Reality Blog: The Simplest Way to Improve Your Writing


I know someone who posts on Facebook on the first day of each month, “Gee, just yesterday it felt like [previous month].”

Kind of lame, but it always makes me smile…

And it’s how I feel whenever I do a monthly check-in about my current goal. Hand-copying controls has made me more aware of time, strangely. I’ll explain in a bit, but first, here’s why I’ve found this to be a worthwhile experience so far.

A Self-Made Education

Hand-copying letters is what you make of it. It’s just you, the letter you’re copying, and your pen and paper. Which makes it incredibly simple to get started.

At the same time, I wanted to do a little more processing than just write the letter. So I created a routine.

I read any background information I have about the letter first. AWAI puts notes in the margins of the Hall of Fame letters, and The Greatest Direct Mail book has a short discussion of each letter and what makes it so effective. Whatever information is there, I read first so I can keep the specific points in mind while I’m writing.

Then I read each sentence separately, copying them one by one. If I’m somewhere it won’t be disruptive, I read the sentence aloud before I start writing it. And if it’s a long sentence, I might break it up and read the portions individually as I copy them.

Sometimes the design of a letter makes it hard for a hand-copied version to look like the one that was mailed. I use capital letters and underlines on mine, and I copy all the elements that are supposed to appear handwritten off to the side.

When I’m finished, I read the entire letter (aloud if I’m alone), along with any notes or marks in the margins. And I might go back again sometimes to read the author’s notes.

The exception to this is The Plague of the Black Debt. This looooong sales letter has chapters like a book. So I try to look at different sections within the chapters and see how everything fits together. I also want to read the entire book again after I’m done (and I’m getting close now — I’m at the appendices!), to see how it flows.

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Candice Lazar

Candice Lazar is a copywriter and marketing consultant. Her specialty is copy that helps clients develop long-term relationships with their customers.


  • Thank you for your article. I find I have a hard time making myself do this work. I like some of the things you did and I will try some of your technics. I know it important so, back to the mill.

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