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Copywriting is a Full-Contact Sport

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James Young: a Technique for Producing Ideas

Today we discuss Mr. Young’s book on how to have ideas. It’s an old book and disregarded by some of my copywriter/art director friends. But I come back to it again and again. I like how Mr. Young serves up the notion of a way to go deeper than our immediate surface reaction. I like the book because he provides signposts and mile-markers along the road of getting to the heart of a notion.

Now that's good copy.

Now that’s good copy.

To me, copywriting is a full-contact sport. Here’s what I mean: ideas do not come from sitting in a dark room and thinking deep thoughts. That is called a “nap.” Ideas come from a mind-body connection. Copywriting starts with gathering materials (Young’s Step #1) and then writing out the connections between those materials and the target audience’s problem or perceived need (Young’s Step #2—Masticate). This mastication or digestion step involves pages of false starts and headlines and mind-maps. It involves shuffling index cards and drawing with crayons on the walls/arms/shoes and many dumb sketches. It involves telling others your nascent point and watching their reaction (“What the…. Huh? Get away from me.”)

I particularly love Young’s Step #3—Walk Away. It’s when I go for a bike ride or a jog or a walk. Or lunch. Anything other than the problem at hand. And then—Behold—the solution pops into being. Fully-formed. Sorta. Sometimes it’s an ugly baby and needs, shall we say, a trim. But out of this process come useful ideas that get to the heart of the matter and may—just possibly—cut through clutter rather than add to it.04012014-YoungBookCover

Check out Maria Popova’s take on Young’s technique here.


Image via Copyranter


One Response

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  1. Very thought provoking!


    April 2, 2014 at 2:58 am

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