100 Writing Tips Pulled From the Greatest Writers in History
Lessons from 10 of history's most prolific and impactful writers
My fellow insurgents,
Get ready to meet some seriously amazing writers from the past, and to learn from them. In 100 tips, we're going to look at what it takes to become one of the greats.
Some will disagree with who I've chosen as the 10 best. After all, how can any list of the best writers not include Shakespeare? Joyce? Woolf? Cervantes? Austin?
Simply put, I'm not interested in impressing critics or academics. I'm interested in those writers whose work can still, in 2023, capture the public's imagination and make you feel something.
Setting The Scene
Imagine, if you will, you're approaching a wall in a dimly lit room. Storage boxes abound. Thankfully, you know what you're looking for. You see a small photo hanging on the wall. Beside it, a light switch. You flick the lights off and move the photo, revealing an old bootlegger's peep hole.
You look through it and see these the most shocking gathering of writers you've ever seen. They're just sitting around, sharing drinks and talking shop. But you know that you've struck gold.
Before you is none other than Ernest Hemingway (1), the most ruthlessly direct and concise writer the English language has perhaps ever known.
Seated before him is David Ogilvy (2), the advertising executive who mastered the art of saying incredibly profound truths in just a handful of carefully selected words.
Beside him is living author E.L. James (3), whose mastery of pulp fiction enticed men and women of all ages to publicly embrace reading and discussing erotica.
Across from her is Stephen King (4), perhaps the most widely read living author of our times. Surely he has something to say about keeping the reader hooked and turning pages.
Beside him is legendary sales copywriter Dan S. Kennedy (5), who has done more to professionalize the field of direct response copywriting than anyone on the planet.
He's debating furiously with Phyllis Robinson (6), who became the world's first female Copy Chief when she joined DDB in 1949.
Listening intently to the two of them is Claude C. Hopkins (7), the author and so-called father of Scientific Advertising. Claude's dedication to the scientific method helped make him one of the wealthiest writers of all time.
Seated politely beside him is a floppy professor type, with wild hair, wild eyes, and but near perfect manners. I speak, of course, of Kurt Vonnegut (8), one of several success authors who got their start as a copywriter.
Seated before him is an odd looking fellow called Theodor Seuss Geisel (9), but you immediately recognize him by his preferred name, Dr. Seuss. He's counting the number of arguments happening at the table all at once, and creating a rhyme about it.
Finally, you notice Mary Wells Lawrence (10), the first female CEO of an ad agency and the founder of Wells Rich Greene. Somehow fitting in with this crowd of misfits, she casually throws out pearls of wisdom that someone should really be writing down.
In fact, you remember the notebook you brought with you for this very purpose. As you listen, you begin to write down what they're saying.
Mary Wells Lawrence
I first discovered Mary's work when I stumbled across her autobiography in a bookstore, My Big Life In Advertising. I was young and waiting for a bus to take me to Toronto for a new job at a new agency.
Her book opened my eyes to what a big deal advertising could be, if only we were more daring.
100. Create and Innovate
Unlike some of the writers in the room, Mary didn't believe in formulas. In fact, if anything about a concept reminded her of something she'd seen before, that was a major mark against it.
Mary embraced creativity and being willing to experiment with unique and fresh ideas to capture the public's attention.
99. Focus on the Consumer
Mary knew that effective advertising was driven by understanding the customer. Surveys and focus groups would never do. You need to understand the target audience and their needs so deeply that you can tailor your message to resonate with them on an emotional level.
98. Keep It Simple and Clear
Keep the messaging clear and straightforward. A concise and compelling message is more likely to be remembered and understood.
97. Make Your Taglines Memoralble
Create taglines that are memorable and capture the essence of the brand or product. Mary's "I ♥ NY" campaign is a prime example. People are still riffing on that tagline today, long after they've forgotten who wrote it or why.
96. Tell Emotional Stories
Use storytelling to evoke emotions and create connections with the audience. Relatable stories can leave a lasting impact.
95. Use Bold and Impactful Visuals
Visuals play a crucial role. Don't just pick any old pictures. Choose images or graphics that enhance the message and make a strong visual impression. The purpose of the visuals is to get the audience to pay attention to the message.
94. Give Your Brand a Personality
Understand the brand's personality and voice. Ensure that your writing aligns with the brand's identity and values.
93. Be Consistent
Maintain consistency across different advertising channels and campaigns to strengthen brand recognition.
92. Test and Measure
Continuously test the effectiveness of your advertisements and be open to making adjustments based on the results. Nothing us too precious to be edited out.
91. Break the Norms
Don't be afraid to challenge conventions and break away from traditional approaches. Being daring and innovative can set your work apart.
One of MWL's most impactful campaign was for Braniff Airlines, where she remodeled the planes and the staff uniforms under the message: "The End of the Plain Plane." There was no playbook for this. She just made it happen.
Before becoming a renowned children's author, did you know that Dr. Seuss worked in the advertising industry?
He began his advertising career in the 1920s and continued through the 1930s. His work in advertising allowed him to develop his artistic skills and creativity, which later helped to shape his unique writing and illustration style.
One of his notable advertising campaigns was for the insecticide, Flit. The campaign featured the slogan "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" and showcased his early talent for creating catchy phrases and eye-catching visuals. The advertisements were successful and made the brand and its catchphrase quite popular at the time.
During his advertising career, Dr. Seuss also worked for other companies, such as Standard Oil and Essomarine. He contributed illustrations to their advertisements, incorporating his signature whimsical and imaginative style.
While Dr. Seuss found some success in advertising, he ultimately decided to focus on his passion for creating children's books. His transition from advertising to writing and illustrating children's books was marked by a chance encounter on a ship in 1936. During the journey, he entertained himself by making up a story in verse, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," which he later turned into his first published children's book in 1937.
Dr. Seuss's background in advertising and his experience in crafting catchy slogans and engaging visuals led directly to the commercial success of his children's books. He knew how to capture the attention of his audience and make his stories and characters unforgettable. Throughout his career, he continued to incorporate moral lessons and social commentary into his children's books, which further added depth to his work.
90. Rhymes Are Memorable
Dr. Seuss was a master of playful rhymes. Grown-ass adults can still complete the sentence: "One fish, two fish..."
Experiment with different words and sounds to create a whimsical and musical flow to your writing. Invent new words if needed to fit your rhymes. (It worked for Snoop Dogg, too.)
89. Embrace Simplicity
Keep your language simple and easy to understand. According to The Conference Board of Canada, 48% of Canadian adults have "inadequate literacy skills". We scored a C overall. (Notably, only Japan scored an A. Five countries scored a B.)
Dr. Seuss wrote for children, but his language was so straightforward and accessible that it appealed to adults, too.
88. Create Unique Characters
Dream up quirky, imaginative, and memorable characters with distinctive traits and appearances. Think of anthropomorphic animals or fantastical beings like the Cat in the Hat or the Grinch.
This was a favourite technique of Leo Burnett, who was No. 11 on my list and had to be cut from this article. Burnett created Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, and the Malboro Man, to name a few.
87. Use Vivid Imagery
Paint vivid and colorful pictures with your words. Dr. Seuss's books are known for their imaginative and surreal illustrations. Try to convey that sense of wonder with your descriptions.
86. Repeat Yourself
Dr. Seuss often used repetition to add a rhythmic quality to his writing. Try repeating phrases or sentences to make your writing more engaging and fun to read aloud.
85. Stick to a Theme
Most of Dr. Seuss's books carried a meaningful message or theme. Decide on a clear and uplifting message you want to convey through your story or poem.
In advertising, this is even more important. You should have a singular and clear message to convey.
84. Don't Be Afraid to Moralize
Though Dr. Seuss's stories were entertaining, they often included valuable life lessons. These lessons resonated with people young and old.
When writing an ad or some sales copy, rather than just talking about benefits, consider framing your product in a larger moral context. If your product is good for the environment, for example, talk about the importance of caring for the world around us.
83. Play with Typography
Dr. Seuss was known for his creative use of typography to highlight certain words or phrases.
This is where thingsget tricky for most ad writers. When you leave the visuals entirely to a designer, you lose the opportunity to see how the shape of your words impacts the message you're conveying. Experiment with different font styles, sizes, and layouts to add visual interest to your writing, even if a designer is going to change all of that. It gives them an idea of how they can play with your words too.
82. Inventive Names
Dr. Seuss was famous for his imaginative wordplay in naming his characters and places. Consider creating whimsical names for your products or for select features of your products.
81. Embrace Nonsense
Your lawyers may feel differently about this one, but don't be afraid to embrace nonsense and absurdity in your writing. Dr. Seuss delighted in creating zany situations and silly scenarios that sparked the imagination.
Don't let anyone ask you why the cat is wearing a hat. You don't need a better reason than, "It's interesting."
Kurt Vonnegut was a famous writer who wrote great books like "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Breakfast of Champions." But before he became a writer, he had a job in advertising. After World War II, he worked at General Electric (GE) in New York. There, he wrote ads and jingles.
At first, Vonnegut didn't like his advertising job. He thought it was boring and just trying to trick people. But working there also taught him how powerful words can be. He saw how words could change how people think and feel.
During lunch breaks at GE, Vonnegut wrote stories to escape from the boring job. Eventually, he got better at writing, and in 1952, he published his first book called "Player Piano." The book was inspired by his time at GE and talked about machines taking over people's jobs.
Vonnegut's writing style was simple and funny, with serious messages hidden inside. He used humor and science fiction to talk about important topics. Later, he became a full-time writer and wrote amazing books loved by many.
80. Embrace Humor
Vonnegut often used humor, satire, and wit to approach serious subjects. Injecting humor into your writing can make it engaging and entertaining.
Note, however, that this is a double-edged sword. Humour can divide people just as easily as it can bring them together. Vonnegut's books got the same reaction: People either loved or hated them.
One thing no one every called his work? Boring.
79. Address Serious Themes
While humorous, Vonnegut's works tackled important issues like war, technology, and human nature.
As an ad writer, you're selling products that have an impact on the lives of your customer, and often the world at large. Consider exploring deeper themes in your ad writing, connecting the product to a bigger meaning.
78. Break the Fourth Wall
Vonnegut was known to address the reader directly and play with storytelling conventions.
As a copywriter, you don't even have to entertain the existence of a 4th wall. Just talk directly to the audience. They'll appreciate it.
77. Be Playful and Imaginative
Like Vonnegut, let your imagination run wild. Create unique characters, settings, and scenarios to add a touch of whimsy to your writing.
Will it always work? No. Will it sometimes work, though? Yes. Take a chance.
76. Use Short Paragraphs and Shorter Words
Vonnegut often used short chapters and segments in his novels, making them easy to digest. The same principle applies to any form of writing. Break it down into bite-size pieces.
75. Employ Repetition for Emphasis
Vonnegut occasionally repeated phrases or motifs to make a point. Use repetition strategically to emphasize important themes in your writing, like your unique selling proposition or key benefits.
74. Express Empathy and Humanism
Vonnegut had a compassionate view of humanity. He felt empathy for his readers.
Empathize with your customers. Feel their pain. Relish in their victories.
73. Create Unconventional Narrators
Vonnegut sometimes used unconventional narrators or multiple perspectives. He would experiment with different narrative voices to add layers to his stories.
Nothing will make your ad fail faster than making it look and sound like an ad. So mix it up. What narrative conventions can you experiment with? What's never been used in advertising? Live outside the formula.
72. Explore the Fantastic
Vonnegut often dabbled in science fiction to explore social and philosophical ideas. What's stopping you from doing the same thing to paint a picture of your product in action?
71. Find Your Own Voice
Vonnegut had his own style. It was uniquely his. Others have mimicked it since, but he was a pioneer.
While it's essential to be inspired by Vonnegut's style, remember to develop your unique voice as a writer. Incorporate your experiences and perspectives into your work.
Claude C. Hopkins
Claude C. Hopkins was a copywriter who lived from 1866 to 1932. People called him the father of modern advertising, and certainly of scientific advertising.
At first, he worked as a newspaper reporter, but then he went into advertising. He worked for different companies and became famous when he was hired by the Schlitz beer company.
Hopkins did things differently from others. He believed in using science and facts to make ads, not just guessing or being creative. He thought advertising should be based on what works and what can be measured.
One cool thing he did was for Schlitz beer. He showed how the beer was made, all the steps and hard work behind it. People liked this, and Schlitz's sales skyrocketed.
Hopkins wrote a book called "Scientific Advertising" in 1923. This was one of the first advertising books I ever read, and was the first time I realized advertisers weren't just making things up. There was a science to it, or at least some scientific aspects.
He said advertising should talk about what people want and need, not just the features of a product. He developed entirely new ideas for testing out ads in different markets to hone in on what's working and what's not, rather than just guessing.
The next 10 items on our list are things he found, through careful measurement, to work reliably.
70. Focus on Benefits
Highlight the benefits of the product or service you are promoting. Show customers how it can improve their lives.
69. Address the Reader
Make the copy feel personal by speaking directly to the reader. Use "you" to connect with them.
68. Use Facts and Data
Base your claims on factual information and data to make the copy more credible and trustworthy.
67. Tell a Story
Craft a compelling narrative around the product or service. Stories can engage readers and make the message more memorable.
66. Highlight Uniqueness
Emphasize what sets the product apart from competitors. Show its unique features or qualities.
65. Create a Sense of Urgency
Encourage readers to act quickly by using phrases like "limited time offer" or "act now."
64. Test and Measure
Use testing to see what works best. Measure the success of your campaigns to learn and improve.
63. Use Headlines Wisely
Write attention-grabbing headlines that convey the main benefit or message.
62. Keep it Honest
Be truthful in your advertising. Avoid exaggerations or false claims.
61. Use Emotional Appeals
Appeal to readers' emotions to make the copy more persuasive and relatable.
Phyllis Robinson was a trailblazing figure in the advertising industry and the first female copy chief at Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), an incredibly influential advertising agency. She played a significant role in shaping the creative direction and impact of DDB's advertising campaigns, and the overall "creative revolution" of the ad industry in the 60s.
In the 1960s, Robinson joined DDB as a copywriter and quickly rose through the ranks due to her exceptional talent and creativity. Her work caught the attention of William Bernbach, one of the agency's founders, who recognized her abilities and promoted her to the position of copy chief.
During her time at DDB, Robinson worked on several groundbreaking advertising campaigns that became iconic in the industry. One of her most notable contributions was the creation of the "You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy's" campaign for Levy's Jewish Rye Bread. The campaign featured photographs of people from various ethnic backgrounds enjoying the bread, breaking stereotypes and highlighting the universal appeal of the product. It remains one of the most celebrated and successful campaigns in advertising history.
Robinson's approach to advertising was unique and revolutionary for its time. She believed in creating ads that were authentic, relatable, and connected with the audience on a human level. Her work was characterized by its simplicity, humor, and emotional resonance.
Despite facing gender barriers in the male-dominated advertising industry of the era, Robinson's talent and determination helped pave the way for other women in advertising. Her achievements opened doors for women to take on more prominent roles in the creative and strategic aspects of advertising.
60. Be Original
Strive for originality in your ideas and writing. Flee from the familiar. Run towards the strange and unusual.
59. Understand the Product
Gain a deep understanding of the product or service you are promoting to create compelling and accurate messaging.
58. Write with Passion
Infuse your writing with enthusiasm and passion to make the audience excited about the product.
57. Keep it Simple
Use simple and straightforward language to convey your message effectively. One of DDB's most famous ads was for Volswagen. The headline simple read, "Lemon."
56. Be Persuasive
Just because you're trying to be creative doesn't mean you're not a salesperson. To be a marketer is to be in sales. To be in sales is to be in the persuasion business. Don't be afraid to sell the product.
55. Collaborate with the Team
DDB famoulsly invented the art director and copywriter duo, believing the best ideas came when art and copy worked together as equals. Work closely with art directors, designers, and other team members to create cohesive and impactful campaigns.
54. Test and Learn
It was just old curmudgeons like Hopkins who believed in testing. The hippies at DDB did too.
53. Avoid Clichés
Stay away from overused phrases and find fresh ways to express your ideas. Your job is to say it in a way that no one has ever said it before. When you use a cliché, you've failed.
52. Be Fearless
Take creative risks and don't be afraid to challenge conventional thinking.
51. Be Honest and Authentic
Write with integrity and honesty to build trust with the audience. DDB's copy under Robinson's tenure was consistently brave in how it told the truth about its products. One of their favourite tricks was to take a perceived negative (like a small car) and turn it into a positive.
Dan S. Kennedy
Dan S. Kennedy is a well-known American marketing strategist, copywriter, and author. He is recognized for his expertise in direct-response marketing and has been a significant figure in the world of advertising and sales for many years.
Born on May 31, 1954, Kennedy has had a long and successful career in marketing, having worked with various entrepreneurs, businesses, and professionals to help them improve their marketing and sales strategies.
Kennedy has authored numerous books on marketing, entrepreneurship, and sales, many of which have become bestsellers. Some of his most popular books include:
"The Ultimate Sales Letter"
"No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs"
"No B.S. Direct Marketing"
"No B.S. Marketing to the Affluent"
"The No B.S. Guide to Direct Response Social Media Marketing"
Kennedy is known for his no-nonsense and practical approach to marketing. He emphasizes the importance of direct-response marketing, which focuses on eliciting an immediate response from the target audience, usually in the form of a purchase or inquiry.
50. Embrace Direct-Response Marketing
Focus on creating copy that elicits an immediate response from the audience, such as making a purchase or signing up for more information.
49. Lead with Benefits
Highlight the benefits of the product or service early on in your copy to capture the reader's attention. Remember: Most readers will not read most of your copy. Always be selling.
48. Be Specific
Use concrete details and facts to add credibility and persuade the audience.
47. Inject Emotion
Evoke emotions in your writing to create a deeper connection with the audience.
46. Use Power Words
Use strong, persuasive words that evoke action and emotion. Words like: Discover, Secrets, Unstoppable, Revolutionary, Breakthrough, Results, Now, Save, Win, Ultimate, Special, and Irresistible.
45. Avoid Jargon
Keep your language clear and straightforward, avoiding confusing industry jargon. One trick for spotting jargon? Avoid words that end with "-ize", like "institutionalize", "rationalize", "industrialize", "pulverize", etc.
44. Show Proof
Include testimonials, case studies, or statistics to support your claims and build trust.
43. Create a Sense of Urgency
Encourage readers to act now with time-limited offers or limited quantities.
42. Edit Ruthlessly
Trim unnecessary words and refine your copy to make it more impactful.
41. Know Your Product Inside Out
Gain a deep understanding of the product or service you're promoting to write compellingly about it.
Stephen King is a highly acclaimed and prolific American author known for his contributions to the horror, supernatural fiction, and suspense genres. Born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine, he grew up with a passion for storytelling and writing.
King's career as a writer took off in the 1970s when he published his first novel, "Carrie," in 1974. The novel's success catapulted him to fame, and he went on to write numerous best-selling books that have become classics of the horror genre.
Some of Stephen King's most famous works include:
"The Shining" (1977)
"Pet Sematary" (1983)
"The Stand" (1978)
"Salem's Lot" (1975)
His writing style is characterized by its vivid and immersive storytelling, well-developed characters, and the ability to blend horror with psychological depth. King's works often explore themes of human nature, fear, and the supernatural.
40. Find Your Voice
Develop your unique writing voice and style that sets you apart from others.
39. Read Widely
Read a diverse range of books and genres to expand your knowledge and understanding of storytelling. To be a great writer, be a great reader.
38. Write Every Day
Make writing a habit and practice regularly to improve your skills.
37. Embrace the Unknown
Don't be afraid to explore the unknown and take risks in your writing. That's what testing is for!
36. Outline Your Copy
Create outlines or story structures to help guide your writing and keep the narrative focused.
35. Show, Don't Tell
Use descriptive language and sensory details to bring your copy to life.
34. Write from Experience
Draw from your own experiences and emotions to add authenticity to your writing. Don't have any experience with this product? Find people who do and interview them so that you understand their experience.
33. Trust Your Instincts
Believe in your ideas and let your creativity flow without self-doubt.
32. Pace Your Copy
Balance long and short sentences, paragraphs lengths, headlines, subheads, etc. Think of writing like music: It should have a rhythm. Otherwise it will feel either monotonous or chaotic.
31. Love What You Write
Learn to love the products you're selling. Trust that your passion for the product (or the lack thereof) will come through in the finished copy.
E. L. James, whose real name is Erika Leonard, is a British author best known for writing the wildly popular erotic romance trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey." Born on March 7, 1963, in London, England, James initially worked as a television executive and a TV producer before venturing into writing.
Her writing journey began as fan fiction based on the "Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer. James originally published her fan fiction under the pen name "Snowqueens Icedragon" on various online platforms. Eventually, she reworked the story into what would become her debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Grey."
"Fifty Shades of Grey," published in 2011, gained immense attention and success, becoming a global bestseller. The novel, along with its sequels, "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed," follows the romantic and passionate relationship between Anastasia Steele, a college student, and Christian Grey, a wealthy businessman with a preference for BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism) activities.
The trilogy's explicit content and themes sparked both immense popularity and significant controversy. Despite the mixed critical reception, the books became a cultural phenomenon, captivating millions of readers worldwide.
The success of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy led to film adaptations, with Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan starring as Anastasia and Christian, respectively. The movie adaptations further cemented the series' popularity.
Of course, amongst writers, it's popular to look down on writers like E.L. James. But I look up to her with admiration for her accomplishment, and would love to have her kind of success.
30. Develop Strong Characters
Create well-rounded and complex characters that readers can connect with and invest in emotionally. Think of Old Spice's "Man Your Man Could Smell Like", Dos Equis's "Most Interesting Man in the World", or Molsen's "Joe, from Canada".
29. Explore Emotions
Dive deep into the emotions your customers are feeling. What's pushing them to need your product? Emotions make your copy more relatable and powerful.
28. Show Vulnerability
No one's perfect. Your customers won't trust you if you pretend like you are. Allow your brand to be vulnerable and show its weaknesses. It's make you more relatable, authentic, and opens the door to spinning a negative into a positive, much like Christian's brokenness is ultimately one of his most attractive qualities.
27. Craft Sensual Scenes
As your marriage counsellor likes to say: It's not about sex, it's about intimacy. Write intimate and sensual scenes with care and attention to detail to create a powerful impact.
26. Pay Attention to Dialogue
Use natural and engaging dialogue to bring your copy to life. Read it out loud. Have someone else read it out loud to you.
25. Balance Drama and Tenderness
Mix drama and tenderness to create a rollercoaster of emotions for your audience. Remember the opening scene from Up?
24. Keep the Pace Steady
Maintain a steady pace to keep readers engaged and eager to turn the pages. If it feels like you're just writing filler, slash it.
23. Incorporate Intrigue
Weave elements of intrigue and mystery into the product to keep readers guessing.
22. Set the Scene
Use vivid descriptions to set the scene and immerse readers in the story's world.
21. Embrace Feedback
Be open to feedback! E.L. James started by writing fan fiction. The feedback she received helped shape what became 50 Shades.
David Ogilvy (1911-1999) was a legendary advertising executive and one of the most influential figures in the history of modern advertising. He was known for his exceptional creativity, strategic thinking, and commitment to producing effective and memorable ad campaigns.
His books, Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man, were some of my earliest influences. I still re-read them once a year.
Born on June 23, 1911, in West Horsley, England, Ogilvy started his career as a chef, a door-to-door salesman, and a researcher before transitioning into advertising. In 1948, he founded the advertising agency Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather (which later became Ogilvy & Mather or simply Ogilvy) in New York City.
Throughout his career, Ogilvy believed in the power of research and data-driven advertising. He emphasized the importance of understanding the consumer and their needs to create persuasive and successful campaigns.
Ogilvy's impact on advertising was profound, and his agency grew into one of the largest and most successful in the world. He was also known for his memorable ad campaigns, such as "The Man in the Hathaway Shirt" and "The Guinness Guide to Oysters," among others.
David Ogilvy's legacy as a pioneer in advertising continues to inspire and guide marketers and advertisers worldwide. His ideas and principles remain influential in the industry, and his innovative approach to advertising has left a lasting mark on the world of marketing and communication.
Luckily for us, he wrote so much about advertising, that we can basically quote him verbatim for this top 10 list below.
20. The Most Important Decision...
...is how should you position the product? For Schweppes, should it be positioned as a soft drink, or as a mixer? For Dove, is it a product for dry skin, or a product that gets hands really clean?
19. Make a Large Promise
A promise is not a claim, nor a theme, nor a slogan. It is the benefit to the consumer.
18. Big Ideas
"Unless your advertising is built on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. It takes a big idea to jolt the consumer out of his indifference.
17. Don't Be a Bore
You cannot bore the consumer into buying your product. You can only interest them.
Don't follow trends. Start them.
15. Don't Bury the Lede
It's easier to interest the public in your product when there's something newsworthy about it. Put this up front. Make it the star of your copy.
14. Go the Whole Hog
"Most advertising campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of marketing objectives. They embrace the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting too many things, they achieve nothing. It pays to boil down your strategy to one simple promise – and go the whole hog in delivering that promise."
13. On the Importance of Headlines
"On the average, five times as many people will read the headline as read the body copy. If you don't sell the product in your headline, you've wasted 80% of your money."
12. Yes, People Read Long Copy
"Readership falls off rapidly up to fifty words, but drops very little between fifty and five hundred words. The more you tell, the more you sell."
11. Repeat Your Winners
"Scores of great advertisements have been discarded before they have begun to pay off." Remember that you've seen your ads far more often than your customers have. You'll get bored long before they do.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential and celebrated writers of the 20th century. Hemingway's distinctive writing style, characterized by its simplicity, clarity, and minimalism, had a significant impact on modern literature.
Born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway began his writing career as a journalist for The Kansas City Star. He volunteered as an ambulance driver during World War I, which inspired some of his early works.
Hemingway's experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and World War II further influenced his writing. He often wrote about themes of war, love, loss, masculinity, and the human condition.
Some of Ernest Hemingway's most notable works include:
"The Old Man and the Sea" (1952)
"A Farewell to Arms" (1929)
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1940)
"The Sun Also Rises" (1926)
"To Have and Have Not" (1937)**
Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 for his powerful writing and his impact on contemporary literature. His writing style was characterized by concise, declarative sentences and an emphasis on portraying emotion through action rather than elaborate descriptions.
10. The Iceberg Theory
According to Hemingway, there is always far more to the story than what makes it onto the page. You don't need to spell it all out. It engages the reader's imagination more.
“If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless.”
9. Draft. Draft. Then Draft Some More
“For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” -Hemingway, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. Prepare to Suffer
“I love to write. But it has never gotten any easier to do and you can’t expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do.”
As a copywriter, you're going to spend your life struggling to get ahead of other writers. We're all competing for the same customers. You're never going to "make it". Just accept the struggle and keep at it.
7. It's a Lonely Job
“You must be prepared to work always without applause. When you are excited about something is when the first draft is done. But no one can see it until you have gone over it again and again until you have communicated the emotion, the sights and the sounds to the reader, and by the time you have completed this the words, sometimes, will not make sense to you as you read them, so many times have you read them.”
Maybe I shouldn't have ended this list with Hemingway. Then again...
“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
5. Use small words for big effect
“It is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.”
4. Don't Chase Current Events
Many marketers today depend on being a part of the cultural zeitgeist. This is a losing battle.
“Then when you have more time read another book called War and Peace by Tolstoi and see how you will have to skip the big Political Thought passages, that he undoubtedly thought were the best things in the book when he wrote it, because they are no longer either true or important, if they ever were more than topical, and see how true and lasting and important the people and the action are. Do not let them deceive you about what a book should be because of what is in the fashion now.”
Don't let them deceive you about what an ad should be because of what is in the fashion now.
3. Time Your Breaks
Never stop unless you're in the flow. When things are going well, Hemingway says you can take a break. Because you'll get right back into it when you come back. But if you leave when you're stuck, you'll probably still be stuck when you get back.
"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
2. Keep the Faith
"Once you are into the novel it is as cowardly to worry about whether you can go on to the next day as to worry about having to go into inevitable action. You have to go on. So there is no sense to worry… As soon as you start to think about it stop it. Think about something else. You have to learn that to write a novel. The hard part about a novel is to finish it."
1. Study the Greats
Is there a better way to end this list of 100 writing tips from the greats?
"[A writer] should have read everything so that he knows what he has to beat… The only people for a serious writer to compete with are the dead that he knows are good. It is like a miler running against the clock rather than simply trying to beat whoever is in the race with him. Unless he runs against time he will never know what he is capable of attaining."
Until next time,
Mario M. Parisé
P.S. Have you read my own book, Insurgent Marketing, yet? I dare say, it’s pretty good.
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