Is copywriting difficult to learn?

Many will agree that producing phenomenal copy can be difficult. And not that many reflect on why this is so, or the best way to learn and become a professional copywriter. This short article explains why people find copywriting hard, and how to approach copywriting from a professional perspective. Also see Introduction to Copywriting course page [+].

A group of young mutli-ethnic copywriters sitting around a table, with their laptops, and raising their hands at a Quantico Copywriting Course in Singapore

Why copywriting can be difficult to learn

Most of us would like to believe that we’ve been trained for copywriting all our lives since language has typically been an essential part of schooling for just about everyone. But this is tantamount to concluding that one is ready to become a public speaker or professional talk show host because we’ve been speaking all this time. The fact is, copywriting is hard and sadly many give it up, or worse — settle into a glut of mediocre copy, because of such assumptions. Copywriting skills take time and a strategy to build. We’re not going to become instant copywriters for Nike or Apple after a week, or even after a year, of creating copy. And this is simply because of one major error in judgement that aspiring copywriters make: copywriting is just a skill, it’s not the end-product. Our business and priority is end-products.

We’re not writing copy, we’re creating brochures. We’re not crafting beautiful words; we’re writing a website. We’re not churning out sentences and paragraphs; we’re building consumer experiences. Do you see the trend here? Copywriting is simply a process, not an end-result. It’s pointless trying to aim for processes since they keep changing but go nowhere. Professional copywriters instead focus on what the end-result is, and then put their skills to work to meet that goal. Your skill is a bag of tools, it’s not the house. A carpenter is not prized for a bag of fancy tools, but for the products she builds. In the quest to sharpen your skills, make sure your focus remains on the end-result. Matthew Carter (type designer and creator of such typefaces as Georgia and Verdana) said, “Type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters.” This wisdom applies just as beautifully to copy: copywriting is not a group of beautiful words, but a beautiful group of words.

How professional copywriters approach copywriting

Hold this close — amateur copywriters work towards inspiration, whereas pro copywriters work towards solutions. No wonder copywriting is so hard for so many. We can’t just mindlessly follow inspiration or creative sparks. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, work towards a product — a website, magazine article, brochures. This approach forces us to become goal-oriented and our skills and processes can then be directed towards something physical, tangible, measurable, and most importantly, doable.

This is what professional copywriting courses emphasise. It’s better to learn how to create copy, rather than spending your days trying to constantly implement something like the ‘seven Cs of great writing for anybody’. Let’s leave 1990 where it belongs — about thirty years in the past. Becoming a product-oriented copywriter means training your mind to think strategically instead of subjectively, and approaching every copywriting project through conceptualisation over intuition. In other words, focus on influencing human behaviour and forget about waxing lyrical.

What exactly is there to learn?

Not magic, logic. After all, professional copywriting is much closer to a science than art — there are rules, functions, mathematical equations, cognitive recognition principles, pattern-spotting and consumer psychology. Copywriting is a design function; form develops to reason, and every piece is held together by objective rationale, not individual opinions. So if you meet someone who says, “I love to write and poems are my passion,” warn them off professional copywriting.

This field will kill that passion, because copywriting is not creative writing, and copywriting is not technical writing, and copywriting is not expressive writing. Copywriting is behaviour-driven writing with a purpose to solve problems and sell solutions. In other words, copywriting has something else to offer, and it’s not the love of writing — though that is sometimes a welcome side effect — but the love of buying. This is what we do as pro copywriters — we influence the human mind to make decisions and take action. Now how do we suppose that happens?

Start (copy)writing

Our job is to overcome the old and ever-present conundrum of copywriting: people like to buy, but they don’t like to be sold to. Now if that sounds like the sort of challenge you welcome, then grab a notebook, sit at a busy public place and start observing people. Because copywriting begins in the minds of a pro copywriter, but it ends in the mind of the consumer. And you decide how the journey unfolds.