Mr. Fix-It

Wednesday, 12:53pm
Reno, NV
I’m busy 24 hours a day, I fix broken hearts, I know that I truly can…” (Del Shannon, “Handyman”)


Today, I want to share with y’all a simple pro-level tactic that just might change your career path forever… if, like most entrepreneurs out there, you’re laboring under a huge and common misunderstanding of how things work in the real world.

Here’s the problem: Most folks only see the surface of the culture, and seldom get to peek behind the curtain to see the infrastructure that supports everything.

Now, if you’re stumbling through life as a slacker or a follower… just bobbing to and fro like flotsam… then learning how stuff gets created isn’t important.

But entrepreneurs do not have that luxury. Once you take responsibility for the survival of a business, you better get hip to the Big Picture.

This means understanding the process of arriving at a finished product. Which requires rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty (or virtually dirty, in the digital world).

Here’s the quick tale of how I was introduced to this realization: Back in school, I was that doodling kid who just kept getting better at it… until one day the journalism teacher found one of the endless homemade comic books I was pumping out, and insisted I create a weekly cartoon for the high school newspaper.

Now, I loved the comics page in the local rag (the LA Times). The idea of drawing a comic strip of my own, however, was terrifying. I didn’t have a clue how they were actually made. Up to that point, I drew only in pencil, on big sheets of scrap paper, with no limits to sizing or length. Now, suddenly, I had to work in ink, inside a 3-inch by 4-column format.

And meet a deadline.

In retrospect, I should have just hit up the art teacher for tips on producing a cartoon in a publication. Or called up the local “real” newspaper and ask a production artist how it’s done.

But I had never had to research anything before. Like most American kids, I had spent my youth tearing things apart, not building them. I’d never asked anyone how something was done, ever. I just figured it all out for myself, in my own idiosyncratic way, thinking that’s how it had to happen. You “should” be able to figure everything out.

It’s a flaw in our brains.

Back then, the hard part of doing a weekly cartoon was coming up with jokes that fit into a four-panel format. But what consumed the most time was producing the final strip. I bought a double-aught nib in a wooden holder at the crafts store, plus a big bottle of India ink. And I drew veeeeeeery carefully…

… because I believed that published cartoons were drawn that way. You know, that Charles Schultz just sat down and inked out a Peanuts strip from left to right.

And if I made a mistake…

… I was screwed. Had to start over on a fresh sheet of paper.

Now, I’m a slow learner. Really slow. I drew freehand for two years in high school, and then for another two years in college (when the editor of the paper discovered I could draw and tricked me into doing a Zap Comix-like strip in the UC Davis Cal Aggie).

It was painful to work in ink like that, knowing any mistake meant starting over.

And then I finally took a class in commercial art.

D’oh! I learned that (a) pro cartoonists and illustrators worked in “blue” pencil first (which doesn’t show up when the art is photographed for final printing)… so they could be as messy as they wanted as they built up the art to final form and inked it…

… and (b) they worked in a very large format, using many different sizes of mechanical pens, and shrunk the art to the final size photographically only after they were done (which also shrinks small mistakes and makes for a very “clean” look)…

… while (c) using all kinds of white paint, cut-out slivers of masking tape, and pasted-on corrections in the process… so the actual art (before it was photographed) looked like a triage patient from a plane crash. And yet NONE of the fixes, additions, corrections and sloppy blue-line noodling showed up when the cartoon was printed.

This just blew my mind.

All of this equipment and know-how was readily available at the newspapers I’d worked for. I’d just never asked. The editors relied on blue pencils and stet cameras and paste-up magic… every page was a mess as it headed to final art.

This simple discovery caused something critical to snap in my brain.

I was finally FREED from the shackles of self-imposed perfectionism. I could draw as loosely as I wanted to, populate or depopulate the art with characters on a whim, and I never had to start over from scratch no matter how ugly my mistakes were. I could fix anything.

This was a freaking revelation that helped me transform myself into a high-level freelance copywriter almost immediately after launching my career.

How? By applying the same tactic of “building up” my ads, rather than trying to create something perfect on the first draft.

The majority of entrepreneurs I counsel believe, at first, that when writing their own advertising they need to start with the headline and progress logically through the copy to the final pitch.

I know where that belief comes from, too. The ads they see in the wild are finished products. All the work that went into creating that finished product is invisible. There’s no “infrastructure” to an ad, no curtain to peek behind once it’s posted or printed.

So, for Lesson One, I make it clear that all top writers build up ads, rather than just write them out in a single burst of inspiration.

For example: I almost NEVER write the headline first. I write out the BULLETS first… because good bullets fuse the features and benefits of a product, and that gives you deeper insight to what’s good about the thing and how it will affect your prospect.

And… I write pages and pages of bullets. Most of them will never find their way into the final ad. I write them out sloppily, then go back and rewrite them. And rewrite them again a day later. And toss some, bring in new ones, merge and split others. Again and again and again, right up until the deadline.

When I feel ready to write a headline… because after all those bullets, I’m now totally conversant with the inner workings of the gig (both technically and emotionally)… I start slamming a bunch out, just ripping through basic “how to” models to get the juices flowing. (I always recommend you start with a “how to” type of headline, and just write out what you’re offering to the reader.)

It is not unusual for me to write up 50 or more different angles of headlines, and massage them all through multiple drafts. Then, set the mess aside. Don’t choose one yet.

Instead, while getting “cold” on the heads (by not thinking about them for a day or two) I’ll either work on the opening paragraph (very crucial, because you’re doing the hard work of dragging your reader into your copy) or the final “here’s what you need to do now” part of the pitch.

The point is this: Early drafts are a mishmash of sections, in various states of being finished, over a period of time… and to the uninitiated eye, the whole thing looks like a house torn apart before being remodeled. Total chaos.

The “art” of creating a finished ad is in the final stages where everything is dovetailed together. And rewritten to be a smooth, greased ride for the prospect (who, when you’ve done it right, will climb onboard at the headline and not be able to leave the ad until he arrives, breathless and shaking with desire, at the order form).

Just get over your bad self. No one who writes ads for a living starts with the headline and just writes it all down from there, perfect and ready to go. And if the pro’s don’t do it that way, you shouldn’t either.

Perfectionism sucks. The finished product may approach a sort of awesomeness, but it’s almost never “perfect”. Even top Hollywood directors known for producing lush, slick, technically-seamless movies (Ridley Scott and James Cameron come to mind) GET to that final point through years of prep and detail and misfires.

The key to good marketing is understanding how some parts are cobbled together, while other parts are burnished to a craftsman’s shine over time… and learning to follow the same guidelines when doing it yourself.

Realizing that final products are often attained by knowing how to FIX mistakes made me fearless about being creative. And about being productive — I was freed from the sense that I had to know precisely what I was doing or where I was going before I began any project…

… and, instead, I just got busy immediately and never hesitated to make mistakes or wander off into dark alleys (metaphorically speaking, of course). Because going from inception to finished product is NEVER a straight, clean line.

Go get messy.

Stay frosty,


P.S. The comments section is open, if you want to share your own tale of discovery related to becoming successful.

And the best thing I hear from entrepreneurs is when some piece of advice finally rams home, and that “a-HA!” moment happens. I know the next time I hear from them, they’ll be wearing success like a pro…

(Photo credit: Cindy Shine)


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  • Matthew Newnham says:

    Yep – guilty as charged, John. Recovering rapidly. [Note to self: must do better.] Thanks for the kick up the proverbial…

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for the nicely typed, very neat note, Matthew. (Just kidding. Always good to hear from ya.)

      Suggestion: Have you ever tried going by “Matty” or “The Mattmeister” for a while… just to piss off your own perfectionist streak (which you’ve admitted)? I used to love discovering things that tweaked my own ego, and then exposing them. I was once a fairly prickly guy, and continually forcing my ego into submission helped me become the non-perfectionist boho I am today…

      • Matthew Newnham says:

        Hey JC,

        No need for name change on my part – getting out of my own way is a 24hr a day way of being these days, and I’m still an apprentice, grateful to learn. Lots of karmic ruts to unwind…

        For what it’s worth, what’s helped get over the perfectionist jag big-style has been to play old-fashioned newshound. I just stick my nose and hands right into the entrails of my clients’ business, to find the real heart of the story. Not the “nice one” or “the well crafted one”, but the one that’s going to make people go, “about f-ing time you shared the good stuff – what took you so long?!”. [Like when the bartender stops trying to serve the ordinary whisky, and offers you the 24 year old single malt, because they know you appreciate the difference.]

        Without exception, this *real* story is turning out to be far better than the client realised they had on their hands. Then we kick it around seven ways to Sunday until it rings true for them and their ideal customers. Otherwise, there’s no story, no guts and no heart, no matter how much ink I bleed onto the paper.

        Then the copy is a whole lot easier to write, and using your approach will make the writing process so much more powerful.

        BTW, you crack me up with your boho sign-off. I doubt I’ll ever be a Gonzo type like you, but boho? Already wearin’ the t-shirts, burnin’ the incense etc. See you in the East Village, the Castro District or Bali any time…

        • John Carlton says:

          Not sure if I’m following the “boho” reference. I meant “bohemian”, as in the dictionary definition — non-conformist, earthy kinda beatnik dude. Is there something I’m missing here?

  • Holy J.Harry Christ! Um, like, wow! I can’t see for the spots in front of my eyes from the lightbulb flashing before me… phew! I’d better sit down… I’m a “noobie” copywriter and entreprenuer, kinda pickin’ stuff up as I go along, generally winging it for the most part. I am “in the moment” with regards to the “should” be able to figure everything out approach to this new way of doing business.
    It would be fair to say that this post has hit a home run as far as my progress is concerned, now if you’ll excuse me I’ve just caught a glimpse of success up ahead, I may not be back for some time.

  • Carl Picot says:

    Hey John

    This is a very interesting story … I love the way that you write about starting with the bullets… and then throwing things out and changing them. I am way too perfect … and then I released my forst sales page with known typo’s in there that I did not bother to fix and after days and days of deductive sculpting of the words and phrases …..and replacing all rational words with emotional ones .. I finally came to my finished piece.

    The story of the Ah ha ..moment of freedom .. away from the shackles of having to stop after every mistake .. hit home 🙂

    The worry of ‘getting it right’ is always there when Im creating … and who knows when something is really right until it converts .. and one group of prospective buyers is going to have a different set of ‘what’s right’ than another … so I guess test and tweak is the order of the day.

    OK I guess flowing and greasing that slide is the order of the day .. down to the buy button 🙂

    Thanks for the great story.

    Awesome stuff !!


  • Henry says:

    One of the best lessons I learned from a fiction writing professor (best college degree for copywriters, by the way) was the class we were told to bring in 2 copies of the story we just spent 6 weeks writing.

    Prof has a big tray of scissors sitting on her desk. We were told to turn in one copy of the story, pick up a pair of scissors, and sit down.

    She explains that we have to literally cut our story into individual scenes, rearrange them until we’ve told the same story in another way. We got to type up new transitions but the draft we turned in next couldn’t be more than two pages longer.

    Never thought about any type of writing project as a linear process since…. Although I use digital cut and paste instead of scissors now.

  • Eldonna says:

    Ask for advice from those who know how to do what you want to do. Complete projects as quickly and easily as possible. That’s good advice right there, John. For any task. Thanks! I needed that reminder for a few projects I’m working on.


  • Jim says:

    Hi John,

    After reading this I won’t feel so bad when first drafts, well, suck! It’s always the way that the better something is, the less you see or even think about the process behind it. Thanks again for lifting the veil a little!



    • John Carlton says:

      Pro copywriters have this age-old tactic we call “Toss the first 2 pages”. After our first draft of a long-copy ad, we nearly always edit out the first and second pages. We’ve learned, from long experience, that in first drafts, we’re just “clearing our throat” in the first pass, and most likely are not being pithy, and are probably mumbling and stumbling and not getting to the point.

      I’ve OFTEN tossed massive first-draft copy. And second- and third-draft copy, too. As a pro, you learn to be merciless, and never fall into the “sunk cost theory” of writing — no matter how long it took you, or how much you love the phrases and rhythm… if a section of your copy isn’t doing the job of advancing the sale (no matter HOW great is as literary achievement), then it gets tossed.

      Another advanced tactic for your toolkit…

  • Jay says:

    Thanks for the great story, John. I measure and predict performance in people and perfectionism is brutal for them – as you know – so loved reading this and have people I’ll pass it on too… Thanks! Jay Henderson

  • CindyS says:

    Thanks John, you are uncannily timely — I’m working on 2 copywriting jobs simultaneously and getting ‘stuck’ on headlines/intros — putting headlines aside to write the bullets (i.e. meat), thanks for the reminder!

    Oh, and nice photo!! Where did you ever… get…. oh, right! lol 🙂

  • Alan says:

    John thanks…Mr. Fix-It just nailed my character flaw. Just getting started in this biz and your admonishment came at the perfect…oops, scratch that…just the right time!

  • Michael says:


    What an enjoyable piece.

    What comes through for me the most is authenticity – a sense that you really know who you are and that your readers can too when they get their heads out of the way.

    It sounds almost like you shift into an altered state to weave emotional energy into the writing that ultimately creates the “fabric” of the finished work. I like the “redesign” part – changing, adding, regrouping idea and then “letting the sauce rest in the cooler before you simmer it again.” Understanding your creative process – the art of it – from a different perspective connects with me in a new way.

    I can really relate to the Mr Fix-It analogy because I’ve renovated 7 houses – several extensively – and started out in life being a perfectionist. Making mistakes was not acceptable – until I got over it some 4 decades later.

    I’ve made a lot of stuff using a table saw over the years and learned early on that woodworking is never about not making mistakes, it’s about how effectively you learn to blend the mistakes to become part of the finished product.

    A big part of the “art” is actually how you handle the mistakes.

    Thanks for the insights and how you teach.

  • Bob says:

    “Realizing that final products are often attained by knowing how to FIX mistakes made me fearless about being creative. And about being productive — I was freed from the sense that I had to know precisely what I was doing or where I was going before I began any project…

    … and, instead, I just got busy immediately and never hesitated to make mistakes or wander off into dark alleys (metaphorically speaking, of course). Because going from inception to finished product is NEVER a straight, clean line.”

    Go get messy.

    I just added this to my journal of quotes.

    Thanks John

  • Oh John…

    Your RANT’s are always fabulous! I need to comment on this one because it hit so close to home.

    Back in the early 80’s, shortly out of college, I landed a job in a marketing department in the financial services industry, selling to sell underwriters all day long. I was a science major and never took a journalism, sales or marketing class in my life. I just wrote “narratives” on top of the boring application forms…with the intent to give each submission/application a beating heart (or at least a pulse) instead of only sawdust-dry data.

    My effectiveness in landing business wasn’t as difficult for me as it seemed for others only to learn they never sent in apps with stories. Who knew?! I was oblivious to the fact that I was technically doing “copywriting” – never heard of the term – and, for years really DID write a story top to bottom.

    Similar to you doing your artwork in ink, not knowing there was another way until you took a class in commercial art, I didn’t know shit about copywriting until I took YOUR virtual copywriting class only a few years ago!

    Glad I found you. Whew!

    Keep up the rants…

    Cindy Daniels

  • […] Mr. Fix It – The Secret To Finding Out How | […]

  • G says:


    I demand you put a book out or release a physical newsletter

  • Steve Amos says:

    Agree with all you wrote John. I tell beginning writers to give themselves permission to write ugly. (Thanks Lee Pound for the advice) Everything of mine that goes to print is revised and edited 9 to 12 times. I may need less someday if I learn to spell 😉
    My advertising gets just as much attention as the business articles.
    Thanks again John for another great post.

  • I’m writing Titles and subtitles for a kindle book and got stuck. Brilliant article and just at the right time. I’m going to get on and write the first chapter and leave the title for a bit. Thanks

  • Doberman Dan says:

    Hey John,

    Long time no speak.

    I sold off all my businesses at the beginning of the year, announced I was available for copywriting & consulting… and after 10 months of working more than a prostitute at the Democratic National Convention, I’m just NOW able to come up for air and catch up on my reading.

    Your blog was at the top of the list.

    There are some HUGE frickin’ gems here I wish I would’ve discovered decades ago. I’d be retired on my own private island by now.


    Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

    Anyhoo… to keep my perfectionism under control and hog-tie/gag that little SOB on my shoulder constantly whispering crticisms and negative comments in my ear, I like to play a little game.

    I say, “What could I do if I wanted to absolutely destroy this business/sales letter, etc?”

    Ironically, after spending a few minutes coming up with all kinds of really stupid, ridiculous and destructive stuff, GOOD ideas start slipping in there.

    Not EXACTLY sure why but I THINK it’s because giving myself the freedom to be absolutely sucky, the “self editor” gets turned off for a while and my demented gray matter can actually start working like it’s supposed to.

    Or something like that.

    I’m sure you could do a much better job of ‘splainin’ it than lil’ ole me. I grady-ated from Barberton High School (same as Gary Halbert) so I didn’t get much good learnin’. 🙂

    Thanks, John! Keep the good stuff a’ comin’.

    Doberman Dan

    • John Carlton says:

      Hey, Doberman! Great to hear from you. We sure miss you at the mastermind.

      And, oddly, I just posted somewhere else how — when I work out at the gym — I actually do “negative motivation” on myself. I tell myself I’ll never make it to whatever number of reps I’m after, that I’ll fail, and that there’s no way. My former trainers were always shocked, but I need different motivation all the time. And the rah-rah “you can do it!” nonsense drives me crazy. Too much positive thinking can ruin you. Oh, and I always completed all sets, and reached my rep goals. Motivation works no matter how it sounds to outsiders.

      So your idea of asking how to ruin an ad is right on. I just gave that advice to the mastermind, in fact, last month. Consider how you can screw up the sale, and map it out. Then, go in the opposite direction. That kind of “look at the negative” is illuminating as hell, because one of the main ways you can turn people off is to be too positive, too pie-in-the-sky, too annoyingly chirpy. I’ve seen copywriters be all happy-feet when trying to sell solutions to horrific health problems. Nobody trusts a doctor who’s laughing at your misery.

      Anyway, good luck on your new career adventure. Stay in touch.


  • A similar process can be used for writing books and it’s how most anyone can write a book. It’s an iterative process.

  • The process of getting to our best is never easy. If it’s easy, it’s suspect, right? If someone tells us that something is easy, that person is also suspect. Excellence only LOOKS easy… And you have had us all fooled for quite some time, John, making excellence look so casual and easy. This post is a genuine breath of fresh air, sending me out to score a few more spiral-bound notebooks from Dollar General, to fill up with bullet points and headlines. Lists are easier to see on real paper, don’t you think?

    • John Carlton says:

      I agree, Mia. I often write out my lists longhand. Or print them out, and then add longhand notes (to the point my pages are heavy with ink and pencil marks).

      Don’t sweat “easy” so much as “efficient”, for guide words. “Easy” is in the eye of beholder — since what I’m looking for is a KILLER ad, and I know that requires killer salesmanship and deeper thinking than usual, I see this list-making process as truly “easy”. Because it gets me where I want to go. I could skip that step, and maybe save time, but I wouldn’t GET to where I wanted. It’d be like not stopping to get gas for the car, because it takes more time and hassle, and just try to reach home without enough gas. Not gonna happen.

      Thanks for the note.

  • dANNY8bALL says:

    Well Johnny, I’m with Scotty Stembridge on this one. This blog post blew my (thinning) hair back so fast, I feel a little dizzy. In my years of rod building, I was never so happy as when a car was still in bare metal. Any change I needed to make was SO possible, ’cause I could weld, fabricate, or pound it into submission. Once the paint was on, I was more reluctant to go back and correct any flaws, or change a concept.

    Think I need to send my writing to “paint” a whole lot later then I do. And let the headlines cool off a bit. Literally “pages” of bullet points? Genius Johnny, Genius! Clearly I’ve been lazy, and I’ll dig deeper from now on.

    thanks man!

  • Paul Albertson says:

    Hi John – Excellent rant as usual – Whenever I feel the dragging anchor of perfectionism dropping in I always think back to the the Dan Kennedy mantra “..progress not perfection..” but it’s a great tag line to that quote – “Progress not perfection…I can fix it up later.”
    Thanks for the great blog


  • James King says:

    Your blog post reminds me of a quote I read somewhere:

    First get it written, then get it right.

  • Jimmy Curley says:

    Another great post John.

    I’ve always marveled at the Hollywood movie where the writer tosses crumpled balls of paper into a monster pile when suddenly – POW – it hits.

    The big idea.

    They insert a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter (okay, this is 1970s stuff) and type out “Chapter One”…

    …then breathlessly whip off page after page in one mad dash until, finally, they slowly peck out “The End”.

    The winded writer wipes his or her brow and places the final page ontop a huge and neatly stacked manuscript.

    Out comes the cigarette and smug look of satisfaction.

    I guess it’s not so much the cliche that astonishes me, but that the scene is written by (yes)… a WRITER. A writer who certainly knows better because they know of course, that this is utter nonsense.

    Personally, with ad writing, I like to get “messy” with tons of little paragraphs on why I think the product is so friggin’ cool. I usually end up with 20 or 30 pages of rambling benefits and a few gems that can be boiled down and crafted into a 4 to 6 page sales letter.

    Everyone’s got their method – but I’ve never heard of anyone pounding out a finished copy in a straight line.

    Great topic John.


    • John Carlton says:

      Yep, the Hollywood idea is t-o-t-a-l bullshit, and warps people’s minds. Same with music, and all other “creative” endeavors. Most people are so clueless about the process that they would rebel at the truth (like seeing a writer just stare at the typewriter, then type a bit, then make a correction, then write more… no drama at all, just focus and workmanship). Popular culture demands that everything be “easy”. Hard work just scares the crap out of people. They’re afraid their brains will melt…

      Thanks for the note, Jimbo.

  • Susan Thompson says:

    Writing adds reminds of my essays for university:)

    You gather as much information as you can, read, write and throw together ideas until it kind of makes sense. Rewrites and more re-writes mash it together and even when you hand it in wonder what you could have done better in retrospect. Perfectionism is not all its cut out to be. Have a great day and thanks for the post 🙂

  • John, your whole approach of building an ad “from the inside out” is so, well, mind-expanding! This from a CPA that already thrives on thinking outside the box. And you always take it to a whole ‘nuther level, as we say in the South.

    • John Carlton says:

      I like that “whole nuther level” quote — I used to hear it from my older relatives all the time (Texas and TN roots). Good to know it’s still useful slang…

  • corrado izzo says:

    You can replace the word “Ad” in your blogpost with the word “Track” because the same rules apply to producing a piece of music in the studio.

    Noone starts from the hookline when writing a song “usually”, the hookline is often discovered when listening to the live studio recording the day after or the day after that.

    What you want to do is go in and jam, just let it go, because if discussions start how the kick doesen’t sound good at around 20.000 hertz and that you cannot start playing if that detail doesen’t sound right no great song no great hook is ever gonna come thru you.

    play – record – listen – recognize – refocus – wow
    think – write – read – recognize – refine – wow

    We called the perfectionists in the studio : Vinylrecordgroovecounters ie. Those that waste their time counting the grooves on the records instead of using their time to produce something to put onto the grooves.

    Ps.: fell into that trap many times myself and for periods i have to ceremonially kick mr.perfectionist out of my office.


    • John Carlton says:

      Nice view from another angle, Corrado. Thanks. Getting into a real recording studio is on my Bucket List. I’ve only done home/garage recordings, and we try to get first-takes all the time, stupidly. But then, I’ve only worked with 4-track…

  • bananas says:

    Hey John,
    Just another ‘thanks man’ from me :o)

    I’d been bumping along the last few days, working on a new project. Slowly come to the conclusion that, even though it’s something new and that I hate, and have zero shot at getting it RIGHT the first time, I just had to do it anyway.

    So, thanks for the validation :o)

  • Richie says:

    “bullets first, bullets first, bullets first” – I will repeat this mantra till it sinks in. Thanks for another great blog.

  • Joann Loos says:

    I think this is the way any creative endeavor is done. I do the same thing with the jewelry I design. The instructions are written so you start at one end of the necklace and continue across to the other end. But when I’m actually creating a new piece, I start in the middle and work out.

    Now I just need to try this with my copywriting!

    Thanks for the great insight!

  • Great piece of advice. I’ve always done it the old way (laboring until everything was just perfect). Now I do it the way you suggested writing bits and pieces here and there and then put it all together. And the result is a much, much better finished product with much less stress.
    Much Thanks
    – Carl Willoughby

  • Glenn says:

    John, this is a brilliant observation and share. Perfectionism is, as you infer, a serious misunderstanding of reality that has stifled so much good that would have otherwise been ventured. As Voltaire said: “The Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

    This lesson applies to many aspects of my life. What has long been idle knowledge must now become practical . . . thanks to your reminder.

  • Lee Romanov says:

    Thanks John,

    Your story helped me with the ending of my book….
    GET RICH By Telling People Where To Go!
    It launches next week on Kindle. I’ll send you a copy.

    All the Best,
    Lee Romanov

  • Alan says:

    That’s what the book I’m writing is like — “Hey, it’s a rough draft!” Lots of bullets and ideas, ammo for bringing the finished product into my sights. It looks like my room did when I was 10, without the Closet of Anxieties. Thanks for the wise words amigo!

  • Tia Dobi says:

    The first draft of anything is shit?

  • rob joy says:

    From: Rob Joy
    Land down under
    11:41 am Wednesday
    7th December 2012
    Location: Cibo’s cafe
    Mosley Square, Glenelg
    South Australia 5045

    Dear Big Dog (JSC)

    I love how you do the bullets first and have you mention that once before…

    I’d like to share how my process goes to be completly honest I dont where who who influenced me it maybe Sir Gary of Halbert of Jay (not sure)

    Anyway, I soak up all the info do the regular sale dectective stuff….stu on it for hours and soak it all up like dry sponge than go do something for while keeping both my iphone (using the notes section) and a note pad and pen handy.

    For what ever reason, it always almost happens like this I could be out away from home, either walk, run, down the beach which is only short walk, grocery shopping and even once it happen for long while in night clubs of all places…

    My brain some how shuts down like re-booting a P.C. without any advance warning I start either peking at the iphone or scribbling down on note pad…

    It comes so fast and so effortlessly…words are just vommiting out of my head in breathless heave of words…

    This will last for short stint.

    Mainly the bulk of the copy, part of the headline….

    The bullets I do later, have no idea why it happens in that order…

    I than pop the laptop open and started typing again this for some reason digs down deep into my brian and again starts to fire up whatever section of my brain and it starts to flood again no so fast so furious (no pun on the movie)

    I dont always get it done in first shot but the experience of words, para’s, sentences, all spews out like I’m hurling the contents of my belly after way too much icy cold beers-burbon shots and what ever else the bar maid cons me into…lol

    I have only ever taken deep look at Gary’s some of Jay’s and your stuff, one other guy here in oz Brett Mcfall who is damn good writer….so I dont know who takes the credit for how I write…that is how it happens…

    I dont know how else to describe in words the process other than what I have shared…it’s unusal feeling of effortless writing…

    I actually enjoy the process-just soaking it all up and than BOOM! out it comes hours, sometimes day or so later I’m not sure what part of my brain is activated however it like digs down few gears and goes like fully sick old school cobra shelby on highway 66…with flames belching out of the exhaust pipes…

    All the best, again another top post amongst others…



    P.S. National news down here has been ramming the major news bulletins and special pollictal commentary shows bout U.S. elections….have only had short period of time to try and understand your pollictal process of election all I can say is, it seems tighter than clssic rock band between both obama and the rich dude…

  • Anthony says:

    Love it.
    I’ll use the mnemonic ‘Dirty Harry’ to help me recall – ‘Bullets & bloody chaos’

  • Art McCormack says:

    Great story about how you pained through creating those perfect cartoons…it really hit home.

    As a fledgling writer myself I can closely relate to your past experiences as I’m living them right now – working on a webpage and struggling with headlines before I have other parts of the project going.

    I have created a F&B list, so with your permission I’m going to borrow a page from your book and start cranking out bullets – never thought of doing it that way…thanks!

    This post is truly freeing…I don’t have to be perfect after all – thank you John.

  • Intuitive John SHoemaker says:

    I used to read the biographies of some of my favorite writers and gave it up.


    Because I could see all the mess that showed up in their books.

    The interesting woman character in one book based on the trials and tribulations of his real life 2nd wife…
    took the allure and mystery out of it for me.

    Same with special effects in movies…now I just enjoy them..don’t care how they were done…just stare in wonder.

    I bring this up because I’m one of those people who thought I could start up and breeze through a project…and some
    you can…but you turned a reminder of “wait it out” into a new standard for me.

    Many Thanks,


    PS Who are my favorite authors? Phillip K Dick and Somerset Maugham

    • John Carlton says:

      I’m actually reading a collection of Dick’s first short stories, from the early 50s. He hadn’t yet hit his stride, but the genius of his ability to envision whole alternative worlds, and make them real with just a few select phrases, was already in full bloom. I’m headed to his novels next…

  • Tripp says:

    Fantastic article, John. I’m smack dab in the middle of creating products and opt-ins and such, so this really spoke to me. I’ve been creating non stop only to realize that you’re right, it’s never going to be 100% on the first shot and you can’t treat every minute of your work as perfection. I think the most important lesson I can take from this post is to just DO IT. Stop over thinking. Stop procrastinating. Stop worrying. Dive right in and you can fix the mistakes later.

  • Well Hello John, with my first membership site created the time came to write the sales copy but where to start, blank pages are a scary thing!

    By taking your advice and starting with the bullet points, I have actually started to fall in love again with this site that has been a source of frustration for too long.

    I actually intend to make a sales video but as you gotta have something to say in the video your system still applies.

    Thanks, igor

  • John,

    Thanks for the reminder on “getting hip to the big picture”. It was great to meet you at the GKIC this past weekend.

    Your presentation showed me how much corporate culture can tend to whitewash the creativity out of good people.

    Take care!

  • Elwin says:

    Hi John,

    Awesome article! Just wetting my feet in copywriting.. Awfully hard! 🙂

    However, great story, I’m reading all I can..

  • John C. says:

    Dear John-
    Thank you for your honesty. I feel like that too. It stops me sometimes because I feel everything has to be perfect first. I will now start using bullets first like you before I develop a headline. Thanks again and keep up the great work. I have learned alot from your blog posts. God bless.
    John C.
    El Paso, TX

  • What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you. . .

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