Improve Your Writing by Reading the Right Things

If you sift through quotes from great writers — whatever kind of writing they do — you’re sure to come across something about the importance of reading.

Heather Robson

Reading good writing makes you a better writer. You absorb what you read — the structure, how to convey emotion, pacing, and how to motivate.

This is true for copywriters, too. Think about it … as a copywriter, you need to understand good structure … to be able to tap into readers’ emotions … to write well-paced sales packages that motivate your readers to become buyers.

You can learn all this just by reading.

And, you don’t have to read a lot, either. Just 20 minutes a day reading the right kinds of things, can improve your copywriting ability dramatically.

Jazz musician Paul Desmond sums it up like this: “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned. But it can’t be taught.”

Someone can teach you the fundamentals of good writing, but to really learn to apply them, you need to see them in action. In other words … you need to read.

For this simple technique to work, you have to read the right things. Which is what this week’s series is all about. I’m going to show you five different kinds of reading that will make your writing more effective and natural.

By the end of the week, you’ll know exactly how you can spend 20 minutes a day reading in a way that will pay off big time in terms of bettering your copywriting skills.

So, where to start?

“Reading-to-Write-Better” Tip #1: To be a better copywriter, read great copy.

Makes sense, right? Reading bad copy will only teach you bad habits, so you need to focus on the good stuff. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to tell if copy is worth reading:

  • Hall of Fame samples: The Hall of Fame book that comes with AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six Figure Copywriting is a sampling of some of the most successful copy of all time. You can’t go wrong with any of the selections you’ll find within.
  • Seen it more than once: It’s a general rule of thumb that copy you see in your mailbox or email inbox more than once is working. That means it’s worth studying.
  • Apply what you know: Use what you’ve learned about writing copy to discern if what you’re reading is good or not. Does it have a strong, benefit-rich headline? An engaging lead that makes a big promise? Proof to back up claims? A strong call to action at the end? Use what you know to find good samples.
  • Is it holding your attention? Sometimes a simple gut check is the best way to decide if copy is good. Does it grab your attention and hold it? Is it unique and surprising? Does it stir your emotions? Do you want to keep reading? Good copy holds attention. Bad copy bores.

When you’re reading to improve your writing, approach it with purpose.

As you read, take note of things you like, that resonate for you, that are working well within the piece, or that surprise you. When you catch yourself thinking, “Man, I wish I’d written that,” it’s time to sit up and take notice.”

On the other hand, if you have to yawn your way through the copy or find yourself not believing what you’re reading, that’s a sign the copy isn’t a good example to study.

Bottom line: If the copy engages you and holds your attention, it’s worth studying. If it doesn’t, move on to a different sample.

At the end of your reading time, make a note (I keep a notebook dedicated to this purpose) of the single best thing about what you just read. Just one thing.

By noting a single thing, you’ll remember it better, so it will be easier to apply to your own writing. And, by focusing on just one thing, you keep your active reading productive and fun … rather than let it become overwhelming.

To see how this works in action, go to your email inbox or grab a sales letter you’ve received recently, and spend 20 minutes reading it. In your writing notebook (which can be anything from a spiral bound notebook to a document on your computer) write down your favorite takeaway.

And, that’s all there is to it.

Good copywriting is the first thing you should start reading. But it isn’t the only reading that will improve your writing skills.

Join me tomorrow, and I’ll share something else you should be reading to improve your skills. In the meantime, after you finish today’s action item, share what you learned from your reading in the comments.

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Click to Rate:
Average: 4.3
Published: April 13, 2015

37 Responses to “Improve Your Writing by Reading the Right Things”

  1. Heather:

    I am a readoholic and feel that reading of all kinds helps in writing, but what I really love is your idea to "Write Down One Idea" each day from your reading.
    What a wealth of ideas it will give you to work with and also a nice little reminder to keep and refer to of great tidbits. Thanks for the tip:)


  2. I wish I could re-rate...I made a mistake. This was exellent!!

    Thank you!

    Guest (Christa)

  3. I've been receiving emails telling me how great it is to be a Secret Shopper. I've read through the letter several times and I think what the takeaway for me is that "Secret Shoppers never charges fees to the shopper." I'm wary of these kinds of promotions but was pretty impressed by the letter.

    Guest (Kay)



  5. This is a very good way to find tips to making good copy. I started a copy reading journal today to keep my one tip a day in after I find a good copy to read. I enjoyed this lesson and look forward to tomorrows tip.


  6. Great article, Heather. I really like your tip to make notes of just one thing that impressed us from what we just read. I need to put that to work right away.


  7. I want to say Ms. Robson this is a great lesson in what a lot of people might not think is important. I love reading all kinds of material. I am trying to be a well rounded copywriter. Great value here for sure. Thank you.

    Guest (Gregorio)

  8. Just read a letter for a prequalified loan. Good headline. "Could you use $5,250 today? You're prequalified!" Hits an immediate need and gives an immediate solution in 7 words.


  9. This lesson has exposed major keys to producing timely quality content through reading,noting down ideas and linking them to any topic at any given time. Copywriters should focus more on forums rather than blogs to know what is currently on their readers mind. Thank you so this great lesson.

    Guest (Peace Chibueze)

  10. Your reference to quotes....I have so often found quotes helpful. They can especially be a motivation for a writer to get, or keep, going or in the written material for the reader's inspiration.
    I used to keep a notebook of favorite quotes. I think I'll go find it.
    Thanks for the reminder.


  11. Thank you for this valuable advice regarding choosing the right stuff to read to improve copy writing effectiveness! But it makes so much "common sense"....


  12. Thank you for the idea of getting a notebook and writing one point that you took away from reading sales letters... very helpful :)

    Amandula Garcia

  13. what Great article. I've been putting down my takeaways since January and it's helped me a whole lot reading this article makes me know that and that I shouldn't stop. Thanks.

    Guest (Precious Kc George )

  14. I have been a member about an hour and have already read many interesting and helpful articles. This one was especially interesting to me because I am an avid reader. I have taken many creative writing courses. I hope this won't hurt me because when I write something it turns into a novel. I will definitely have to learn to become succinct.


  15. Probably because of reading many novels I write pretty well. I think I got influenced by what I read and even imitated those books. Surely, I didn't do it on purpose. It just happened. And amid all that I created my own way of writing. Of course reading writing tips like at could help as well but not as much as reading book by George Orwell or Stephen King.

    Guest (Tessa E)

  16. I have not been a member very long, but what I have read makes alot of sense. I am going to start reading and write down one word that catches my eye.

    Joanne D

  17. I really enjoyed this article and took away a couple of things: Just read great copy for 20 minutes a day to improve your writing skill and take note of one point that moved you. Thank you Heather Robson!!!

    Guest (Wanda F Sewell)

  18. Heather,

    Great advice!

    In some ways, thinking of the thousands of messages we're constantly bombarded with in the form of emails, mailers, promo's on the internet etc. We're constantly evaluating them, yet not consciously.

    Your point, (well taken) is to start scrutinizing them, deliberately reading them to look for the 'one thing' that grabs our attention in each message!

    Thanks again for a most helpful article!

    Blessings.. GraceMan at asigrace dot com


  19. This article is the great copy that I chose. My takeaway was that it is scannable. My eyes really appreciate that. I loved how the call-to-action was simple and easy to manage. I also love the flow of this copy. It left me looking forward to the next article in the series.

    Nina O.

    Guest (Nina O)

  20. The article presumes that every article has something worth noting, which clearly isn't the case. If a reader has to look for something worthy, the article itself isn't useful. arbitrarily labeling something as worthy when it isn't, soakeris a waste of time.

    Guest (David Silverman)

  21. i loved the idea of noting down the single best thing of what we read, just one thing. as it makes reading productive and fun rather than overwhelming. Focusing on one thing at a time is something i m trying hard to do.

    Guest (shamala)

  22. thanks for the info best regards in writing in busy holiday season in 2016 ...good going

    Guest (tom c)

  23. As a natural writer I am finding this opportunity very interesting.However I would like to know what will I be writing? WillI be creating my own writings that a company may choose to buy to use as a sales pitch? Or what?ADVE

    Guest (Doug j)

  24. Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. I’m truly grateful and really impressed. Really appreciate for your amazing article. Thank you for this valuable information.

    Guest (hulu app)

  25. Hey Heather,

    I completely agree with you that reading the right stuff makes you a better copywriter.

    I tend to read aloud a proven sales letter control every single day before writing, just to get me in the "zone".

    Plus the more you do this, the more it almost seems to seep into your subconscious, and you become a better writer for it.

    Heck, when I started out as a copywriter, I'd actually write out proven ads by hand, for even bigger benefits.

    Anyway, thanks for a fantastic article Heather.

    Tom Andrews

    Tom Andrews

  26. Tips that I picked up:

    Practice reading..

    Practice giving away one thing in my piece of writing..

    focus on the one thing!!

    Guest (Sampath)

  27. Thank-you, Heather. I love the idea of writing down one point. I am on lesson l7, and have started on my second notebook, taking notes. I love this whole opportunity in life of Copywriting. Your suggestion of Reading Everyday is so "Right On" also. And I notice myself searching more for instructional publications now than ever before. Thanks again.

    Deb D Dean

  28. Heather:

    Thanks for the encouragement. I agree as well, that a good foundation leads to good, even outstanding results.


    Guest (Winston)

  29. I am an avid reader, I love to read inspirational books, and books dealing with human behavior. It's one of my favorite past times. I love poetry as well, I have read, and even wrote a couple of poems. I have never shown them to anyone, however I find myself lately with the desire to write.I like the idea of writing down one thing that stands out to me.
    I have got to say I'm 45 and went back for testing at our college and scored 93rd percentile in writing and language arts, really surprised myself. I have not been in school since 1980's. however, many years of work experience. I would love to learn to write for a living.
    Thank you so much.

    Guest (Angela)

  30. Well written but can you please share what are the ways through we can improve writing skills.
    I usually spend 30 to 40 Minu. in a day but still not improved. Please suggest some ways.

    Guest (Mewara Gajendra)

  31. I just started the Accelerated Program today, and I'm so excited. Thanks for your idea about starting a writing journal!

    Guest (Rosie)

  32. Thank you, it informed and helped. That's always a good thing.

    L Joe Oleson

  33. Hi Heather,

    I really enjoyed this article! I sure hope the other four days are posted as well! Today I was reading The Wall Street Journal Sales Letter for the Accelerated Program. When the author was describing the two classmates and describing how alike they were and then said, "But there was a difference. One of the men was a manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president." I wish I had written that!


  34. It's true. Reading makes me a better writer. I've always loved literary books and poetry. Cormac McCarthy said the same thing. Writers are readers first.

    Guest (DanielSS)

  35. Great article, really i keep with, if what reading dont engage jump to another, if one engage with keep note of that save it, make a note of all copywrite engage and use on yours.

    Great is just like Doverman Dan says in his book JSTDT we writers dont "model" succesful copywriters, we swipe We keep "swipe files" of succesful promotions.

    Great really i like a lot what learn from you and from Doberman Dan, thanks

    Guest (Ruben)

  36. Your article is great advice. I need to read more copy, and AWAI fills my inbox daily so that is a great place to start!

    Needing to improve

  37. Heather, great read. Even your writing keeps improving! Your writing is clear and concise. It draws your reader in and builds their confidence and excitement in such a way they can't resist coming back for more. Setting the perfect example for your audience. It just goes to show you the true Power of Writing.:)

    Irene Gabelnick

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