There are basically two ways of learning something.
The first one is to take a big picture approach. When you read ten books on the topic, you are doing this. You end up reading about the same problem from different perspectives and you make your own connections in your mind. It’s similar to working on the job. You notice the “map” of how something is done.
This is my favorite method. I read a lot but I don’t take notes. Each book teaches me something new and this generally connects with what I’ve learned before. I treat learning as a garden in which I’m throwing seeds after seeds. It’s not the most effective method but it is the most time efficient one – as I can study anywhere in almost any circumstances. I guess you can call this learning by osmosis.
The second one is to take the apprenticeship approach. This doesn’t have anything to do with a master or a mentor (although if you have one, good for you) but rather, how these masters used to teach. Such a person would take one key skill, like melting iron and practice it with you until you master it. Then you would move to shaping iron and practice it. In the end, you would have a dozen of specific skills that when used together, would be the “production line” for the outcome you were trying to create.
The upside in this is that it is very effective. You don’t gain knowledge, you build skills. You don’t know more things but you have a specific way of achieving something. The downside is that it requires a lot more time and effort. You need to invest yourself in it.
Personally, I combine these two. When it comes to copywriting, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I do this while I walk my 10.000 steps or while I exercise in the gym. Generally, I add a layer of education every time I can. This is how I read +52 books per year, by making the most out of downtime. However, I also have a specialized approach in which I learn specific parts of copywriting (or improve) by doing specific exercises.
For example, an exercise is to write 50 marketing bullets. This is towards mastering bullet writing. Another is to write three closes using the cross-roads theme. Yet another is to build a branded guarantee. Each of these can take one or two hours (I usually limit an exercise to a period I can do in a single session) and I’m not just gaining information, I’m building a skill, I’m building a tool that I can apply in the future.
I call this within my life organization system as “copywriting mastery”. It’s a spreadsheet with several columns.
# What is the status of this item?
It can be not started, in progress, completed.
# What area of direct response copywriting I’m improving?
The options here are research, offer development, benefits, proof, big selling idea, big picture, logical ABC process, headlines, lead copy, body copy, editing, momentum, bullets, close, guarantee, lift notes.
As you can see, I’m not dealing with sales psychology or big level concepts. These are the dozen or so skills you need to have in order to write good copy. Of course, they are held together by an understanding of human nature, but that’s kind of hard to systemize in an exercise. Headline writing is not.
# How am I’m going to accomplish this?
It’s basically a description of the exercise I’m doing. I make sure to make it a SMART goal. I don’t say “I’ll write bullets”. I’ll say “I’ll write 30 bullets using the HOW TO formula”. I need to know what’s my goal if I want to accomplish it.
# How long is this going to take me, estimatively?
For simplicity sake, I have options in one hour increments (I use macros to automate many things). So it can be 1 hour or two hours and so on.
# How do I rate myself in this particular area?
This is very important. We rarely focus our efforts where they actually matters. In a copywriting situation, while you’ll always be better in some things than others, you must have some minimum skill in everything.
So I give myself a grade, a grade that is true at the time of that exercise. This grade can be “very poor”, “poor”, “average”, “good”, “very good”. In this manner, I know on what to focus, so I can be a balanced, competent copywriter.
This can be any observation I need to make.
This is my system for training copywriting skills. In practice, you can use it for anything as long as you identify the key competences you need to develop and you can find ways to exercise them, in a measurable, goal oriented manner.
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The Business & Self-Improvement Copywriter