Monday, 9:38 PM
I don't remember if I ever mentioned this before…
I had the good fortune of working side by side with master copywriter and marketer, Gary Halbert, for almost a year and a half.
We were actually roommates for about six or seven months. He shared my house in Costa Rica for about three months. And when I moved back to the states I lived in his "client apartment" a few floors down from his apartment in Miami.
Brief Side Track & Marketing Lesson…
No, I'm not losing my mind. I realize I've mentioned my experience with Gary Halbert at least a hundred times on this blog. If you've been with me for a while now, you probably already know the story.
But I keep re-telling it for the benefit of any new readers… and to make sure you don't forget about it either.
See, when you're telling your story, either in a newsletter, blog post or sales copy, always give the reader your ENTIRE story. Don't take it for granted they already know it. In most cases, they don't… even the ones who SHOULD know it weren't paying attention the first dozen times and need a reminder.
I've been subscribing to Dan Kennedy's newsletter since the mid 90's, purchased most of his products and attended a whole slew of his seminars. I lost count of how many times I've heard his "cat that licked stamps" story.
Heck, I can probably tell Dan's story as well as him by now.
Tell your entire story… every time.
OK, where were we?
Oh, yeah… mentoring with the Prince of Print.
Halbert had a unique method of teaching.
At least when I was mentoring with him this is how he did it. Scott "Mongo" Haines said Gary did the same thing with him, too.
Halbert never sat me down and said, “Okay, Dan, this happened and this is why it happened, and this is what to do if it happens in the future.”
No, not really.
Gary just let me observe his life and allowed me to figure this stuff out on my own.
One of the first things I learned was…
The Gary Halbert Method
For Breakthrough Ideas…
Back in late 2003 and early 2004 Halbert had a lot of client work and talked me into moving back to the U.S. to work on copy with him in Miami.
He would act like a drill instructor and say stuff like, “All right, tomorrow we’ve got a full day. You need to be up at my apartment at 8 a.m. because we’ve got a full day, and I don’t know when we’re going to be done. Just count on being there the entire day and maybe most of the evening.”
Of course, I'd be all fired up looking forward to a marathon copywriting session with the master.
How exciting! Working with the Prince of Print… nose to the grindstone from 8 AM to midnight… working our little fingers to the bone writing copy like crazy!
My only concern was that Halbert would be cracking the whip so hard I might not have time to grab some lunch or something.
That turned out NOT to be the case at all.
Here's what usually happened:
I’d show up at his apartment at 8:00 AM ready to work and it was obvious I just woke him up. He was still in sleepy head mode and would say, “Let’s go downstairs and get something to eat.”
Halbert lived in a cool building. They had a restaurant and a little shop downstairs, so we’d go downstairs and get something to eat and some coffee. That would burn up at least an hour.
Then Gary would decide we needed to go run some errands or pick up some part for his boat… or some kind of menial thing I thought should be delegated to an assistant or "lesser mortal" as Halbert was fond of saying.
Our errands would eat up at least two hours.
So we burned up at least three hours of our "whip-cracking" marathon copywriting session and hadn't even written a single word.
When we finally got back to his apartment, Gary would look at the pile of work sitting on his table and say, “Let’s go out on the boat for awhile.”
So we’d go out on the boat… and fritter away the entire day.
This was the routine… day after day.
I enjoyed it, of course. It was a blast hanging with Halbert.
We had just gotten a bunch of work from this client… along with a rather hefty five-figure check in advance… but after about the third or fourth day of goofing off I started thinking we weren't really being productive or accomplishing anything.
I was almost going to say something to him… like “Gary, we should really be working,” but I thought, “Well, he’s the master so I’ll just follow his lead.”
After several days of doing nothing productive (or so I thought), after pulling the boat into dock, Halbert says, “You know what, let’s go back upstairs.”
We go back upstairs, and he says nothing. He just throws the yellow notepad in front of me, sits down with his yellow notepad… and we both start to write.
He uttered not a single word, writing away feverishly.
One thing about working with Halbert… he almost always insisted you write your copy by hand on a yellow legal pad. It didn’t matter if you preferred to type it… that’s not what he wanted. You had to write it out by hand… because that's how Sir Gary of Halbert did it.
Back to our story…
Halbert wrote non-stop… deeply engrossed in what he was writing… and he finished the ad in about an hour.
It was a Halbert masterpiece, complete with a killer hook and copy that sucked you into the story and practically FORCED you to read it start to finish.
I got to thinking about the days and days of goofing off we did and thought to myself, “I get it now!”
What I thought was goofing off was actually part of Gary's process of creating killer copy. He was letting all that information he had read and piled up on the table "percolate" in his subconscious.
What I finally realized was this…
Halbert was doing things he enjoyed that relaxed him so his mind was free to work on the mountain of information he had to digest to create world class copy.
When we were out on the boat or running errands we never really talked about writing copy or anything related to marketing.
In fact, it was kinda like…
A Seinfeld Episode With Gary Halbert!
A show about nothing, remember?
Same with Halbert. We talked about nothing important… never marketing stuff.
See, Gary had to do things which freed his mind so his subconscious could come up with the big idea… the "hook."
Sure, after we read all the research material we could have sat down and banged out some semi-decent copy. Any decent copywriter can do that.
But Gary was waiting for the big idea to hit him… and that is what happened while we were out on the boat after all those days of "goofing off."
I’ll be honest with you… that was a hard lesson for me to learn.
See, I come from a work ethic that says, “Okay, we’ve got a job. We need to sit down and crank this thing out, forcing and slugging it out if we have to. FORCE the copy out and do it now!”
See, I live in the real world. And here, there are deadlines, mortgages to be paid, food that needs to be put on the table… and all that other non-fun adult stuff we have to do.
So you have no choice… you HAVE to bang out the copy. Sometimes it's necessary.
Necessary… but not ideal.
On the other hand, what you create after allowing yourself the time to "goof off for breakthrough ideas" is usually your best work.
When you're goofing off, your subconscious can chew on the information and come up with much better ideas than you normally would if you just sat down and tried to slog through it.
John Carlton calls it "circling the desk".
I don't think Halbert had a term for it. I like calling it "goofing off for breakthrough ideas"… or… let's see… I think I can come up with something better than that.
I know! How about…
"The Lazy Man's Way To Copywriting Riches!"
Yeah… I kinda like that.
That's how I prefer to write copy. The lazy man's way.
But there have been times my back was against the wall and I had to crank out some copy quickly, without the benefit of goofing off for breakthrough ideas.
It felt like swimming through wet concrete.
There have also been times (like recently with one of my new clients) where I was allowed the time needed to use the lazy man's way to copywriting riches.
And THAT'S when it's fun!
The copy just seems to flow… almost effortlessly.
You're in a zone, observing your hand move across the page… or the words appearing on screen… almost magically.
You're aware your hands are moving and creating these words… but it feels like someone else is doing the work and you're just observing it happen.
It's almost like you're a marionette or something. Wild stuff!
You're no longer the creator… you're just an observer in the creation process that seems to be happening without any effort on your part.
I admit… it doesn't happen often for me… but when it does, the result is usually something exceptional.
Here's an idea…
If you feel like you've been beating your head up against the wall trying to write some copy… or trying to solve some problems you've been working on without success, try this:
This evening, read everything you've got on hand related to your copy job or problem. Speed read it if you know how to do that. Completely load up your brain with the raw materials and research stuff, swipe files, stuff that inspires you, etc.
Then tomorrow, don't do ANYTHING related to that project. In fact, don't even turn your computer on and don't read anything else related to your project.
Spend the entire day goofing off, only doing stuff you find fun.
Don't read or listen to ANYTHING business related.
Instead, take your spouse and kids to the park, go see a funny movie, go hear a good live band, take a long walk… just do fun stuff only and don't even try to think about business stuff.
You might need to do this several days in a row… but don't worry… it's going to pay off. Your breakthrough idea is coming. You just need to let it happen.
You can't FORCE it to happen. You just have to let go and allow it to happen. And it will come to you at the strangest moment… usually when you're totally absorbed in something totally unrelated to your problem or project.
When you're completely absorbed in something else and your breakthrough idea hits you, THEN you can go back to work.
One more thing…
You should probably keep a pen and paper or digital recorder with you to capture that big idea when it finally hits you.
I like what Dan Kennedy says…
"Ideas are like slippery little fish.
They get away easily… unless you spear them with a pencil."
And that's no B.S.