The Professional Writers’ Alliance Writing Challenge Winner …
One Former Afghanistan War Combat Veteran's Story About How Writing Copy Forces Him to Come Face-to-Face With His Worst Enemy …

My name is Lee Smith, and a little over three years ago, I would have never written something like this. In fact, if you really knew me – you would know attempting something like this would have never crossed my mind.

See, I'm supposed to be writing about my "writing routine” for the Professional Writers’ Alliance’s March Writing Challenge. But my writing routine isn't "routine" at all. In fact, developing it is quite possibly the hardest thing I've ever done.

 … it's even more difficult than reliving my war experiences in Afghanistan.

Why Getting Shot At By Mortars and Grenade Launchers is MUCH Easier than Writing Copy for Me

During my time in Afghanistan, I always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. Even with the sirens wailed around me and bombs dropped near our compound, I dreamed of being at home with my wife and soon-to-be daughter. I dreamed I would walk to the mailbox and collect checks for my copywriting work.

But now, I have a bigger battle to fight. It's the one waging inside of me DAILY.

You see, when I sit down to write, I never do research first. You might say, "How do you write copy without doing research first?"

Here's why: I have to ‘convince' myself I'm worthy to write copy.

You see, when I was growing up, I wasn't one of the popular kids in school. I was about 6 feet tall and 135 lbs soaking wet. I had the confidence of a one-legged skunk with acne.

So for years, because of my poor self image I struggled with believing I could actually accomplish something. It's a struggle I still deal with now.

Do I have my good moments? Absolutely. Getting a kiss from my wife when she's around inspires me.

My personal favorite?

I rub her pregnant tummy and remind myself that I'm capable of doing great things because our unborn daughter reminds me that I deserve it.

I do this because if I don't …

 … Mr. Skeptic starts talking.

He starts off …

"Hey … you've been working on this for a week and it's STILL not done – loser …

"You, a writer? Do you know who you'll be in the company of? You don't deserve to breathe the same air as those people.

"That headline sucks …

"Really … you want to use THAT lead? C'mon … you know better than that …

"It's a good thing you'll have your military retirement … because you've never done anything before … and you won't now."

So for me, writing isn't the hard part. It's getting to the point of believing I CAN write.

So before I write my own copy, I read good sales letters from my swipe file or write them out by hand to build my confidence.

But lately, I've found a secret to writing without my inner negative voice bothering me …

I've discovered my skeptic likes to sleep in. In fact, he usually don't wake up until the afternoon. That leaves me plenty of time in the morning to write WITHOUT being disturbed.

So over the past few months, I've developed a writing routine that helps me tremendously.

How the Magic Happens with the Magic Number I Swiped …

It starts at 5:15am.

I've heard Clayton Makepeace, Gary Bencivenga, and other successful copywriters usually get started early in the morning. So, I try to model what successful people do.

When my alarm goes off, I grab my Blackberry, shut off the alarm, splash water on my face, put my contacts in and make a beeline to my home office.

This early in the morning, my mind is clear. No thoughts. No distractions.

 … And no skeptics.

First thing, I grab any research I have on a project and place it on my desk. I can easily reference anything I need from there. If I have no research yet, that's my starting point.

Once I'm ready, I power up the laptop, and get ready. No liquids and no breakfast – either research or writing.

I learned on a Eugene Schwartz mp3 that his best copy came when he wrote for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. I figure if it works for him, it'll work for me.

So I set my timer, and …


My goal is to get as much researched or written in 33 minutes and 33 seconds. So I let it loose.

No editing. No backspacing. No proof-reading. And most importantly – no Mr. Skeptic.

I work in bursts. 33:33, here, 33:33 there. Because I have a full-time job where I have to check in by 7am, I can't waste a lot of time.

Once the timer sounds … I'm done. I don't proofread right then either. I just let the copy sit and allow my mind to cool down.

If I've got another burst in me, I make notes and organize it for later on my white board. A little red marker here – blue here – black there. It's a jumbled mess …

 … but no one can understand but me …

 … not even Mr. Skeptic.

By this time, I've got my outline for my later ‘burst' sessions. So I can now rest, and leave for work.

When I get in the afternoon, I pick up where I left off.

A 33:33 burst here, and another there.

Because of my limited schedule, you can imagine I want to be as productive as I can. So I don't have the luxury of going to coffee shops or bookstores to write until the weekends.

Even then, I like to kick back and relax with my wife. Or go shopping for baby items. Either way, it's relaxing and allows me to unwind.

Am I living the ideal writer's life for me? Not yet. But if I want to live it one day, I have to start somewhere – regardless of what Mr. Skeptic thinks.

[Lee wrote this essay as part of The Professional Writers’ Alliance’s monthly writing challenge series. He’ll receive a $100 AMEX gift card for his winning effort.

Learn more about The Professional Writers’ Alliance.]

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: April 1, 2011

6 Responses to “PWA Writing Challenge Winner: One Former Afghanistan War Combat Veteran's Story About How Writing Copy Forces Him to Come Face-to-Face With His Worst Enemy …”

  1. Hello Lee, You went to Afghanistan, engaged in battle, and lived to return to a life of copywriting. Congratulations and thank you for your service to our country.

    You are apparently now working a similar plan to Ed Gandia, where you work your copywriting business part time while you keep a roof over your head full time.

    You're on your way to victory and I'm sure we'll all be saying "I remember Lee Smith when he first started...!"

    Best wishes to you and may you continue to be successful!

    Robert Heiney

  2. Congratulations, Lee, on your article! It was both inspiring and a delight to read.

    Now...where'd I put that timer...?

    Guest (Lynn Wiley)

  3. I agree with Robert. First, Lee, thank you for your service to America. In my eyes, you and your buddies are heroes. And you'll see that it's true, the day will come when we'll hear your name and remember when...! Congratulations on winning the March Writing Challenge!

    Judy Andrew

  4. Congratulations, Lee! I knew it would be a winner! I think we all did! LOL!

    Wishing you continued success and tell Mr. Skeptic to get lost! You're with AWAI and PWA now and no skeptics are allowed. You've done a fine job of kicking him out the door!

    And thank you for your service to us! We are waiting for ours to come back soon!

    Best, Jennifer H.


  5. Lee this is very inspiring, but you must know all I ever saw watching you grow up was a very confident young man. We are sometimes our own worst critic but that's ok, it keeps us on our toes. I am so proud of you.

    Guest (GE Ayers)

  6. Very nice Lee! Congrats dear sir.

    Guest (Teia)

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