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How to Keep Your Copywriting Skills Fresh…

When I started out as a professional copywriter — exactly 40 years ago this year — I was full of energy and excitement.

No surprise there. It was my first non-manual job. It paid crazy well compared to every other job I’d ever had. And I loved what I was doing.

Forty years later, I still love what I’m doing.

I’m still full of energy and excitement.

And for the most part, I don’t really feel any older at all. In particular, I rarely get a sense that my copywriting skills are less than “fresh.”

But sometimes the world does give me a little nudge

Like the time I was introduced to a small group of young copywriters at a conference. They were polite and pleasant enough.

But after a couple of minutes, I realized they were feeling a little uncomfortable with me standing there.

And I thought:

“OMG … these guys think I’m too ANCIENT to be worth talking to about copywriting!”

Interesting moment.

And there have been times over the years when I’ve thought, “This is getting a little old.”

I felt that way after I’d written my 10th automotive brochure for Chrysler.

And after 15 years of writing direct mail every day.

So, what did I do on those occasions when things were feeling “old?” How do I keep my skills and my attitude fresh?

Here are five things that work for me — mix and match for your own use.

#1: Stop doing work you don’t love

From my experience, the absolute best way to stay fresh is to stop doing work you don’t love.

I was working as a creative director at an ad agency when I was writing those car brochures. As soon as that started feeling old, I resigned. Found new pastures.

I first began to feel bored with direct mail back in 1996. I haven’t written any direct mail copy since the beginning of 1997.

If I don’t love it, I dump it.

“Oh, easy for you to say, Nick. You being successful and all. Some of us have bills to pay!”

Ha! During both of those time frames I was the sole provider for a family of six, going through good times and bad.

I didn’t say it was easy to dump the work you don’t love. Or that it isn’t scary at times.

I’m just saying it’s a great way to keep yourself feeling fresh and motivated.

#2: Ride the wave of change

I get bored really easily.

Lucky for me, when I dumped direct mail copywriting back in 1997, another opportunity was staring me in the face.

The web.

Early days. But fun days. Exciting days.

It was a wonderfully challenging time to be a copywriter … if you chose to ride the wave.

And that wave just keeps on rolling.

Writing websites. Then along came SEO. Wow! Then blogs. And online video. And social media! And writing for mobile devices!

It never ends.

If you remain engaged with change, there’s no way you’ll ever become bored as a copywriter.

And if you never become bored, your skills will always be fresh.

#3: Find some fun battles to fight

This may not work for you. But for me, picking the occasional fight is a great way to stay energized and invigorated.

Like a spa day, but with more bad language.

Back in the 1990s, I was fighting against companies and organizations that thought writing for the web was as simple as cutting and pasting copy from their old print materials.

I stood up on stages for a decade, ranting and raving about the sin of cutting and pasting.

Did I make a big difference? Probably not. But it was fun.

More recently, I’ve been ranting in support of conversational copywriting.

My new mission is to get copywriters and marketers to forget the hard-charging, in-your-face, broadcast copywriting approach. That’s old-school and unwelcome online.

The web isn’t a broadcast medium. It’s a social and interactive medium.

Your copy will deliver better results if you take a more conversational approach.

That’s my battle right now. Some people agree with me, and others don’t.

And that’s perfect. Because it keeps me engaged, passionate, and fresh.

#4: Filter out 90% of what’s “hot” in copywriting

It’s noisy out there.

There are so many “gurus” clamoring for our attention. So many “hot” new techniques and tools.

So here’s the thing:

That hot stuff is mostly noise.

Most of the “new” copywriting and marketing techniques are little more than old techniques with fresh coats of paint.

I’m not saying none of it is worthwhile.

But be picky. Choose carefully. Filter out as much as you can.

Because that noise is distracting. And it can make you feel anxious.

“If I don’t join this group coaching program, maybe I’ll be left behind!”

It’s the fear of missing out.

It’s exhausting too. Trying to keep up with what’s “hot.”

Invest less time and emotional energy in those shiny new objects, and more on doing the kind of work you love the most.

Keep your focus on what’s important.

#5: Find joy in mastering your craft

Truth be told, you can dump the previous four tips.

Those are just examples of what’s worked for me, personally.

The only real way to stay fresh as a copywriter, even after 40 years, is to love your craft.

And I do. I really do.

I have no time for crappy copywriting. But I love great copywriting.

Great copy is like great fiction or theater. It’s simply good writing.

That’s what I aspire to. I’ve always wanted to be a really, really good copywriter.

And I work on that every day

Fact is, I work harder on my craft today than I have at any other time in my career.

I write more drafts. Cut more wasted words. Do more complete rewrites.

I’m relentless in my pursuit of being a better writer.

So if you want one simple “secret” to staying fresh as a copywriter, it’s this:

Love your craft.

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