should be NO unless you’re selling it to a crowd of Internet Marketing fans (there, I just ‘overthought’ it).

Whenever you get into a decision rut, go back one step (in the case of the eBook that back step is this: “should I sell the eBook or give it away?” (there are only two answers – A or B below):

Answer A: Sell it. Next question: $7 or $27. Just choose and sell it (the price doesn’t matter – it will sell or it won’t sell whatever you choose – and if it doesn’t, THEN go on to the next question – “e.g., should I make it cheaper?”).

Answer B: Give it away. Job done. Now create the opt in page.

As far as copywriting is concerned, we can give our buyers decisions to make, but ONLY if we keep it at a maximum of two, and ONLY if the answer is obvious (i.e., we already pre-sold them on one of the answers).

Use the one minute rule to decide whether to solve problems like this on paper. In time your whole decision making process will speed up too (think more slowly to go further by getting more done).

Quentin Pain

About the author

It took me many decades before I realised the power of writing, but once I did, I understood the real value of words. My mission is to pass on all the skills I've learnt to those seeking advancement in the copywriting industry and beyond through the ICA.

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