Wisdom Roundup #3

Monday, 2:21pm
Reno, NV
Are you ready for a brand new beat?” (Martha & The Vandellas, “Dancin’ In The Street”)


Just cuz I’m such a nice guy, I like to gather recent Facebook posts I’ve published and lay them all out here on the blog…

… so you lazy types who can’t be bothered reading social media will still enjoy the advice, tactics and weirdness I lay out for everyone else.

So here, in no particular order, is a fresh pile of the good stuff from the last month or so:

Pro Chaos Theory Tip #1: Freelance copywriters learn quickly that the level of functional insanity among biz owners…

… is astonishingly high.

A client who (rightly) wouldn’t dream of interfering with his dentist, or plumber, or mechanic (“Here, let me drill for a bit on my molar — you’re doing it wrong”)…

… will routinely muck up and alter ad copy, no matter how accomplished the copywriter.

I’ve only had a tiny handful of clients in a 30-year career who resisted changing essential copy. The majority indulged in this ad-murdering habit (often after consulting with their English Lit major daughter, or the boys down at the local watering hole).

There are multiple ways to deal with this situation (the primary one is to establish yourself as “the adult in the room” early)…

… but first you have to realize what’s happening. You can’t “fix” dumb, and you can’t soothe irrational rage…

… but you can (as a First Option) learn to identify who’s gonna be trouble down the road, and choose not to play with dumb or irrational players.

Seems obvious. Isn’t. If you don’t stay aware, chaos will consume you.

Why are so many top writers introverts, I’m asked.


It’s an extroverted world. Introverts, to survive, must observe, understand and adopt extroverted models. This strengthens your Empathy muscles to absurd degrees.

The basic ingredient of good, persuasive writing is (aha!) empathy.

Extroverts are under no such pressure to study or change behaviors…

… and just get pissed off when forced to deal with introverts, who seem inscrutable and closed-off.

So, at least for writing, introverts have the advantage.

It’s only fair, as the world tends to bully introverts in most other categories.

One of my goals is to become “That Uncle I Never Had” — a worldly guy who would have taken ME aside back when I was so tortured by the challenges and choices of life…

… and just laid out a good reality check. Not tell me how to live, but show me the OPTIONS.

A single freaking clue or two would have gone a long way helping my bewildered teenaged-self cope.

For example: The entire extended family was working class — we traded physical labor for wages. A noble lifestyle that valued hard work, sweat equity, and not getting too big for your britches.

However, I was a near-sighted, introverted thinker. Turning off my brain and rolling up my sleeves to concentrate on hauling, hammering, lifting and building was doable, but difficult. My dairy-owning cousins seemed to revel in it, and mocked my mental exhaustion from blocking critical thought.

It didn’t dawn on me to pursue “brain work” until I hit 32. All my energies, up to that point, went into figuring out why I didn’t fit in, pushing uphill against the micro-culture of being working class.

I felt like a traitor, and a weenie.

I finally got my own clue, said fuck it, and became a freelance writer.

And, surprise, I suddenly worked harder and with greater sweating glee than I ever thought possible. This square peg had finally quit trying to fit into a round hole.

Letting my brain off its leash launched the career I should have always pursued…

if I’d ever gotten a clue it was even possible.

“That” uncle I never had would taken me aside and said “Johnny, me boy, you’re different. And that’s not just okay…

… but it’s something to CELEBRATE. And pursue with gusto. Think, and write, and debate and go down dark mysterious philosophical alleys to your hearts content…

and NEVER be satisfied with mediocrity.

Or conformity. Just don’t expect anyone to applaud your choices. You’ll catch grief all the way… and that’s to be seen as a badge of honor, not shame. Go your own way, and let your freak flag fly.”

That’s all most of us need in life — a clue. A hint that we’re not wrong to want something else, or abnormal to not even know what you want yet…

… but that it’s okay to wander away from the herd to find out.

I’ve met precious few people along the way who qualify as “that” uncle. So we can all use one.

This is why I write these long posts, and have kept the blog going for ten years. It infuriates some folks, but I’m writing for those who can use the advice and clues.

The truth is, going your own way won’t always make you rich. And you gotta be okay with that, if you’re gonna unleash your brain and heart.

Cuz sometimes, you will stumble upon wealth and happiness you cannot even comprehend now.

Life is one long risky adventure. And if you think you can make it safe and without drama, you’re deluded.

Much better to embrace reality, prepare yourself for the game, and work hard on a solid, ethical and deliriously happy ride.

Big bonus if you help others and make the joint a better place.

Do you have smart friends who always seem to make dumb-ass decisions?

Are — ahem — YOU one of these miscreants yourself? (Confession: I am. More often than I care to admit.)

Well, gather ’round. I believe I’ve stumbled upon a solution.

Here it is: When you have an important decision to make…

… just ask yourself this simple question: “What would a smart person do?”

Then, go do that.

Do NOT (as so many of us somehow seem to do) ask “What would a blithering idiot do?”…

… and then go do that.

No, no, no. This is your self-intervention moment.

Don’t be the blithering idiot.

Do be the smart person.

Sounds too simple and obvious to work, doesn’t it?

Stunningly, it works.

Pass it around.


Random thoughts I probably should just keep to myself: It’s the birthright of every American to bitch and moan about how things are run.

Heck, the country was birthed in a snit, and didn’t last a generation before dissolving into civil war.

Still… as anyone who’s ever had to meet a payroll knows…

… it’s ridiculously easy to complain and insist you could do a better job…

… but it’s infinitely harder to roll up your sleeves and actually get something done.

All pro copywriters who’ve had a client insist their changes made the ad “better” know that look the client gets when the results come in…

… and they’re suddenly faced with the harsh reality of their doofusness.

It’s similar to the look the drunk who thinks he’s a great singer gets when he finds hisself onstage with a karaoke mic, exposed for the clueless wreck he actually is.

The world is divided into 3 groups: Those who know what they’re doing, and do it well.

Those who don’t know what they’ve doing, but figure it out.

And those those who refuse to acknowledge they are incompetent maroons, yet insist on being in control.

This is why true experts like to hang out with each other. Because the rest of the time, they’re dealing with aggressive stupidity, misplaced overconfidence, and stubborn ineptitude.

Let the bitching and moaning commence.

No one can predict the future, but the universe always lays out hints…

I may have stumbled onto a scientific way to add MASSIVE productivity to your week.

It’s just freaking amazing how awesome this tactic is.

In fact, it adds the equivalent of a entire EXTRA day to your workweek!

Wanna hear what is?


Here’s the secret: I woke up today thinking it was Friday. Was kinda bummed that I hadn’t accomplished quite as much as I’d intended to this week…

… until I discovered it’s actually Thursday.


Entire extra day added!

Think I’ll use this found time to goof off.

I mean, I earned it. Being a productivity scientist and all…

If you agree with everything you read… then you ain’t reading the right stuff.

There’s a baked-in bias in our brains that seeks consensus. And that’s fine for civilians, whose shallow thinking usually causes little damage outside their social circle.

But when you’ve swum into the deeper part of the pool — whether in biz, politics, or celebrity — each new decision and action is fraught with larger consequences.

It’s fine to be hard-headed when you actually know what the hell you’re talking about.

It’s pretty screwed up, however, to take your industrial-level naïveté (the polite word for raw ignorance) onto the Big Kids playground where maroonity is challenged and a real handicap to getting shit done.

Read more stuff that pisses you off, but don’t GET pissed off. Instead, walk a mile in their shoes, and try to determine what is actually rankling you.

Our default internal mechanism of blindly rejecting the Other represents the worst of our tribal tendencies. The grand arc of civilization has been a relentless battle against that destructive thinking, but it requires disciplined effort.

Surrounding yourself with people and info sources that agree with you may seem the comfy way to go.

But it’s a trap for anyone seeking to live fully and with gusto.

Life is rife with challenges. Instead of dodging them, embrace them.

It may make your brain buck and resist at first, but growth is never easy.

If growth bothers you, best to swim back to the shallow end.

And that’s it for this session, folks.

Stay frosty,


P.S. Don’t forget to solidify your position as a true bad-ass in your niche…

… by quickly learning how to write everything you need to persuade, sell, and nurture your customer base AND your future prospects.

Best way to pull that off: Take the Simple Writing System at-home program.

At your own pace, using your own best learning style, we’ll simply and efficiently install murderously-good writing skills into your brain.

No matter how stubborn you are, or how convinced you’ve been that you “can’t write”. That’s nonsense. We’ve taught thousands of entrepreneurs, biz owners and rookie writers how to write at the most awesome level possible…

… and if THEY could do it, then you can, too.

It’s time to up your game.

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Bob Beverley says:

    Hi John,

    a ton of insight in one small space–spiced with humor, laced
    with vivid analogies, and the clues or reminders we all need in
    this complex world.

    thanks is not enough, cause this was gold!

    Bob Beverley

    P.S. As a psychotherapist, I sometimes ask myself “Why do I read so much marketing stuff?” And the answer is all over your post above. Marketing experts often have profound life insights, as
    do therapists, only the writing of the marketer (esp. people of your quality) are usually far more succinct, colorful, eye
    catching, and memorable, with way less jargon and academic meandering.

    • John Carlton says:

      You know I have a BA in psych, right? UCDavis, ’75. Nearly everything I learned then is now obsolete or has been proven wrong… but it instilled a lifelong love affair with studying human behavior and thinking. The podcast I do with Kevin Rogers is even called Psych Insights For Modern Marketers (pi4mm.com), and we freely mix up marketing truths with psychological insights.

      It’s mostly the stuff I learned from the street, and the street-wise salesmen who became my mentors as a direct response copywriter, that I’ve felt I need to share with everyone now. I’m not dissing academia, but the real truths are the ones I learned in the real world, not in books.

      Jung meets Hopkins, I always say. That’s the crux of the inner mind melding with the outside world of salesmanship.

      Thanks for the note.

  • Thomas Fouts says:

    Never a “bad” post! I always enjoy reading what you have to say! Always some gold nuggets that resonate in an “I get it” kinda way!

  • Jane says:

    This is great. Especially the part about “blindly rejecting the Other” which is very timely right now – and very easy to do – considering the political situation in the US. Thanks for posting!

  • David Allan says:

    Oh, man does this ring true…

    “The world is divided into 3 groups: Those who know what they’re doing and do it well.

    Those who don’t know what they’re doing, but figure it out.

    And those who refuse to acknowledge they are incompetent maroons, yet insist on being in control.”

  • So many great tidbits of advice here, John. Thanks!

  • Kurt Bouma says:

    I enjoy reading your stuff so much that instead of casually reading I’ve actually typed out the last few posts as I’m reading them. I think I may have just used YOUR words to convince my own self to buy the SWS.

  • Matt says:

    Good post, thanks:)

    I learned a lot so far from your writings… also from the Gary Halbert letters, and a few select others.

    Seems like you guys with the “old school” copy-tactics have got it down…

    …I can get those “aha moments” where things just start to make sense while reading your words.

    I remember when I bought your
    “Kick ass copywriting secrets of a marketing rebel” book. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant. So much totally resonated with me, but I had to take my time, I had to read it several times, and still didn’t get everything.

    Anyways, I dig your emails and posts


    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks, Matt. I had that same “firehose” experience when I first met Gary Halbert myself. We had some wild times together, and I’m just carrying the water a bit further here, trying to help whoever is ready to listen…

  • David Hunter says:

    I’m lovin’ your little time trick and getting an extra day each week! Hahahaha

  • John Franco says:

    Hi John,

    I really appreciate that you keep writing for those who are willing (or ready) to use the advice and clues.


  • Bob says:

    Thanks for being that crazy helpful uncle with all the good advice. I’m going to drop this note here, since I am unable to comment on your FB stuff, ’cause we aren’t friends. Since you’ve been gathering your FB stuff here, I want to call attention to your recent post about writing our own obituaries. And few people “liked” it. I already assume you realize fear of death is the Real Thing. And everyone can see it directly behind the unwillingness to write a will. But sometimes fear of death drives those catastrophic business decisions that we made out of fear of failure. So what to do? In business techniques, there’s such a thing as identifying the worst outcome you will accept, and another thing called risk mitigation. Those won’t get you anywhere with the fear of death.
    Enter Zen. Hundreds of years ago, Japanese warriors would use Zen to accept and contemplate their own death, not so they would make foolish mistakes on the field, but so they could avoid those foolish mistakes by remaining calm and clear headed in the thick of battle.
    I’ve read enough of your stuff to get an idea that your invitation to write our own obituaries probably had two intentions: 1. to pull our future forward by writing out goals, and 2. to make a dent in the fear of death. That’s actually a nice sugar coated way to do it.

    FWIW. I thought I’d share an executive summary of the Zen method. Maybe you can make something useful of it. This assumes the ability to actually sit still and quiet your mind.
    1. Sit and quiet your mind.
    2. Consider the fear of death. How does it make you feel? Feel it.
    3. Now, completely welcome the fear of death. Feel it. Remain silent and sit.
    4. Now, welcome death. Remain silent and sit.
    5. Notice that you didn’t die. Remain silent and sit.
    6. Eventually, you finish and get up.
    A few episodes of that, and now I’n ready to write that obituary. And I’ll put some stuff in there that I haven’t accomplished, yet.

    Is “cheers” inappropriate for such a downer topic?

    (I am not a Zen expert, I learned this from someone else.)

  • Andy says:

    Ah, you got me! Can’t resist science or productivity!

    Here we go…

    “Today is Friday!”

    Oops, it’s actually Friday.

    “Today is Saturday!!!”

    Hey! I already feel a little guilty for not having “earned” the weekend!

    Thank you, John! I will play with this newfound time freedom, and try to make the most of my early weekend (or get a lot done to justify its existence)!

    Didn’t know you were so 5D 😀

    (Neck-deep in a “woo-woo” niche at the moment. Everyone on our list is so *enthused* and I guess it rubs off! You presentation might be a little “masculine” for them, so… I am glad I can serve as a filter and help distribute these gems to the next gen! You rock, John!!!)


  • Tom Andrews says:

    Hey John,

    I’ve been sitting at my desk nodding furiously to myself at your first point.

    After all, it’s my single biggest pet-hate. And it’s made me feel better knowing it’s not just my work clients change; it happens to the great John Carlton, too!

    Like you said, imagine stopping a dentist midway through drilling your tooth and telling him he’s doing it wrong? Madness.

    (Although I’ve just realized it might be difficult to tell him anything with a drill stuffed in your mouth… Moving on…)

    It’s an interesting point you make about introverts.

    I’d describe myself as an “extroverted-introvert.”

    Other people think I’m as extroverted as they come. When I’m out, I love mingling and talking with people.

    However, I’m most happy in my own company either reading or writing. In all honesty, I’ve had to learn the social aspect of things. I can’t say I’m naturally comfortable with it, but, as you say, the world tends to bully introverts in most other categories bar writing.

    Which is why I thought it was important to “learn” the extrovert way of life.

    Anyway, fantastic read John. And gave me a good laugh, too.


    Tom Andrews

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