Burning and Embarrassing Questions

I’ve noticed there are three levels of questions I get hit with. The most common are from raw rookies, and they fall into a single category: How do I do the basic stuff of writing ads, creating products, and putting a marketing plan into action? It’s the big test of being a teacher — the day I get mad at someone for asking me the same damn question I’ve heard four thousand times before, is the day I need to get out of the business of teaching.

The second level is from people who’ve dabbled in the advertising arts, but fall apart at the slightest obstacle. These questions often center on procrastination, how to get started on new projects, writer’s block (it’s a myth, by the way), and the details of editing badly-written first drafts.

The last level is from active marketers. Oddly enough, many of their questions mirror the more basic ones asked by rookies. You can have a fabulous success with one project, and then hit a brick wall on the next, and not be able to figure out why. The smart thing to do is to go back to the basics, and see where you went wrong.

Now, here’s the issue: There is no such thing as a dumb question. There ARE such things as “bad” questions… because sometimes you know the answer, but you want a different one (even though you know it’s not gonna happen). And I often get people asking me “stall” questions — they feel they’re actively pursuing thier project by asking me stuff, when in reality they’re just putting off sitting down and getting busy.

Great ads don’t get written by magic. It’s discipline and detective work and putting in your time at the keyboard.

Still, I get the nagging sense that there are a lot of questions that people don’t ask me, because they feel they’re too… embarrassing. These are often the most important questions to ask… because they’re sticking points. You cannot go further without the answer.

I understand this problem personally. I am mostly a self-taught guitarist, for example… so I never learned how to read music, and I couldn’t define a Dorian scale if you tortured me. (Though, I probably play leads in such a scale — I just never learned the right name for it.)

I finally took a few lessons from a great axe-man in the beach town I lived in back when I first became a freelancer. Taking those lessons was my reward (my “Miller Time”) for finishing hard jobs and meeting deadlines. He was a schooled musician, technically adept, and also a street-savvy bluesman. And, often, I wouldn’t actually have a formal lesson with him… but, rather, would spend the hour asking “dumb” questions. It was great. I finally got to fill in the gaps that were sometimes embarrassing for me. I was already “good enough” to be the lead guitarist in a band… but those small knowledge gaps made me look like an idiot. “Fixing” them made me confident enough to forge ahead with my stage life.

Now, I get to return the favor, as a teacher. If you have a burning question you’ve been hesitant to ask, now’s your chance. No one will judge you, no one will call you stupid.

For this post, just leave a comment with your question. Don’t be shy.

And, I know that in earlier posts I said I wasn’t going to accept comments. I’ve changed my mind. People have been emailing me with their comments, and I now would like you to just post them here. It will probably be slow for a time — there are still just a handfull of folks who even know about this site yet. But, if I get off my ass and start spreading the word — and you do the same — we could develop a pretty dangerous little online community here.

So please — post a comment. I’ll address the questions in subsequent posts.

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  • John Thomas says:


    I’d post a question, but as I was reading your post I recognized myself in second level and especially “stall” questioning. Sometimes you just have to hear someone else verbalize it for you to stop, take a look and recognize it in yourself… and then get off your butt and do it.

    Thanks for the observations.


  • Paul Gouthro says:

    John, Love the articles… ESP ???word slut??? it???s a pictorial gem…

    Comment on – teaching vs.being the student –

    Quite often students (which we all are many or at least some of the time) confuse the want for more, new and additional teacher information with not having taken action. And action is often confused with the thought of finishing a project [usually way to prematurely… (others have told me they hate when that happens- wouldn???t known about that myself; ???cough???)].

    The teacher however can see it as a case of ???obstipation??? their student or client is experiencing.

    For the Word Slut dictionary…
    Obstipation /ob so LAG nee um/ n ?? Stubborn and persistent constipation. ???e.g: John, was greatfully for the obstipation he came down with on the camping trip, for he was not too keen on using leaves.??? (sorry John had to use somebody in the example)

    Just think of it as ???obstinate constipation??? where we often get stuck (sometimes unknowingly) and many, many times knowingly searching for a trick, a short cut a (please someone else do it for me) expectation; instead of (as John has often said) just write the ???damn thing???.

  • Michael Platt says:


    Point blank…I’d like to know what your thoughts are about selling a “super-book” vs. breaking a book into seperate pieces and selling each seperately….(and marketing each book at different times in a person’s life.)

    For example….let’s pretend a statistic came out that shows 80% of all copywriters named John will get Carpel Tunnel Sydrome within 9 months “on the job”.

    Let’s say that you received a sales letter from me the first week of your copywriting career……and I alerted you of the 80% chance of getting Carpel Tunnel……..and it just so happens that I have a book called “51 tips for preventing Carpel Tunnel Syndrome”.

    So, you end up buying it. It’s got great information….and it works for alot of people….but unfortunately for you…. 9 months later you still end up getting Carpel Tunnel. (There’s just no way to gaurantee you won’t get Carpel Tunnel…despite reading my book)

    Now, you look in your mailbox and get another sales letter from me…….this time it’s my “Home Remedy For Eliminating Carpel Tunnel Sydrome”.

    I guess my question is….haven’t I completely lost credibility (and lost any chance of selling my Home Remedy book to you), because my prevention book didn’t work for you?

    I guess what I’m asking is…..how do you set things up when you know tips on how to prevent a problem (but can’t gaurantee it won’t happen)…..and also know what to do to get rid of the problem?

    My thinking has been that seperating the information into 2 books would be better than a super-book…..because each sales letter will hit you exactly when you’re looking for that specific information………but I guess my fear is losing credibility when people say to themselves, “how can he sell me a prevention book…and then a home remedy?” Would a “super book” containing all the information I know…be better??

    I hope I made that as clear as I could.

    I know testing will be the ultimate judge… but I’d appreciate any insight you can give me, John.



  • Joe says:

    If you are writing a 4 or more page salesletter is it better to write on just one side of the page and send 4 seperate pages or write on both sides?

  • Bill says:

    What are the steps involved from taking the ad copy you’ve written to getting it published in a newspaper?

  • Well… don’t know if you get around reading this one here or not (I’ll ask in another place too), but:

    What’s the best way to instantly get started while MAKING money?

    Look, I’m not delusional about my copywriting skills. On a scale of 0 to 100 I’d give myself an 8 (and that still might be overconfident).

    However, I’m not attracted to the idea of starving half a decade before I get to make a nice living off of this (as some of the stories I’ve read).

    I’m attracted to doing what it takes in the most efficient way and get really good at this (and make lots of money of my skill).

    I wonder where I can hone my writing skills AND get paid for it on the same time?

  • mark grove says:

    I guess from what you’re saying John is,we should just start writing and offering our services and adjust as we go along.

    But I do have a question. It’s been between 5 and 6 years since you made this post, and I’m reading all your material on your blog now.

    Okay, I write articles,bios and press kit material for musicians. How can I approach record labels to do the same thing for their artists?

    You may never see this question,but I’ll take a chance John.


    Mark in canada

  • Jesus Miguel says:

    It would be easier, if we fucking do it all the time… We carry so much baggage.

    Pretty much is like Tony Robbins says. The fear of failure is the biggest fear of all.

    It’s also the fear of being against the crowd, being ostracized, criticized, being called stupid.

    We have to train ourselves, to avoid giving a fuck.

    I guess it all starts, when they teach you in school. To never make mistakes, instead of encourage us to learn more.

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