Not often I share a YouTube video. This is Joe Sugarman one of the most successful copywriters of our day…
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
How’s that for a first line? (Or maybe two lines, as there’s a full stop in-between).
It conjures up a lot of questions and it had me, for one, wanting to read on.
Who is this man?
What happened to everyone else?
Is he the last man on the earth, or the last actual person?
When it comes to writing anything that you want someone to read it’s important to hook them in, from either the headline or the first line. It seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it?
But then, you’d be surprised how few people actually put it into practice.
‘On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.’ (Copyblogger)
Ask a question, inspire thought – do something that will make the reader want to continue.
Because, once you’ve written than opening line, every other word you write is, in itself, a reason to get your audience to read the next word.
If you’re interested in where that quote came from at the start, it’s been taken from the short story ‘Knock’ – written by Fredric Brown.
It was based on the following short segment of text, which was written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich:
“Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, Tripoli or Paris. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell!”
Let me introduce you to someone.
It’s the guy in the featured picture. His name is Eugene Schwartz – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him? I’ll be honest, I hadn’t until fairly recently.
Why should I write about him? Because he had an interesting theory on maximising productivity and beating writer’s block. Reason enough, right?
He made an absolute mint as a copywriter. He also wrote several books that you might want to check out if you’re interested in advertising and copywriting – mostly published in the 1950s and 60s.
He only wrote for (roughly) 3 hours, 5 days a week. Not a lot, is it? I mean you’d think a professional writer would be pulling in 12 hour days, seven days a week – wouldn’t you?
He measured out the exact time in which he could be creative for (without being distracted) and set an alarm.
The time would be 33 minutes and 33 seconds.
During this time he wrote. He made himself write, working in intense spurts where his thoughts were only on the blank page in front. Kind of like high intensity training, where you work out at a really difficult level for a short amount of time, before slowing it down.
Schwartz was strict on himself during that time and, unless a flying saucer or something landed outside, he wouldn’t leave the chair. He’d keep his focus.
Once that alarm went he’d stop whatever he was doing, even if he was half-way through, and go procrastinate for 15 minutes or so.
Then he’d go through the same process again.
His success speaks for itself. To use an old English phrase; ‘the bloke wasn’t short of a bob or two’.
It makes sense though. If you were a runner you wouldn’t run for ten hours straight, with just a short lunch break, would you? Creativity can be just as exhausting, albeit mentally, so maybe Schwartz’s method is the key to being productive?
Plus, I often wonder if forcing yourself to write for too long can inadvertently lead to writer’s block.
Here’s his most famous book, in case you’re interested.
(image credit: wikipedia)