How "Structural Priming" Will Make You a Better Copywriter

I’ve got a confession to make.

My entry into copywriting coincided closely with the founding of AWAI. And because of my relationship with a very successful copywriter who was one of the original AWAI consultants, I was able to get the very first version of the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

But that’s not my confession. This is …

When I began studying the program, I failed to follow what was probably the most important instruction.

Here’s the essence of that exercise …

“Pick a promotion in your Hall of Fame book and copy it out by hand. Several times.”

It may have been a bit of arrogance on my part, but I felt this would be a waste of my time. Boy, was I wrong.

Doing the right thing – finally …

As I worked my way through the program, that ignored instruction kept nagging at me. I guess, because of my early education with nuns, I had the sense that if I didn’t do what I was told, someone would know. And they’d think less of me.

So, reluctantly, I decided to go back and complete the exercise.

Inadvertently, I chose the best possible letter I could’ve chosen: The Wall Street Journal promotion at the front of the book. (I think I chose it because it was short, and I wouldn’t have to do a lot of work.)

After copying it out by hand once – which only took about 20 minutes – many of the secrets, strategies, and ideas that had been muddy up till then took on much greater clarity. So, I copied it out … two more times.

In recent years I’ve had a number of Circle of Success members tell me how valuable copying out successful promotions has been for them. But I’ve also had AWAI members at Bootcamp ask me if I thought it was a worthwhile activity. Given my experience and that of other members, of course I told them, “Yes, it is.”

It’s not just my opinion …

I originally based my recommendation solely on the fact that it worked for me. But two days ago, my favorite language podcast – A Way with Words – gave me a whole new reason to enthusiastically support this idea.

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett host this stimulating, informative excursion into language. That evening they were discussing what they call “structural priming.” It turns out what the Accelerated Program told me to do is an example of “written structural priming.”

Martha Barnette’s passion is, of course, writing about language. But when she first began as a professional writer, she couldn’t make any money writing about language. So she wrote for a women’s fashion magazine. She enjoyed her work, but she struggled to get the right tone.

What did she do? She picked out articles by writers she admired and copied them. This allowed her to learn how to write in the proper style and get the proper voice for the magazine. Structural priming.

Jerry Rice’s secret of success …

Martha likened this activity to athletes who train by practicing the same moves repeatedly. (Jerry Rice – in my mind the greatest NFL player of all time – practiced three hours more after his teammates finished practicing plays he routinely ran.) This over-practicing builds up what’s called “muscle memory.” Martha said copying good writing builds up “written muscle memory.”

She also compared written structural priming to the way master craftsmen train their apprentices.

The moment I heard this section of the podcast, I knew I had to share it with you. But before I did, I researched structural priming. The effectiveness of written structural priming isn’t just Martha Barnette’s opinion. It isn’t just AWAI’s opinion. And it isn’t just my opinion. The number of academic research papers supporting the effectiveness of written structural priming astounded me. Of the over 700 research papers my Google search brought up, three fourths of them support its effectiveness.

Writing out successful promotions by hand is not a waste of time … not by a long shot. It will save you time in the long run. And this is not a strategy just for beginning copywriters. I still use it when I come across a promotion I feel is particularly engaging.

First I read the promotion all the way through. Then I highlight parts I feel are exceptionally effective. I study how those parts interact with the copy around them.

Then I pull out my fountain pen and my lined yellow paper and start copying.

If you haven’t already started doing this, try it. I know you’ll find, after a very small amount of effort, you’ve spent your time well. More importantly, your copywriting will improve. And you’ll be a more successful copywriter.

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Published: January 13, 2014

181 Responses to “How "Structural Priming" Will Make You a Better Copywriter”

  1. Thanks for the reminder about this powerful tool at the foundation of Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. I'm guilty of the same first response. I can't find the episode of A Way with Words mentioned in your post. But I did find an essay in the New York Times on the same phenomenon. Between your post & the NYT article, I learned 2 terms new to me: "structural priming" and "psycholinguistics," the psychology of language. PS: The fishing letter is my favorite.

    Guest (Linda Parriott)

  2. When I first started the Six-Figure course I thought the copying exercise was a bit silly. Nevertheless, I figured these guys writing the course knew what they were talking about. So, I diligently set out to hand write the letters as many times as suggested on my commuter train ride daily until I got them done. I was glad I did, but never understood exactly why. I like to know what's going on under the hood. So thanks for explaining the dynamic, Will! That helps!

    Cheryl Ewing

  3. Hi, I am very new to the Six Figure Copywriting course. I am struggling with the exercises. They take me so long to copy and they seem senseless. This article on structural priming brought some clarity and sense to it. Because I have to hand write the exercises 3times I am moving very slowly in this course. I am trying to spend now an hour a day. Any helpful comments?... Also I am technologically impaired....I am in the over 60 age group who grew up with an old fashion typewriter.

    Tessie talks

  4. To Tessie talks

    I have a full time job and and a demanding boss. Also in middle age and not very computer competent...

    However I have decided to just do as the instructors say...after all they have already walked the walk and are giving us proven methods for success.

    Word of advice...each time you finish copying out an exercise, smile and congratulate yourself. Tell yourself you,ve moved one step towards achieving your goal. Then take a short break, drink a glass of water and continue.

    Monika Mutuma

  5. I just started TAPfS-FC (TAP for short)course. Initially I wasn't going to copy out the letters. But I'm trusting what you are saying. (I figured it was a way to slow down TAP students so they couldn't finish before the refund deadline.)

    But since I have a full year to get a full refund, I'm doing it, but not all at once. I find I see more when I take time between readings and copyings (is that word?). Plus if I alternate reading and copying I can count each time I copy on both reading and copying.

    I will say that so far -- through Part 1 -- there is some great information.

    I even found an old copy of Ogilvy on Advertising I got in college in the late 80's. It's like I had never read it before, and it's very good stuff.

    Wes Fahlenkamp

  6. Copying the letters don't bother me at all. In fact I copied the first letter - the Wall Street Journal letter - four times. I like it very much. I like the story-telling aspect of it.

    The fishing letter is alright. I like the language. I've never gone fishing before. Because of that letter I'm desperately looking for someone to take me fishing. I have to try it. I believe fishing can be fun. I'm sold.

    I knew there must be some value to writing out the letters. If the instructors say so they must have experienced it. I'm not taking any chances. I wanna master copywriting. I'm doing whatever they say. Nothing good comes easy.

    After the first copy, the second and third are a little easier.We wanna be writers, we should write.

    Victor Taylor

  7. I'm at it, reading out loud and silently, and soon to be copying. I learned my multiplication tables with rote, practice and recitation, so why not being an ace crackerjack copywriter??

    Marilyne C

  8. At first I had the same thoughts and feelings about handwriting the letters over and over. But after copying the first two letters I am starting to see a bit of a formula and adapting the style. I find that learning the business of copywriting, will help me tremendously with my own insurance and finance business. I am starting to enjoy the copying of the letters, it is stimulating the creative side that has been closed off for such a long time due to always having to read the fine print.

    Teresa Mitchell

  9. Copying the letters is tedious, but it is also illuminating, forcing focus on revelations that are otherwise missed. And yes, the fishing letter is wonderfully exuberant--just plain fun while getting across the depth of the offered magazine.

    I'm presently going over the articles at the end of Part 1. I'm looking forward to building greater understanding and confidence in being a copywriter. Thanks for the encouragement.


  10. I see the benefit of "Structural Priming". Growing up dancing from the age of 2 with my brother and sister, we had dance routines we had to learn and practice. Even when we performed professionally, we still had to practice the routines to stay sharp so that three dancers (tap) sounded like one person dancing only, which made us better dancers.
    More correct practice makes anything easier to master. This is how I related copying the letters at least 3 times and know that I will be doing them in the future.

    Geneva K

  11. So a while back I finished the American Express exercise. Read it over 10 times and did the writing part too. But.. The letter was reeally boring and uninviting. In normal situation I would NOT read it. Of course it is a bit old letter but still..

    Maybe I will understand the greatness of it later. Right now feels strange that someone would find it cool to be in some elite club.


  12. I have developed the habit of writing down on paper things of interest and important info that I should remember, when I was in trade school and have continued to use this strategy to stimulate the main muscle of my body....The brain. IT WORKS.


  13. I have read/written some of these letters so many times I pretty much know them by heart now. I enjoy the letters mainly because they are about things I know do exist. My problem has been that I haven't made myself complete this course...until now. I've been an AWAI member since maybe 2005 and the Accelerated program has been updated more than once so I have decided to light a fire under myself and just do it, no more excuses!

    CCT Artist42

  14. I actually followed the order so closely that I thought the Exercises were BEFORE Part 01! So, I had read the first three lessons 10 times each and copied them three times each before I ever started the first lesson. I'm glad I did! It helped me understand so much of the lessons. (I had to stop and rest a couple days because of blisters and cramping. (Still worth it!)

    Ready to move on to Part 2!


  15. It is true, even as I'm in the first part of the accelerated program, I had copied the first 2 letters that come as exercise, and I have found things and ways of writing that would otherwise be hidden if I hadn't copied them. :):):)


  16. I play guitar. Guitar takes practice to learn. Practice is repetition. Repetition is exercise. Exercise is work. Learning guitar is work. However, once the basics of muscle memory are learned, it becomes play… It is fun! The more fun you have, the more you play. The more you play the more style you add. The style you add becomes your personal signature. You can copy the greats, but the unique flare you contribute, will add you to that list of greats.

    Taylor Goodson

  17. Hello Everyone, I am going through the course and have finished up to page 60. To start my career as a honest writer, I have some confessions to make. My goal now has become to finish the course learn some copy writing techniques and go for some earning. I am not all concentrating on the exercises. I realize I will be in trouble if I don't emphasize on them. So my advice let us all concentrate on the exercises. HAPPY COPY WRITING.


  18. I've been writing since I was six, and in the half century or so since I started writing, the most important lesson I've learned is the necessity of putting in the time and the work to learn the trade. Skipping this part of the process is not an option. There are no shortcuts when learning to write. Even if the exercises are boring and repetitive, even if we don't understand the reasons behind them, we need to do them nevertheless. Reading isn't enough. Copy, copy, copy!

    Shirley Rivers

  19. I remember studying at secondary school many years ago for upcoming exams, and handwriting bits of text or information I needed to retain over and over, was a method I used, and it worked. I also worked professionally as a guitarist, and as Taylor Goodson said, repetition of the "moves" perfects the execution, so you can inject your own "feel" or interpretation into the final live performance. Although the prospect of handwriting long letters repeatedly is daunting, I know it will pay off.

    Wayne A

  20. Three months into the program now and I have completed the first three exercises. I understand the benefits of practice and copying the masters, from drawing classes to playing keyboards off and on for fifty years. Also from being in the construction industry for thirty years pounding nails. Now I need to improve my computer typing skills and raise my typing speed up from ten words a minute. Great info and course. We all learn from each other too!


  21. In the story of Percy Jackson, Greek words on a wall shift around before Percy's eyes, revealing a secret message. When you write out the Hall of Fame direct response letters by hand, the words start to shift into recognizable structures - even on the third copy. You start to notice the grammar “tricks,” the “hot button” emotions, and sensory phrases. You are able to see what you couldn't with a just a quick read. Hand-writing the letters reveals the secret message: how these letters succeed.

    Sharyn I

  22. I'd like to copy a transcript of the David Ogilvy video at the end of Part 1. I've always been an advocate of copying down good work because I've seen first hand the improvement it brings to writing. Now I have a name for it! Structural Priming. Good stuff.

    Jason H

  23. Thanks for the 'enlightenment' Will.

    When I first went through the 6 Figure program a few years ago I must have written that American Express letter 100 times.

    I didn't finish the program, because I got a high-paying client - but I credit that letter and that exercise with all the work I ever did for that client.

    They loved the voice I brought to the project and forever wanted me to rewrite existing copy, but in the 'voice' I'd created.

    The 'voice' was simply me reading and writing that American Express letter then writing whatever the client wanted.

    Anyway, I didn't know what I was doing at the time, to be honest. But at least now I do: structural priming!


    Phil UK

  24. Handcopying the letters were rather fun.
    My fingers kind of hurts after an hour of writing but sure beats the pain of working in an office 5 days a week!


  25. I'm brand new to this course and to AWAI. I believe what they are saying about the potential of this business. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY: want to make good money as a successful copywriter.
    I'm going to hand copy whatever they instruct Me to copy.

    Robin Shelton

  26. I want to be able to travel when I retire. This course will make that possible. I do find that copying the letters by hand causes the arthritis in my thumbs to flare up very painfully, so I write the letter by hand the first time and type them at least 5-6 times looking for catch words, feel-good words and think about how I would write the sentence - I haven't made any changes to the exercises yet, so it must be taking hold in my brain. I'm slow but determined. Thank you for this course.

    Georgia M

  27. Just starting the Accelerated Program. Super glad to have read this article (and comments) as it has clarified and encouraged me to trust the process and advice given. Instead of dismissing out of hand what I would have deemed tedious, if not altogether ridiculous, I am now ready to take the plunge...Exercise 1 here I come! Thanks Will!

    Kari B

  28. I realize after writing the first two exercises that Structural Priming has been used in our education from grade school on up--spelling words, vocab, math tables...write and repeat, write and repeat. It worked then and I expect it to be successful now!

    Rita Minner

  29. I am new and so excited about what you have shared in this article. Copy writing is a skill. Jerry Lee Rice developed his muscle memory with practice, practice and practice. I have to build my writing muscle memory with writing, writing and writing.

    Question, does it matter if I use white paper as oppose to yellow paper for my writing drills. The artists in me wants to believe the color of the page is significant.

    Del Karmen

  30. I started the program a week ago. Though copying and re-copying the exercises is a bit tedious, i recommend that you do it without FAIL!

    So far, i'm in exercise 4. I must say the exercise on wall street journal is the most invigorating to me.
    Little by little, i can see the secret structure behind copy writing.

    Guest (Haron)

  31. I have come to the end of Part 1 and am enjoying The Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting immensely! I can understand the benefit of copying successful copywriters' works. If you want to succeed at anything, why not learn from others that have gone before you. They have created a path that ensures a clearer road ahead for the rest of us willing novices. I am also excited that we will be researching a variety of topics. This will bring a wider knowledge base and personal growth.

    Angela Coupe

  32. Reading everybody's comments did me a lot of good.
    Muscle Memory is very important in either writing or sports. The American Express letter has a lot of meaning and it doesn't waste words and lets the prospective know what to expect by signing up. The fishing letter is great! it gets the prospective buyer a taste of almost joining a select group. Since it is to fly fisherman, most trout fishing, you can almost see the writer double rolling his line in a wind storm. Again thanks for having me!

    ron nats

  33. After reading Part 1 I really thought I knew the best way to learn this program. I hand wrote the first Am Ex letter and typed 2 & 3 on my Mac. I read it 10X, but I didn't grasp the structure and nuances of the letter.

    I read the fly fishing letter it out loud 5 times in a row, hand wrote the letter 3 times, and read aloud the letter another 5 times. It was amazing how much more I “saw” in the letter.

    I quickly fixed my mistake with the Am Ex letters.

    I get it now.

    David Darling

    David Darling

  34. Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.
    Ludwig van Beethoven

    Force your way into its secrets... now that's something.

    Sounds to me like a formula for success. And simple too.

    Why not give it a try? You might be the next master of "copying writing"... (oops) I mean copywriting.

    Jorell Benders

  35. Completed reading part one, copied by hand exercises 1 and 2. will work on copying them twice more each.

    So far it is a repeat of my marketing classes from college.

    Have a great deal of interests of various subjects, am anxious to get down to the nit and grit of getting this off the ground.


  36. Hi Will Copying successful copy out by hand does wonders for comprehension of the ideas and principles that lead to stellar careers in the copywriting industry. Discipline begets freedom...The AWAI Hall of Fame has set out a challenge to all of us. Who will beat the latest control letter for any particular niche and become the next superstar copy has been said that a 1000 mile journey begins with just one step...doing the work ...headed for superstar status soon...

    John Paul

  37. I remember in other learning endeavors, I was taught to repeat the target response over and over until it became a part of my procedural memory. It may take copying more than three times for me, but I will copy those letters until their secrets become ingrained as examples of the procedure of writing great copy!

    J T Winn

  38. I totally get this concept of writing out the letters. Reading it over and over again and out loud helps you to see things that you may not have noticed before. It takes a while, however, if it will make me the kind of copywriter that has my audience wanting to buy whatever I'm offering, even if they really don't need it, (the way I am sometimes after reading copy) then I'm all for it. For me, it also builds passion and excitement for this field and a stronger desire to succeed. Good Luck!


  39. For me, the thing that has jumped out at me as I read and copy these letters it their "voice". I don't see just words on a paper. I see two people talking. Every letter is somebody different depending on what the product is. You cannot switch the voice of the American Express letter with the voice of the fly fisherman letter. It just wouldn't work. I hope the other elements of the letters start to jump out at me as clearly. I think I will really have fun doing this.


  40. Yesterday was day one for me. At 70, and having been a student and ardent believer to follow success. I wrote down 3x the American Express Letter. I saw how it grabbed the client, gave strong motivation to apply and then called for a response.

    I'm a believer

    Ed Todd

  41. Thank you Will for your insightful words concerning the huge benefits of completing the assigned exercises with vigor and enthusiasm. I am also very impressed with the positive comments from others posted here. There is no doubt that I will benefit from what I have read.
    I am just starting on what I believe to be an exciting journey and it's good to know that I am not alone.

    David John

  42. Through copying the letters, I have found myself seeing so much more than just reading them, even aloud. I notice what is capitalized, where the ellipses are placed...
    I notice when sentences are not complete and when punctuation is left out. I notice what is underlined and I begin to understand why. The letter for FLY FISHERMAN is an excellent example of these techniques. So, I am using my muscle memory and copying, longhand, all the letters.

    Kathryn Wenzel

  43. I set up a binder to file my exercise...I also mark at the top of the letter how many times copied, how many times read. I notice the more I read and copy...the better understanding of the rational and what emotion it the library with my laptop and writing binder. "A change of environment"...I realize that if I can't condition myself to write and read, I'm really not a committed writer!, As was mentioned it opens new pathways in your brain! I'm a believer. Sharing with others helps too.

    Guest (patti A)

  44. I loved the article and I love the comments.

    I started the program on May 18, 2015.

    I too, as Georgia M stated in November, have arthritis and have only copied the letters one time by hand and the rest on the computer. I have read them out loud and have reread them over and over.

    I just completed the Part One section due to time restraints. I felt the pull of the Fly Fisherman. The letter lulled me into wanting to get a pole and try it.

    I was wondering, Will, if you could possibly give me the information on the fountain pens that you use. I have never used one but would love to give it a try if it will help with the pain.

    Again, thank you for the information. I believe that you are never too old to learn new things!

    Guest (Olive)

  45. Structural Priming was very interesting; I enjoyed the article; it has a lot of insight; especially when it gave a reminder about writing the letters three times each. Honestly I thought it could have been a waste of time. It only made sense to me now how you can read something several times and write it many times and how it beneficial and sets the tone to create words or phrases to capture the audience. Still reading new at this.


  46. I began on June 24th, 2015 the test-drive for The Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting and felt like I was beginning a marathon until of course I got to the part of reading a sales letter 10 times and write it 3 times. I dutifully read Will Newman's article on "Structural Priming" and now understand the reason for the sore muscle pulls in the palms of my hands! It literally felt like running and then being told to stop and do hand stands on the race track.

    Regine Baptiste

  47. WOW!! I am just beginning (July 1st, 2015) and the amount of information in every paragraph of assignments, guides, comments, and instructions is fabulous. I am 79 but have great health and some youth still left in problem in following your directives. Worked in Aerospace. Have played piano/keyboards since I was six. I know that practice, practice, practice is what it takes. (Please send information on pens-fingers are in good shape, maybe the pens will help keep them that way!)


  48. I'm new to the program and still slugging through the hand copying. I've been keyboarding for so long now I'd about lost the ability to write longhand. Seeing the AE letter was like encountering an old friend. I must have seen the same letter at least a couple of dozen times over the years. By this time I must have read it 20 times or more ... but I never copied it out on yellow paper before.


  49. Thanks, Will, for a great explanation and motivation. I felt much the same as you when I started the course, but dutifully copied the letters. After having my Restaurant Letter/Revision reviewed at the end of Part II (sx months after I started, due to job time constraints) I decided before starting on Part III to go back and review Parts I and II, including David Ogilvy's video). On reviewing the Wall Street Journal and the Fly Fisherman letters, I saw stuff that I hadn't seen and am understanding things I missed before. Thanks for sharing your expertise and experience; it helps to know one is not alone.

    Jerry Hansen

  50. I have followed the instructions and read the two letters up to this point 10X and written them out 3X. I noticed as I wrote, that the forms were positive and conversational. The Amex letter took all the fears that travelers have and gave them an answer, without ever naming a fear. The Fishing letter, made me want to see that magazine. Could I tie a fly to perfection? Where are all those pristine lakes? What stories would I read? Actually I hate fishing with a passion but... Great letters!


  51. I just began this week.I really don't like repetitious exercises, but I usually follow instructions, so I dutifully read each letter 10 times, copied the Amex letter 3 times, and the fishing letter twice (as of now.) Reinforcing your comment about writing with ink I was told when writing something I really wanted to remember, to always write with ink. The brain believed the ink is indelible; it keps the information better than writing with pencil that can be erased. Excited about course.


  52. I just began your course this week. What great information! I am planning to be the next $10,000 winner. I had a huge career in sales, but spent the money so must now have a new lucrative career fast! I was top in sales so I know I can do it. I will put anything I earn back into your other expensive seminars and boot camp as I want to succeed quickly. I have read, reread and written 2 of your exercises as well as read the others a lot. Which other courses should I take to speed up my success? Sharon

    Sharon DW

  53. I must admit that I was able to see the benefit of copying the letter from the start. I thought it was a great idea.

    In part one - of the course it was the testimony of one of the instructors, sharing why he took the course. It was because of his need to advertise the books that he authored.

    I'm taking the course because I can used the money. But the instructors testimony turned on another light. Because I also have need of book promoting skills.

    In short it's great!!!

    James Theman

  54. Wonderful explanation of the WHY's of the writing exercises, Will.

    I started the Accelerated program about 6 months ago and got side-tracked into B2B at the restaurant letter.

    I'm back, starting the Accelerated program over. It is also painful for me to write the exercises by hand.

    I discovered a new ball-point pen - Ink Joy by Paper Mate. The ink flows easily and makes writing more enjoyable.

    I'm 66 years young, and love how copywriting is making life much more exciting.

    Stephen Bolin

  55. first i must admit that ordering me to do rote for exercise one was considered childish and boring.But after reading this article and the comments has really proved wrong.I had planned to do away with any rote work after reading part one.I want to thank you Mr Will for your great encouragement and support.Had it not been for this article,i would have lost it on copywriting.Thanks


  56. I am so glad that I found you, AWAI!

    Truly, the unspoken language that was in my heart...

    Thank you so much!

    Yvette-9 figures

  57. I loved this added insight into the value of hand-copying successful letters, although I was happy to complete the exercises even before reading it. I homeschool my kids, and copywork is an integral part of their lessons. They learn good writing by copying samples of good writing, with powerful results. Now, I have a much richer understanding of *why* it works so profoundly. As a bonus, my kids are delighted to see Mommy doing her own copywork... and to see that it's much lengthier than theirs!

    Linda MacMillan

  58. I loved David Ogilvy's Science of Advertising: "write for your customer-not the client! sell the product without drawing attention to itself". I thought about Super Bowl commercials where I was so caught up in the "story" and missed the product being promoted. I wrote (and wrote)out American Express and Trout Spoken Here. Strangely, I desired having an American Express Card in my pocket while I was fly fishing! As an educator, I saw the value of writing out best examples of what I was learning.


  59. I love this course so far! I applied for my American Express Card based upon the exact marketing letter in Exercise 1, which I received just after I finished graduate school in 1986. The promise was prestige and status, which (to me) is a subset of security and safety in the tribe. This course is fascinating; I look forward to more. Best regards, Lee

    Lee A

  60. Will, thank you! I spend a lot of time thinking about the tribal reasons for modern human behavior, glad I am not alone! Let's see.. how do the differences in how men and women shop equate to hunter/gatherer behavior? Women were the gatherers, they had to gather many greens and berries. Men were the hunters, they only had to hunt down one large animal. ... Am I on the right track? Best regards, Lee.

    Lee A

  61. Will, this is a very valuable piece for a newbie, and I now fully understand the idea behind hand-writing the exercises. I was glad to hear that it was OK not to do all the hand-writing at one sitting: it has been twenty years since I have done much writing by hand, and one copy of the American Express letter was all I could do at one sitting!

    Bob K

  62. Hello Everyone! I noticed in reading all of the responses to this very insightful and inspiring article, that not one person mentioned the 8 KEY questions included in the instructions for the first exercise. In considering each of these questions as I read and re-read and then copied down the letter, I made a game for myself, challenging myself to identify each element on that list. Then last but certainly not least, summarizing in writing what I've learned. American Express Card and Membership are no longer separate entities for me. The use of Cardmembership written as one word, makes it impossible for me to think of an American Express Card without thinking membership! I hope you all have as much fun with this as I am!!

    Cathy Adkins

  63. Hi all! I'm excited to start this program. My first thoughts on copying letters by hand was "seriously". Then I realized I've always learned things faster and understood them better by doing just that. My MS causes my hands to cramp severely when writing more than brief notes. So, I hand wrote the Amex & fishing letters once, then typed on my MAC 2 more times. I'll make whatever adjustments needed. It may take a bit longer but I'm a 64 year old woman determined to succeed.

    Marie Casiglio

  64. Hello Will, I blindly agree with you that practicing again and again a task makes you outstanding in the field you are in. It also applies to writing. Reading and writing the best ones make you also the best one. Copying with your own hand on the paper, when the ideas pass through your brain, eyes and hand, make you more expert at the art. You learn new ideas and new ways of writing, from the pros. It is really the best practice to become expert at your art.

    Mahesh Seelvi

  65. Hi, to say the least this write up is a clear eye opener for most of us new to AWAI programs. I was almost reluctant to write the exercises 1-3 three times each after reading every one of them ten ten times! But as a student I have to do what am told but now I have seen the clear reason and am grateful for the clarity of presentation. You are a good and patient teacher.

    [FROM WILL: Thank you, Thomas.]

    Thomas Osemiha

  66. hello everyone...I have just started AWAI accelerated program six figure copywriting..(actually 2 days ago :)..:)..I actually enjoyed writing out the 2 stories..American Express Card and the story tell of the fisherman..I don't know about anyone else, but as I was copying the letters especially the fly fishing subscription, I had noticed I actually had implemented other adjective/descriptive wording..(not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing) however I did catch myself and corrected myself..
    I presently work full time 12 hours shifts,,Yikes!..and recently came across my facebook page and read a heading from one of my said."You weren't born to pay bills and die"..WOW..that hurt..Con"t next comment im at 750


  67. Con't..I have to admit that I have an compulsion.good or bad..but I as a child would always copy down words..from lyrics in a a conversation going on..and even visually I would copy words from signs..or transport trucks with logos.."At cargrill we care about our mile at a time".
    to say the least I didn't mind copying the was kinda refreshing..
    I am excited to see what my abilities are and how far I can push myself as a copywriter..I hope that I will be able to attend one of Joshua's Boswell lectures in the near future..for now I wish all the best in your new venture with AWAI's to an amazing new beginings..ciao for now from Canada!


  68. Will, I have determined from the start to execute the exercises exactly as prescribed. However, I wonder whether reading aloud for one or two of the three transcribing iterations will work as well, especially for auditory learners. Please comment.

    Dan Gallagher

  69. Also, Will: Although I am very excited about using copywriting skills to promote two of my activities (selling annuities, and a side business of manufacturing figured wood items for home & office), here's a very personal goal and request:

    I am especially interested -- I beg you, even! -- to relate how I might learn to get new representation for my old novel. There was an example but not a how-to in the Week 1 module. I wish I had never self-published, but its sales of net 4,100 may be a thing to tout in a direct response letter to either agents or publishers. Please, please do clue me in on how to make the agent / novel thing happen!

    [FROM WILL: Don, you hit on the answer I would have given,]

    Dan Gallagher

  70. I have just started the AWAI Copywriting course and I must say so far so good.
    I understand the benefits derived from copying the letters and reading them out loud as each time I did one or the other I picked up something new and different.
    I am trudging along slowly.
    To be continued.


  71. I just started the Accelerated course, and I've got to say even though I've always been a good student and did all of my assignments stuff like the exercises in Part 1 usually get filed under busy work in my brain. Meaning I do them, but I don't really focus. I like that here the why I'm doing it and how it can give me a skill is highlighted. It makes me feel like this isn't busy work at all, but actually valuable. Thanks for that!

    Marielle Orff

  72. Thank you so much for the article (explanation!) and all those who commented. For the musicians among us, Horowitz said once, "If I don't practice for a day, I can tell the difference; for two days, the critics know; three days, the audience knows." Muscle memory counts, so I must watch myself closely. You really, really do not want to develop that muscle memory while scribbling carelessly! By the time I finished the first copy of the AmEx letter, I noticed that it was nearly illegible! So I slowed down, wrote carefully as well as reading carefully what I was doing, and found myself noticing more than the awkward sentence constructions here and there.


  73. I just started the program two days ago and finished Part 1. My hand was SO tired from all the writing. Just goes to show how much typing/texting has replaced writing by hand. It takes me about three pages (front, back, and another front) in a regular spiral-bound notebook per promo letter and about 25 minutes each repetition. So yesterday was a loooong day, but well worth it! I see the value.

    For help with focusing on the exercises, music is my greatest ally. I found focusatwill dot-com (typing out in case there's a problem with direct links here) caters to people like us who need to focus on task without distractions. It's free the first 15 days. It really helped me yesterday, that's for sure.

    Erin go bragh

  74. I have just started this course and realised that I have also tried to teach others this in the UK. Telling a story is the key, people relate to a story it carries the emotion of the tale it can amaze and capture peoples imagination if you can read things and tell a story about it then I believe you cannot fail writing out copy of the best sales letters.... ABSOLUTLY it makes you see the story I try to visualise it. It is just the same as learning a new role in another job and learning it that companies way it is no different.

    Steven Hodgson

  75. "It's not what you's how you say it" has taken on a whole new meaning for me!

    Because I have arthritis in my hands, copying the letters is tricky but I'm giving it a go. I wrote the letters by hand once, each, and typed them twice.

    I type quickly and it's not as painful so I'm hoping that's acceptable for the 2nd and 3rd copies. I like reading the letters out loud. I live alone so not likely to drive anyone nuts - ha!

    I feel energized and ready to learn!

    Cheryl K

  76. Just a thought...if its great practice to hand write good sales letters, wouldn't it make for better writing of one's own letters by hand?


  77. I am slow, but am willing to schlep along. Boy, was I wrong ... I have a name, "Structural Priming" and explanation. Thinking back to my "learning years," even now, learning to play serious pool, I discipline myself to practise a stroke 100 times in order to master it. (Go back and write, slow or not.)

    Thom Hickling's letter,"You look out your window, ..." sent me flying through the air, a superman ride, the breeze gently slapping my face. Times so scarce, sentences so spare, in simple syntax do me sway.


  78. Hello to all writers out there and best wishes on your success. I had looked into this program back in Dec. But did not start it, recently I got fired for a neck injury on the job. I started the program and am slowly working my way through the exercises. I am working on 3 right now, reading and doing everything I can to become the best I can be in my new career. I was doing it on the side but when they terminated me I started full time. Everything is making sense with coping the letters. Thanks

    [FROM WILL: Thank you for your endorsement.]


  79. At first I did not believe in multiple copying, but now I am convinced that repetition is very valuable as you and others have pointed out. I played quarterback and should have known that fact all along. Very impressed with the course, so thanks a lot.

    [FROM WILL: Stephen Curry and Jerry Rice can attest to the value of repetition and muscle memory. Hanks for your affirmation.]


  80. I'm working on a recommendation I got from Roy Furr; in which he said I should strive to be 1% better every week.

    Now, I don’t know about everyone’s experience, but some days I just can’t stand much screen time and don't feel like listening to anything. At moments like this, picking up and rewriting a blockbuster promotion, gives me an emotional and psychological lift.

    Knowing that I'm progressing towards my goals, and improving my writing - even when I'm not spending time on my computer is empowering.

    Best of all, the sense of advancement you get after performing such a simple exercise is invaluable to any writer... most especially new writers - who need the confidence while starting out and working on their own.

    [FROM WILL: Excellent strategy!]

    Donald C Obii

  81. Great article Will! There is a method to the madness...I always love the theory behind the practice. I can sympathize with my colleagues, so I tell myself to just do it! It will only make me a stronger copywriter. So here we go...

    [FROM WILL: Thank you for your comments. I I, too, like to know the science behind the practice.]

    Angela Elaine 2016

  82. Thank you for the article Will. While strengthening my 'structural priming'doing Exercise Two of the Accelerated Program For Six-Figure Copywriting,I found myself saying the lines out loud as I was writing them and it was quite enjoyable actually verbalizing it the way I would have that conversation with someone. That's when it sunk in-this Exercise is real important in discovering and honing my own Copywriting Voice,brilliant!

    Rita Jeane Smith

  83. Just new to the course, am loving it!
    Been a long time since I have had to hand write but am getting there Great course.

    Steve Morris August 5 2016 at 1.30pm

    Steve Morris

  84. Thank you, Will, for your backstory! As a former competitive athlete, and professional athletic trainer, I know how important learning—and practicing—the basics are to success. One of our beginners got frustrated with repeating the basics and proclaimed, "I just want to get to the nitty gritty!" What she didn't realize was that the basic foundational moves ARE the nitty gritty!

    It sometimes takes me a little longer to hand write the lessons due to my mild arthritis, but it's worth it. Every time I write a letter, a new "jewel" grabs my attention. And I feel like a real copywriter! I also love the science behind how we learn. Thanks for including it. And thank you for your continual encouragement, support, and attention to the newbies!!

    Andrea Arthur Owan

  85. I used primal structuring with my children as they were learning to write - but I didn't know what it was called. I just knew it helped the children learn the material better. Now that I have read the article, I understand! I am putting all of my attention into copying the letters. Thank you for this fabulous course - such a great resource. By the way, I just started today, September 26, 2016.

    Mary H

  86. Thank you very much for sharing your insight on structural priming, Will! I can attest to the fact it works.

    While I haven't exactly followed that advice in the past as much as I could have... I hereby make a public commitment to follow that advice now.

    [FROM WILL: ?Excellent!]

    Matthew D

  87. I think in modern times we have underestimated the strength of repetition to learn. In medieval times the tradespeople of the day(eg. glass-blowers, furniture makers, blacksmiths) made sure that their apprentices knew how to do a job; then had them repeat it over and over until they knew all the nuances of the trade. It became second nature to them. Structural priming works! I'm enjoying and not rushing the repetitive exercises. Writing them seems to make it sink into your consciousness.

    Chris J Wilkinson

  88. Did you know that this is how Benjamin Franklin learned how to write? He copied the best literature he could find. He copied it verbatim over and over. Than he memorized it and recited it verbally. Next, he wrote it down verbatim and only by memory. Finally, he wrote it in his own words. This helped him learn texture, timbre, tone, while finding his own voice and style.

    So this advice makes perfect sense! Thank you!

    [FROM WILL I didn't know this! Now, I do and thank you so much for letting us know, Kathleen.]

    Guest (Kathleen Blease)

  89. Structural Priming brought to mind learning to print and then write in cursive and then later printing again for an Engineering Graphics class in college.

    I found out that kids these days aren't being taught good penmanship - guess educators think that everything will be done on a keyboard... a sad state of affairs as far as I'm concerned!!

    Thanks for your article Will.

    Paul B

  90. Thank you for this article! Structural priming does make perfect sense.

    I also appreciate the many insightful comments. Thanks to all!

    Jenny M

  91. Started the accelerated Program and of course didn't do the writing over and over of the exercises, I believe I did exercise 1, Once. Tedious is one word to describe what came to mind. Well that is until I read this article and responses. I will be adhering to the lesson plan a little more strictly from now on. Back to exercise one!! Thanks!

    [FROM WILL: That's great news! I admire your dedication, Tony.]

    Tony M

  92. I was battling with this portion of the training. (I may have allegedly been assigned writing sentences once or twice during grade school.)

    Thanks for giving the practice more weight with your article.

    I'm in.


  93. New to AWAI this week! Hello!... The moment I read the AMEX copy out loud and then wrote it down, the benefits were obvious. We already know that reading something more than once will reveal new things, but it's amazing the things that jump out at you when copying. I've also heard about the link between script hand-writing and learning and wonder about how that plays into this as well. Thanks and look forward to some excellent learning from the greats!

    Michelle Montgomery

  94. I've just completed my first week as an AWAI member. Despite the case of writer's cramp I developed (!), I enjoyed the copying exercises; I felt as though I picked up something new each time I went through the process of writing out the letters. That said, this article (and the NYT piece from 2012) both helped me really grasp *why* the process is so valuable. While I've been a PR/tech writer for years, I'm looking forward to putting this very new (to me) type of writing into practice!

    Guest (Lisa G)

  95. I'm new to the Program and couldn't see where the writing exercises made any sense at all...especially after my hand cramped over and over. I'm beginning to understand a little better. I find myself constantly wondering if I can really do this but I know it's only because I feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I'm not giving up though!

    Marneta G

  96. I am brand new to this so bare with me while I get acclamaited. I too thought the handwriting of the letters was tedious. However, I referred back to my old football days when the coach made us work so hard in practice. After I realized the importance of practice, practice, practice, it became necessary to practice. I copied the two letters three times, as required. I convinced myself to follow instructions to the letter. I believe I'm on my way! Thank God.

    [FROM WILL: Muscle memory, only in this case, the "muscle" isn't a muscle but your brain. Thank you fpor your comment, Bob!]

    Bob L

  97. I "kicked the tires" on the AWAI copywriting training for several years before finally totally committing to the Accelerated Program last week. You can imagine my dismay when I read the instructions for Exercise #1. My first reaction was "this is too hard." But I told myself "wait a minute. I've invested the money in this program, now it's time to buck up and invest the time and effort to make it happen." After completing Exercises #1 and #2, and reading this article on "Structural Priming", now I understand the method behind the madness.Thanks for the wonderful insight into the science behind this important concept.

    Vern - Submarine Exec

  98. Brand new here at AWAI! Thanks for the enlightening article, Will. I used to copy all my class notes over (by hand) in college before an exam and found this to be the best way for me to study. No computers back then.

    Article made perfect sense to me immediately as *why* we need to do it in this course. "Wax on, wax off" - Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid keeps playing in my head. Thank you all for comments here. Looks like I'm in great company here. :D

    Suzy Bee

  99. Hi, new here, just started. Love the program & pleased to see the learning style would be the same as when a young teen: read it, say it out loud, write it-over & over. I highlight, make notes, & organize all in a binder. Same method I used to learn public speaking & creative writing. Hope these don't get in the way, though. Concerned about only having 6 hrs a week to devote- hoping to get rid of the full time job & 1 side business. Great article, Will.

    [From Will: Welcome and thank you, Riskalyn, for taking the time to comment on this posting. Be sure to add copying the successful promos longhand to your list.

    Since scheduling is a concern, search the AWAI Article Archives on scheduling fo ar article I wrote about the strategy I used.]


  100. Decades ago my English teacher used to give me some dialogues recorded at American Colleges. I had to listen and learn them by heart. Only at the beginning I thought that couldn't be an effective way of learning a foreign language (some of them were too long). It took me a lot of time to learn them. But I realized how valuable they were as soon as started using expressions from those dialogues in a month or two till now! Similar idea Susy: "Wax on, wax off". Obviously there's no faster way.


  101. Hi. Im new to AWAI and I’m very much enjoying the Accelerated program. Copying the letters seemed odd to me at first, but I’m beginning to see how it really does fulfill the old adage “practice makes perfect.” I’ve always loved handwriting and will always prefer it to keyboarding. There’s something about the scratching of pencil on paper that makes my heart happy.
    Thank you Will, for sharing your knowledge and encouragement!

    Cathy K

  102. Hello...I've been with AWAI quite a while and an owner of the Accelerated course for more than a year. I was moving along rather well when I ran into the first exercise, the AMEX letter. My handwriting is atrocious and I felt why not just type the letters? Anything I write for clients will be done on a computer, so why not? But after reading all the comments here, as well as the article that proceeded the comments, I've decided that, for my own benefit at least, I will hand write all exercises that call for it. It will be painful (I too have arthritis) and tedious and time consuming, but in the long run I'm certain it will be worth the time and the pain and the tedium. Thank you so much for the article, Will.


  103. I love to write; journal poetry, and copy quotes and scripture to digest in into my life. I dig into how I am feeling about what I am writing and what words I can use to come closest. My experience copying scripture to remember it and help it to come to my mind at the right times tells me it is one of the most important activities in writing. So, I am a fan of this from the get-go. Structural Priming - building Written Muscle Memory - Thanks for the confirmation!

    Cynde Jackson

  104. Hello, I just started with AWAI this month. I am really enjoying the first section, although, hand writing previous copy seems daunting to me. So, I have finished reading the first section and will now go back and read and write the first two exercises. After reading all the comments, how could I not? I’m only half way through copying the AMEX ad and I’m dying to know all about the fishing ad. Look for an email from me about those fountain pens. Ouch.
    Great Article by the way. Thanks!

    Bobbi M

  105. I am brand new to this course and I must admit that I skipped over the read 10 times and write 3 times rule. However, after reading all these comments I will go back and do it. I want to succeed an if this is what I have to do, I will do it.


  106. I have always known that practice makes perfect. But copying and re-copying, reading and re-reading however seemed a bit off for me. The only reason that made me comply, reluctantly, was the fact that it's an instruction from people who have done it before me. Reading this article has actually convinced me beyond doubt. It is beginning to feel good already. I won't question anymore.


  107. Dear Will, Thank you for this insightful, excellent example of persuasive writing. Like a number of others I have attempted this program a number of times in the past and am starting over again. As I think of the value of structural priming, I wonder where else it can be applied. I also prefer keyboards to writing long hand because of the speed and legibility.
    Appreciate your article.


  108. I have enjoyed Part 1. I dutifully read the two mail pieces ten times and then wrote each one outnlong hand three times. And made comments on obsevations that occurred to me. I think I can do this - become a good DM copywriter, that is. I have a first client and will be helping them introduce a new line of products and will be in charge of their entire online sales.😬 So it’s time to get cracking on this course! On to Part 2 - after I finish the suggested reading...


  109. Enjoyable article. I found as I copied out the homework assignments they stuck with me. I figured I had enough coping after the assignments but after reading this article I'll copy again someday!

    Wanda F Sewell

  110. Hi Will, thanks for your article it made things a lot clearer. One question though, does the handwriting have to legible? I'm writing so fast that I don't think someone who doesn't know the text will be able to understand it?

    Sally O

  111. Hi Will, does one read and copy the exercise/hall of fame letters as required, before moving on to the next exercise letter etc?


  112. Writing the copy by hand makes perfect sense. I work for a neuroscientist. May I suggest writing in cursive (a simple version) rather than printing? Cursive writing activates both sides of the brain and gets them working together, which greatly improves analytical and memory functions. Hand printing is not as effective, but it is far better than typing. And, repetition is a centuries-old teaching method because it works. See the NY Times article "Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing" 4/30/13.

    Guest (womaninthemoon)

  113. I started out by being pretty skeptical about Structural Priming, but proceeded as instructed. Now I'm glad I was "obedient", and feel the discipline it required will pay off in the future.

    Don d Arms

  114. I started this program the 1st time over 7 years ago and failed to go complete it; I feel that I cheated myself out of so much; I have just completed part one...I am excited to be going forward once again.


  115. I'm going to explain why rote exercises make sense.

    But before that, I have read the "Quite frankly" letter 10 times...Three times loudly. I've also written it thrice by hand.

    Apart from learning through osmosis (or diffusion) the exercises show that you are really committed to success and you have no excuses.

    Congratulations, let's keep moving.

    Guest (Guru Lwanga)

  116. Gary Halbert believed in copying by hand so that's all I need to know.

    Guest (Brandon)

  117. Will, I agree with all the previous comments but I struck with how structural priming is similar in concept to the Auto Suggestion techniques discussed in "Think and Grow Rich" Thanks to this course I have already been able to pitch to my first client based off a posting on Such valuable information not taught in college marketing or MBA programs.

    Thanks, Keith

    Keith Crawford

  118. For a would-be copywriter who has been around for 22,509 sunrises (70 trips around the sun), I must say that I am thrilled about this opportunity to learn these skills. Yes, like some of the others, I thought that reading the AMEX letter 10x and hand copying would be tedious. Instead I realized, after the second writing, the advantage of the hand to brain exercise. Maybe it's from my many years of journaling, but I'm very glad I followed through. On to Exercise #2. Thanks so much!

    Regina A

  119. I knew right away that writing out the copy would be beneficial. It slows the brain down to absorb what it's reading. It gives you time to "get" the concepts of piece you are copying.


  120. I have had this program for forever, or so it feels like, except I never got past the first part. IVe had it so long that the program has evolved past what it was. I wanted the lifestyle that goes with it but got bogged down in the first bit of research and made excuses about life getting in the way. Im now over 60 and definitely want more than I currently have. I am committed to this process and getting the life I want so I have started over. Every day I do something to move forward.

    Kim Hicks

  121. Hey Will!
    My major problem was not necessarily the writing, it was actually the reading. Going at it again and again got quite tiring, but I have to say that doing that helped me notice all the little nuances and tactics used in the letters. I was able to SEE what I didn't notice in the previous round in each susequent round. It was definitely worth it.
    I do have a concern though, what RULES actually govern the punctuation used in the FLY FISHERMAN promotion?
    My guess is that it's to create EFFECT. Cause that's honestly what it felt like, cause the punctuation obviously DO NOT follow the traditional rules. Which is nice, but I still want to understand along what lines he used them.

    Fadeela Ali

  122. Life got in the way of me completing this course -- three times!!! This fourth time will be different. I'm more alert to sneaky little time-wasting distractions. My dream to become a copywriter begins here and begins now -- even in my mid-60's!!! Thank you AWAI.

    Guest (Linda Rivers)

  123. I have just started AWAI. I am enjoying the idea I can write how I speak since I do that anyway. I have spent the last several months trying to figure out "what next" I study a lot because of the holistic field I am in. BUT...I can't do what I was doing before COVID. I like to write and share information. This seems to be what I am looking for. I am learning so much already Thanks AWAI

    Lorraine JVH

  124. Clearly in the 'Trout' piece, I can see the AIDA formula. 'There's bait casting , there'spin fishing...I've got it bad, this amiable madness. And so do all of us here at FLY FISHERMAN amagagine'--ATTENTION. 'When we are not hipdip....share the expertise of our small army of field editors and streamside reporters.--INTEREST. 'In each issue...rainbow trout and rainbow-colored flies'--DESIRE.
    'take advantage of our generous reduced-rate subscription offer...then mail the reply card today.'--ACTION. In the P.S section, the writer created urgency and desire for the last time. It's a brilliant one. Please comment if you guys think I am wrong. would love your observations. Best.

    Mohammad Wasim

  125. Hello Everyone! I am new to AWAI (A week in). Will, I would like to thank you for this article. I am very excited about what the teachings/lessons in this program will do for my career and my future and even though I did the exercise as instructed, your article and everyone's comments really helped me to understand the *WHY* behind Structural Priming. Again, Thank you!

    Guest (Nicola)

  126. I have just restarted this course. My comment is more of a suggestion. I print out everything prior to reading it and then skim it as it comes off the printer. I must have reprinted the last few pages numerous times. It would be VERY helpful to number your pages including comments.
    On another topic, this looks like a "winner" course. Thanks.


  127. I’ve just started this course and I’ve already found it to be very informative and motivating! Reading good copy and writing that brilliant work by hand, a few times, has given me so much clarity in recognizing the highly effective techniques used in its creation. I could feel why prospects found it irresistible to take action!


  128. Really Good Article, I have actually noticed a difference in how I look at advertisement since my first couple structural writing assignments.

    Jay Williams

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