Lessons from a “newbie”

Feb 10, 2023

Sometimes life gets busy. I’ve had my head deep into a few projects this week. So I haven’t emailed you for a few days. (And if you didn’t notice, forget I said anything!)

One of those projects is my first-ever screenplay, which now feels like an eternity since I first started working on it.

I’ve basically had to redo just about everything I’d already done since I began taking an intensive 3-hour once-a-week workshop back in late October.

It’s with a brilliant guy who worked for Sony Pictures for 18 years (where he developed major films like Whiplash, Django Unchained, Manchester by the Sea, and others).

In any case, I’M the “newbie” (or NOOB) now… scribbling down notes as fast as I can, having my drafts massacred, and loving every minute as I’m learning tons.

For me, learning from someone who’s pouring knowledge into my brain AND providing feedback is the best way to get up to speed (if not GOOD) super-fast.

And now that the workshop is coming to an end next week, I’m furiously trying to finish and polish up Act One of my screenplay… which right now is about 30+ pages (I’ll be doing more tightening up, but there’s still more to flush out, too).

A few weeks ago, I sent over my first draft of Act One to my screenwriting instructor since the following Wednesday night it was going to be MY turn for him to review it within our small group class.

As soon as I sent it over, he let me know he had to stop at page one. Page ONE!

I didn’t have the “formatting” right. And by formatting, he meant things like not having the right info in the scene headings, and that I’d written the action descriptions like paragraphs out of fiction novels, that kind of thing.

And then when he reviewed what I had sent over in the next class, he got as far as page four… and that took him an entire HOUR!

But it was that level of GRANULAR feedback, seeing him in action rewriting my overwrought action descriptions and (often) lame dialogue, that gave me an instant understanding of what I needed to fix to make my sh*tty first draft much less sh*tty.

As I’m learning, screenwriting is a very visual way of writing — it’s literally a blueprint for a movie — that’s different from copywriting in many ways.

But in many ways, it’s actually NOT so different.

When you think about strong sales copy (or a script), it’s TIGHT… not a single word is wasted. You don’t even need to use complete sentences. In fact, it’s often better that way.

And each word needs to earn its place. They can’t be weasel words or vague in any way. They must be SPECIFIC and VISUAL.

They need to paint a picture, elicit a visceral emotional response, and help your prospect SEE in their mind what you’re telling them.

Here is one of my favorite all-time examples of great copy that does this… written by the late, great Clayton Makepeace (I include a longer excerpt in my Get Dangerously Good Copywriting System and breakdown of why it’s working).

Every word helps paint a visual picture in your mind as you read it: you can see that “harmless-looking white powder”.

You can see how he’s made his solution the hero going after the villain:  “arresting and neutralizing the rogue calcium deposits that had super-glued this plaque to his artery walls”.

You can see how he’s seamlessly woven in proof and stats to support his case, without being dry or boring, i.e., “One of the 960,000 Americans who will be killed by a clogged circulatory system this year”. This is how you make your stats and proof PERSONAL!

I could go on, but this lead is like its own 3-act screenplay and well worth studying and re-reading.

Another “newbie” lesson from my screenwriting class that directly applies to writing copy: make your copy EASY to read!

One thing I learned and saw demonstrated when my instructor was reworking my screenplay draft is how he broke things up and had put in certain “breaks” to make it easy to read and, more importantly, keep the script reader reading.

I’ve talked before about how you want your copy to be written and constructed in such a way that your prospect glides through your copy, like sliding down a “greased chute”.

The Ultimate A-List Copywriter’s Promo Checklist you got when you first became a Copy Insider has some great checklists to help you ensure your copy does this.

Another killer insight I’ve gained from watching my screenwriting instructor critique other people’s screenplays (where he’s been able to get past page 4) is to avoid confusion at all costs!

Confusion is the kiss of death in sales copy, just like it is if someone’s trying to make sense of your screenplay. Be crystal clear.

Always read your copy with fresh eyes to make sure something that’s clear to you is coming across that way in your copy. Better yet, have someone ELSE read it to make sure it’s super clear.

One more insight I’ve gained in my screenwriting workshop that applies very much to writing copy is to know your prospect (“character”) inside and out.

My instructor talks about how we need to know what our main character wants, what they NEED, what they’re afraid of, what words or language they use to describe things, even what they would eat or not eat.

The same is true with knowing your prospect (it’s part of the Prism process I get deep into in Research Beast). Not only do you need to call out the right prospect and get their attention in a way that resonates, you need them to trust you.

Making them feel understood goes a long way to making them trust what you’re saying and build belief in your promises, proof, and solution. And as I’ve said before, without belief, there is no sale.

So whether you’re creating characters or researching your avatar, be relentless in truly KNOWING them inside and out.

That’s all I’ve got for today. I did want to share a link to a great interview I had a few weeks ago with top email marketer Troy Ericson for his “Secrets of Scale” podcast. I promised to share it when it went live. You can take a listen here.

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. If you’re a copywriter or business owner and you want ME to pour my knowledge into your brain and provide feedback so you can get up to speed (if not GOOD) super-fast, you’ll want to get on my mentoring wait list here.

I’m planning to open up a handful of one-on-one mentoring slots very soon. They won’t be cheap but if you’re able and ready to put in the work, you can get back your investment many times over. Read what people I’ve mentored have to say.

P.P.S. Thanks to all of you who took the time to fill out my Supplement Copywriting Training Interest survey earlier this week. Great input and suggestions! I’ll keep you in the loop as I move forward with my plans.

In the meantime, if writing for the supplement niche is something you do now or something you want to break into and you haven’t filled out my survey yet, you can do so here.