If there were nothing else, I’d write with lipstick!
That’s what bestselling writer Margaret Atwood said when she was asked about her favorite writing tool.
I LOVE that answer. Let me tell you why…
I’m about to share some of my favorite writing tips and tools.
But with all the tips and tools, the MOST important thing to remember is this:
All you really need to write is a pen and paper.
Or lipstick and a napkin for that matter!
That’s pretty awesome when you think about it. It means that almost anyone, anywhere, anytime can write. It doesn’t matter what tools or tech they have available.
The “best” copywriters don’t have a secret device that you don’t have access to. That’s great news. It means you have the same shot at making an impact with your copy as anyone else.
With that said, actually using lipstick to write your next blog post isn’t very practical. LOL. So how can you make your writing-life easier?
Well, that’s what I’ll talk about in this post.
I’ll share the tools my team and I use to write blog posts, social media updates, sales pages, and everything else.
[SIDE NOTE: If you struggle with writer’s block, aka you don’t know what to write about, check out my writing method (and free worksheet) here.]
Do you have to use ALL these tools?
Maybe some will be super useful for you. Others might not – that’s fine.
Remember that you can always CHANGE the tools you use.
This was an Aha!-Moment for me. You see, I used to think that I have to find the perfect “tool” or “system”…
…and use it until the end of time. But it’s not like that at all. Rarely does one solution last forever. So now, I live by a different rule:
Use what works, while it works.
In other words, use the tools that are working for you RIGHT NOW. If they keep working, keep using them. If they stop working, don’t use them anymore.
Also, remember this:
More important than the tools is the PROCESS you use.
Jumping straight to the tools is often a mistake. Aka it will only make writer’s block worse. If you want to see my process for writing sales pages, blog posts, video scripts… watch this video first (and then subscribe to my daily vlog on YouTube):
With that said…
What tools are working for me right now?
The first tool I absolutely rely on is…
Practical Copywriting Tool #1: Evernote (Or another note taking app)
Have you ever seen or heard something cool and thought that you’d remember… and then forgot?
Of course, you have. It happens to everyone. All the time.
We think we’ll remember. But we don’t.
That’s why I RELY on Evernote. Or any kind of note-taking app.
You see, people always THINK they don’t have enough ideas to write about.
Ugh. That dreaded feeling when you should update your blog. You sit down, but… you got nothing. You just don’t know what to write about.
Can you relate?
Well, the real problem is not that you don’t have enough ideas. It’s that you don’t COLLECT your ideas BEFORE you sit down to write.
This is what I use Evernote for.
Whenever I see or hear something interesting, I make a note.
Whenever something funny happens to me at the coffee shop, I make a note.
Whenever I come across a fascinating article or study, I make a note.
Whenever I see a great headline or ad, I make a note.
Whenever I have an idea for a blog post, I make a note.
Here’s what this looks like inside Evernote:
As you can see, I currently have 7 main notebooks:
- Academic papers research [relevant research I want to write about]
- Book notes [notes on books I’m reading]
- Content ideas [blog topics I want to cover]
- Copy ideas [sales copy ideas]
- Copywriting [articles about sales/copywriting]
- Personal stories [big or small, funny and interesting stuff that happens every day]
- Research and ideas [other articles I want to save]
Now, I’ll admit, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Evernote. It’s not super-intuitive to use. But it makes it easy to clip articles online and take notes on your phone when you’re on the go.
Maybe there’s a different note-taking app that you prefer. The important thing is that you collect your ideas, so you’re not short on inspiration when it comes time to write.
You may have noticed that I have a few notebooks labeled “swipe.” So what goes there? Well, even though I do this inside of Evernote, this is the second tool I want to talk about.
Practical Copywriting Tool #2: Swipe File
What is a Swipe File?
It’s your collection of the best, proven, and tested copy, templates, and writing formulas. Your swipe file can help you write better copy… faster.
For example, I’ve saved lots of headline formulas in my swipe file:
But I don’t just save headlines. Whenever I come across a great piece of copy, I save it to my swipe file:
This includes ads, sales pages, emails, and even just short snippets or powerful words.
Swipe files are great at the very beginning of the writing process and then again at the end. In other words, it’s great for inspiration. But it’s also great for editing. Let’s say you just wrote a blog post, but your headline is lacking. Well… Scrolling through your swipe file and trying different headlines can help you find that winning headline.
Of course, you should never actually “swipe” someone’s copy and use it 1:1. That’s called stealing! As someone whose copy has been plagiarized in the past, I can tell you: it’s lame. Don’t do it.
Instead, use your swipe file to spark ideas and refine your copy.
You can keep it in your note-taking app, on your phone, or wherever you want. But get in the habit of saving great copy in your own, personal swipe file.
Let’s move on to…
Practical Copywriting Tool #3: Google Docs
Again, this is somewhat of a personal choice. But I write all copy in Google Docs. I like it because it’s distraction-free and I can share my documents with my team.
Everyone can leave comments, so it’s great to get feedback and collaborate, too:
Does it matter if you use Word, Pages, or Google Docs? Not really. But I can say that the ability to share and comment is very valuable when you’re working with a team or just want feedback from other people.
For this reason, I recommend that you use writing software that allows you to collaborate with others.
Practical Copywriting Tool #4: A Dictionary
The dictionary is a copywriter’s best friend.
It’s pretty obvious why this is the case: the words you choose make or break your copy.
Too often we’re lazy with our word choice. It’s okay in a first draft. But your final copy should be more polished.
When you use lazy words like “great” and “best” or overused jargon like “effective” and “strategy” two things happen:
Your copy becomes vague.
Your copy lacks impact.
The good news is, with online dictionaries or even a quick Google search, you can easily find a more fitting word choice.
For example, type “great synonym” into your search bar and you’ll find lots of other options:
I don’t have one go-to online dictionary. If I’m looking for the right word, I’ll usually just start with a Google search.
One word of warning:
Don’t start using BIG words no one knows or uses, just because you found them in the dictionary. Big, long words make your copy difficult to read.
Which brings me to…
Practical Copywriting Tool #5: Readability checker
I’ve talked about readability and the fact that I write at a 4th-grade level before. Why? Because my #1 goal with my copy is to be clear, not clever.
Sure, “clever” copy can be fun. But when people don’t “get” the joke, it’s also a missed opportunity. So, always start with clear copy. You can make it clever later.
To make sure your copy is both clear and easy to read, you can use a “readability-checker.” It will analyze your text and highlight the sentences and words that are difficult to read.
To do this I use Readable:
Just paste your copy into the text area and it will measure the readability of your text. As you can see in the example here, the overall score is 3.8. Nice! That’s exactly what I’m aiming for 🙂
The first sentence is a bit long, so I could probably shorten it. But in the context of the whole text, I think it’s fine. Mixing short and long sentences makes your copy more interesting for the reader.
Another tool that I’ve started using more recently is Grammarly:
Grammarly combines many of the features of a text editor, dictionary, and readability-checker all in one place. Check it out:
As you can see, it’s showing me a few typos. I can quickly fix them, just by clicking on the suggestion. Pretty cool!
Finally, I’ve got one more tool-suggestion for you:
Practical Copywriting Tool #6: Whatever helps you focus…
Writing is an exercise in focus.
So whatever you need to do in order to focus… Locking yourself in a room… Putting in earplugs…. Turning off your phone… Do that!
Today, after many years of writing, I’m pretty good at staying focused when I write. But every now and then I still get distracted.
For more details on how to stay focused (and my personal focus-routine), check out this post.
Hopefully, these tools are helpful. And hopefully, it gives you an interesting look behind the scenes of how I write.
BUT remember: While I talked about tools in this video…
…all you really need is a pen and paper.
In fact, often when you get stuck, it can be fruitful to get away from the computer and take it old-school. Grab a pen and a blank sheet of paper.
Organize your thought away from the screen. Then come back, and type out your copy.
Sure, the tools are useful. But what matters most is that you think clearly…
…and get those thoughts on paper.
Well, not on paper. But you know what I mean:
Get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page or screen.
“But what if I have writer’s block?”
I hear you.
Writing used to be hard for me. But these days, writer’s block is like a foreign word…