Categorized | Copywriting Tips

Benjamin Franklin Reveals His Secret Method for Learning the Craft of Writing Masterful Copy…

- by Jason Hart

Every year or two there are certain books that I put, once again, on my reading list as I never tire of reading them, apart from the Bible, they are:

  1. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  2. The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
  3. My Life in Advertising/Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

Last week as I was re-reading Franklin’s account of his early years in chapter one of the Autobiography, a section which I have read over and over again just jumped out at me.  I thought, with a little tweaking this bit here, from one of our foremost founding fathers, speaks volumes about the craft of learning to write compelling copy and in reality, how to use a swipe file in that endeavor.

So, here it is…

Liberally Adapted From Chapter One of the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – By Jason Hart

“…About this time I discovered an interesting and successful AD.  It was being circulated for the third time, revealing its effectiveness, because these things don’t make it around even a second time unless they are very, very successful and effective.  I read it over and over again with increasing interest and desire to imitate it, the written presentation was that compelling.  With that as my goal, I took some paper and began to make short hints of the sentiments of each sentence, while on a separate sheet, copying out long hand the entire AD.  I laid it down for a few days.  Then, without looking at the original, I tried to write the AD again by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand.  I then compared my AD with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, phrases, headlines and sub-heads at the ready and available to recall that I could use.  I felt I should have already acquired them before this time if I had continued practicing the craft of copywriting; because I found that I was on a continual search for words that conveyed the same meaning only with stronger voice, of different length, to suit the audience, or of different frame of reference.  This kept me on a constant search for variety, and also tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I began writing out everything I could in such a manor; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten what I had written I returned to them to rewrite again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the AD. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language of the AD, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable copywriter, of which I was extremely ambitious. My time for these exercises and for reading was at night, after work or before it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the common attendance on public worship which my father used to exact on me when I was under his care, and which indeed I still thought a duty, though I could not, as it seemed to me, afford time to practice it.

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