How to Teach Yourself Copywriting (for Free): Lesson 1

Are you frustrated with trying to teach yourself copywriting by reading books and watching videos? Have you bought a copywriting course in the past and found it was too advanced, or didn’t cover what you needed to learn?

Don’t. That stuff is too complicated. 

We’ll teach you copywriting the way it’s meant to be taught: by doing, not by reading (or watching).

Copywriting Method

Luckily, one of the best (and free) methods was promoted by Gary Halbert. Gary wrote out a step-by-step plan in his newsletter, The Gary Halbert Letter, of how a person could teach themselves to copywrite for free.

In addition to reading the best books on copywriting written by copywriting masters, he also proposed copying classic sales letters by hand. One of the sales letters Gary recommended for hand copying is “How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age” and that’s the sales ad we’ll start with in this lesson.

Copywriting Exercise

“How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age” was one of the earliest space ads and this is a classic example of a story format in print advertising. It is also an example of what we call the “Call to Action”.

This ad was written by Gary and according to him, generated 3/4 of a million dollars during it’s ten year run which is pretty amazing for a $3 offer in the 1970’s! The ad is a classic ‘space ad’ which meant it ran in newspapers and magazines. This is an older ad and may now seem outdated, but at the time it was novel. It resembles a newspaper story, so the reader does not necessarily know they are reading an ad.

When you hand copy an ad, think about what the ad is trying to do. In this case, the ad is selling a book. When you get more practice hand copying sales letters, you learn to recognize various components such as the Lead, Sales Argument, Offer, and Close. There are multiple subsets within the ad framework, but all successful offers follow the main four components.

Copywriting Preparation

Setup: A comfortable place to sit and a flat surface to write. Use a basic notebook or writing pad – nothing fancy! I use Amazon Basics Legal Pads and a Uni-ball rollerball pen for smooth, fast writing.

Note: When you hand copy ads, it’s important to set a timer. You do not want to write for longer than an hour, so set a timer for 30 minutes. After that time is up, take a short break and then set up the second 30 minute block. If you finish early, great! If not, stop at end of the second block.

Also, don’t worry about perfect handwriting. The point of the exercise is to write the words down and absorb the structure and ideas. You’ll notice when you slow down to hand write words and sentences, you become more cued in to the language. Persuasion techniques that may go unnoticed during a quick read can be identified when you read and then write them out.

Let’s get started!

The Sales Letter

Gary Halbert – “How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age”

Sales Letter Exercise Recap

After you’ve finished, reflect on the sales letter copy and formatting. Notice the headline: “How to collect from Social Security at any age!”. The headline is direct and makes a promise. This is an older ad from a time when people were less skeptical. Do you think the headline would still work?

Did you notice the use of ‘How to’ in the bullet points? This is a common copywriting technique. The way to collect from Social Security at any age is clearly spelled out and referenced in the ad but still has a sense of mystery or uncertainty. 

The solution to collect from Social Security at any age is presented as the solution, not a selling point.

Conclusion

This is not the only step-by-step method to teach yourself copywriting, but it’s one of the most effective ways. Doing writing assignments by hand and then reflecting on what works in those letters will turn you into a copywriting expert in no time at all.

Remember, copywriting is a skill that can be learned by any person who’s willing to cultivate it.

Until next time, keep learning!