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What keeps copywriters from getting good, and what to do about it

Published by: David Garfinkel on 01-11-2021

As we’re recording this in December, one of my heroes died just a few days ago. The great test pilot Chuck Yeager. The whole idea, and the book and movie, called “The Right Stuff” was pretty much inspired by him… his courage… his innovations… his incredible skill.

Here’s something from an obituary of sorts in the New York Times.

“In his memoir, General Yeager said he was annoyed when people asked him if he had the right stuff, since he felt it implied a talent he was born with.

“ ‘ All I know is I worked my tail off learning how to fly, and worked hard at it all the way,’ he wrote [in his memoir]. ‘The secret to my success was that somehow I managed to live to fly another day.’ ”

It sounds folksy and simple-minded, doesn’t it? Don’t let it fool you. What he said there was profound.

The Chuck Yeager story brought to mind a book called “Mastery” by George Leonard. One of my all-time favorites. It’s not about copywriting, but Leonard was a very good and successful magazine writer and author, among many other things, and he knew a lot about mastery.

Today I want to take a few tidbits from his book, which are gold nuggets in their own right, and talk about how to use them to get really good, and stay really good, at writing copy.

So one thing to understand about Mastery, as George Leonard saw it and as I see it, too, is that it’s not a destination. It’s not like you’re a not-master and then one day you’ve achieved mastery, and you can go about your business drinking scotch or going fishing or climbing at the climbing gym.

Mastery is a way of doing things and is more of a path than a destination. Once you get on the path of mastery, you should never be done. It’s an evolving thing. It’s true that there are people who are masters in life, but it doesn’t mean they’re done practicing or done learning. Or done growing or improving. It’s just an ongoing thing, and to a lot of people, that’s a surprise.

But it’s true. George Leonard was on this path. He taught aikido at his own dojo in Mill Valley California -- he died about 10 years ago after a long life. But 20 years ago, when I recorded my first copywriting product, one of my students had been an aikido student of George’s.

In the book, he had a chapter called “Pitfalls Along the Path.” He listed 13. I’ve combined a few of them and left a few of them out, as I’ve reshaped them for copywriting. So this is only a few ideas from one chapter of his book, combined with a lot of stuff about getting good at copywriting.

I’d urge you to get this book and read it more than once: Mastery, by George Leonard. It has made a huge difference for me in my life.

But on today’s show, we talk about six roadblocks that could keep you from getting where you want to go.

A book well worth getting and reading -- more than once:

Mastery, by George Leonard

Keywords: sharpen your copywriting axe

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