The Village Blacksmith Wordsmith

Maybe from an ancient high school English class you remember this first stanza from “The Village Blacksmith,” by the minor American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

UNDER a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

Two justifying points here: 1) I call Longfellow a “minor” American poet not only because there are no major American poets, but because in no way and with no type of claimed credential could he qualify to stride the halls of the Mighty alongside such titans as Robert Browning and A.E. Housman. And 2) I began what I sardonically call my professional career at a U.S. university, teaching English literature. My early attention to words has made millions for me.

So why bring this up at all?

For us, as professional wordsmiths, our own revised version of this poem might be:

What can be seen there on the screen?
The writer never lingers.
Do the words just tell, or do they sell?
They’re atip the wordsmith’s fingers.
And the test of success comes with a “Yes”
Responding to those zingers.

So, okay, it ain’t Browning. But it is indicative of what we should be excreting onto screens and paper: words that exemplify the specific and dedicated purpose of all direct-response copy. Paste this truism to both your keyboard and your brain:

The purpose of a direct-response message is to cause the recipient of that message to perform a specific positive act as the direct result of exposure to that message.

That’s it. No, no, no, the purpose isn’t to show off your sophisticated vocabulary. The purpose isn’t to rattle off an artificial series of two-to-three-line paragraphs. It’s to demand and achieve action.

So what? So this.

Ahhh … action. Just as a miniature starter-kit, here are three negatives whose exclusion will increase the percentage of those who perform a specific positive act as the direct result of exposure to whatever messages you generate:

  1. Forever, don’t use the phrase “Act now” in your selling copy.
  2. Forever, don’t say, “You will be among the first to …” in your selling copy.
  3. Forever, avoid the word “available” unless a mad and frantic search for a more apt word leaves the word-bucket empty.

Maybe you quickly acknowledge that these tiny fragments add to copy effectiveness. Or maybe after puzzling over them and replacing them in copy on your schedule, you’ll see how easy it is to be the acclaimed Robert Browning of copywriters instead of the journeyman Longfellow. Or maybe you’ll just take my word for it.

And these are just three of a boatload of tips, tricks, and tactics you should have at your fingertips if your ambition extends beyond staying off food stamps.

All right, are you interested — even mildly — in the possibility that other copy-enhancers exist? Are you interested in the possibility that those enhancers are sitting there waiting for you to claim them, use them, and convince unwary targets to perform a specific positive act because you grabbed and shook those targets with words that transformed them from skeptics to advocates?

Here’s one easy and accessible (did you catch that word? Five minutes ago, would you automatically have used “available”?) avenue leading directly to expansion of the power of your force-communications:

AWAI’s 2012 Bootcamp will include a fairly hefty bagful of preferred effective word choices. Some will be obvious to you. Some may be more subtle. Note, please, the difference isn’t in a factual core; it’s in word choices that exploit the most positive aspects of that core.

(Example — when would you use “$100” … “$100.00” … “One hundred dollars” … “A hundred bucks”? Facts don’t change but impact does, based on what you’re saying and to whom.)

Got it? Get it.

One huge benefit copywriters have over the less-fortunate proletarians who are locked into more pedestrian jobs and occupations: We’re in command of our own destinies.

The difference between the Longfellows and the Brownings of our profession never has been as significant as it is now. Proliferation of electronic media has resulted not only in fragmentation of attention to any single message, but also in decline of attention-spans altogether.

So c’mon in and enjoy a big income and an enjoyable career. It’s as obvious and [pick a word or phrase to replace “available”] as the basic decision of whether to use “We’ll pay the shipping costs” or “Free shipping.”

Got it? Get it.

Editor’s note: Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises, Pompano Beach, Florida. Author of 32 books, including the recently-published Internet Marketing Tips, Tricks, and Tactics, Catalog Copy That Sizzles, On the Art of Writing Copy (fourth edition just published), Asinine Advertising, and Creative Rules for the 21st Century, he writes copy for and consults with clients worldwide. He has been elected to the Direct Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame. Web address is

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: July 23, 2012

4 Responses to “Over 50 Years of Copywriting Experience”

  1. I always enjoy Herschell Gordon Lewis' excreted wisdom. And my vote goes for "attainable" to replace "available" for a big income and enjoyable career. :-)

    Steve Coombes

  2. Thank you for sharing your article. I really enjoyed reading it.

    With due respect, however, I beg to differ.

    English literature is one my favorite subjects too, and I have enjoyed the poetry of Houseman, Longefellow and Browning immensely over the years.

    But I don't consider the American poet, Longfellow, to be a mere journeyman: he was a true poet and one of the best.

    Longfellow's verses are cherished all over the world. The other poets are great too: comparisons are odious.

    Archan Mehta

  3. You have unnecessarily trivialise the contributions of a stellar American poet, Longfellow.

    Who can forget Longellow's immortal verse, after all?

    If memory serves:

    "The live of great men All remind us We too can make our lives sublime And thus departing Leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.

    The lives of great men Reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upwards into the night."

    Thus, your article does not do justice to Longfellow's genius.

    Archan Mehta

  4. To inspire action rather than to demand action requires the use of the laws of attraction....the attraction of one's soul energy.... what I imagine a poet would understand implicitly.


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)