Copywriting Tips for Beginners | Kill these Misinformed Ideas

I’ve worked with talented editors at the LA Times, LA Weekly, Narratively, and more, and I have learned so much, but the lessons I unlearned might have been the most valuable. During my time as a journalist, I was able to kill misinformed perceptions about “good” writing, and it helped me, as a beginning writer, grow. Here are three copywriting tips for beginners and misinformed ideas that hinder talented young professionals from growing.

1. Do not confuse sentence length with a run-on sentence

So many entry-level writers believe that long sentences are grammatically incorrect simply because they are long. They label them “run-on” and banish them outside of the draft, and they want to find more valuable copywriting tips for beginners.

Just for the record: A run-on sentence is when you fuse two independent clauses in one sentence (and here is the key) without using a coordinating conjunction

Somewhere a teacher scared the ink out of a student’s pen when talking about run-on sentences, and instead of using sentence length stylistically, the student saw any sentence that felt too long as incorrect. Then the misperception spread like an Adam Grant tweet reposted on LinkedIn.

To break the spell, I often share Donald Barthelme’s, “The Sentence,” with people I’m training to show them that published pieces can be really really really long sentences. In fact, “The Sentence” is actually a fragment.

My best advice: Stop being scared of sentence length. Use short and long sentences to help build rhythm and voice. Here is a beautiful illustration of this concept by Gary Provost:

2. Do not be scared of writing “drunk” in your search for copywriting tips for beginners

Too many people sit down at their computers and expect to have a perfect draft in 30 minutes. But this is a recipe for failure, and they need a valuable copywriting tip for beginners.

Take a page from Ernest Hemingway, who is famously credited (though turns out it wasn’t him) with saying, “Write drunk. Edit Sober.” Regardless of who said it, this quote is great advice, and it’s not intended to peer pressure you into drinking Fireball. It’s trying to say: Give your brain space for different modes of thought. For example:

  • A draft where you get the worst possible version out but where you can be free and creative.
  • A 2nd draft where you step away and come back to destroy the bad copy and bring to life the good.

If you’re not creating these mental spaces, then you’re probably wasting hours.

3. Do not think you’re the grammar police

People make mistakes with writing all the time. And I’ve met so many people who have hard and fast rules on grammar that are unbreakable.

For instance, I used to ask a relative to read my drafts, and they would always say things like:

-You can’t begin a sentence with “And”

-Health care is two words.

While certain rules shouldn’t be broken (using “you’re/your” or “it’s/its” incorrectly), most of what people call incorrect is just stylistic choices.

So please, use a style book (or create editorial guidelines for your brand). Because without a style book, there is nothing inherently wrong with using healthcare or health care. It’s just your choice. Hopefully, this will take the pressure off of being perfect and you can begin adding more and more tools to your copywriting toolbox. You then will be able to experiment with style and learn that words are in your control.

How Buying a Grill Led to an Extraordinary Moment

Over the weekend, I thought I was taking an ordinary trip to Ace Hardware to buy a new grill. As I walked into the store, I was thinking about work and how to overcome a certain obstacle. What happened next was an extraordinary moment that certainly put those obstacles in perspective. 

I had been considering buying a green egg grill, so I asked the employee in the grill aisle his opinion.

“I wouldn’t buy a green egg,” he said. “Not worth it.”

I guessed he was about 72, and he had shoulder-length gray hair, tattoos on his forearm, and a goatee that looked almost as faded as the ink on his arms.

He pointed to a red Weber and convinced me to save the money. He stooped down and removed the price tag, and that’s when I noticed something was wrong.

He began to stumble, and it almost seemed like the computer program that helped him walk had been full of bugs. He lost consciousness and couldn’t stand.

That’s when I held him up, struggling under his weight. The grill hit the ground and sounded like a cymbal crashing. After a few moments of fighting to keep him from hitting the ground, his legs began to operate again. 

As if nothing had just happened, he started talking about the grill. I stopped him and asked him if he was all right, and he said he was fine, but I implored him to take a break.

He was about to respond, but he stopped abruptly. His eye contact became intense, and he was standing taller than I remembered. That’s when his eyes rolled into the back of his head, his body went rigid, and he began to fall backward. It was like watching a Jenga tower fall. I wanted to try and stop him, but there was just too much momentum.

I ended up grabbing him just enough to slow down the impact, but when shoulders hit the ground, his head whipped against the floor, and all I could think about was someone trying to crack an egg against a bowl. 

Now I was holding him in my arms, and I was sure that I had just watched a man die.

Everyone in the store was watching. I pointed at someone and yelled: “You, in the red shirt, call 911.”

I was considering whether or not to conduct CPR. Other employees were rushing over. It was a grim moment. 

Then the man just woke up.

The next few moments went by quickly, and other Ace employees rushed over to carry him into a seat. Later the paramedics burst into the store. Ace employees began to check on me. I watched all of this in slow motion.

As I was about to leave, the man thanked me and said: “I can’t help but go out of the way to get you a discount on the grill.”

Everyone laughed. And he was right. They gave me $75 dollars off. 

But the lesson was priceless. 

It’s funny how the universe can take the most ordinary moments and make them unforgettable, teaching us lessons at the precise time we need to see it. It was a great reminder that marketing is marketing. Business is business. An obstacle is just an obstacle. But being alive and healthy, well, that is everything.

Joseph Lapin and the Creative Journey: Updates on Publications and Media

Over the last month or so, I have had some excited opportunities come my way, and I wanted to take a minute to update my readers. As you all know, I’m constantly on the hunt to publish stories, essays, and novels, and I’m extremely passionate about the creative journey in whatever form that takes. My updates relate to both of these aspects.

Publication News

Over the course of the last six months, I have been working on a new type of memoir piece that was inspired by a short story by Lettie Prell. Her story made “The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018,” and it was called Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel. I loved this story because it’s form was extraordinary. It imagines a person in prison and what that same prison would be like in different parallel universes. Brilliant story. Def recommend reading.

Basically, I was inspired by that structural technique applied to the justice system, and I began to explore how that technique could apply to how our country treats mental health. As you may know, I have written many times about growing up with a mother with a severe mental illness, and I have helped her many times get in and out of mental hospitals.

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5 Ways to Find Writing Motivation: Beyond the Obvious Recommendations

Credit: Joseph Lapin, The Man Who Walks Through Walls, Paris, France.

I graduated from my Master of Fine Arts program from Florida International University at 25-years old, which seemed like an impressive feat at the time. When I finished my MFA, I moved from Miami to Los Angeles, and I thought I was a pretty hot-shit writer about to head to one of the most creative cities in the world. In fact, I thought I was moments away from turning my thesis into a best-selling book, and I wasn’t worried about finding writing motivation to finish countless drafts while working long days at many different jobs. Honestly, it felt like I had already arrived.

In fact, I look back on that version of myself, a totally delusional version of myself, and realize that it’s kind of embarrassing. I remember asking one of my professors how long it took her to publish her first book after graduation, and she said, four years. At the time, four years after graduate school felt like such a long time to publish a book.

Now, I just turned 35-years old, and it’s 10 years since I graduated from my MFA program, and I don’t have a book. I have published a decent amount of non fiction and some fiction, and I have a great career where I practice my craft every day, but I know I still have a long way to go to accomplish my life goal: Filling an entire shelf with books I have written, and those books have to be worth the trees that were sacrificed. I want people to actually read the books, not just let them sit there and collect dust.

And even though so much time has passed since I graduated, I know I need to dig deep to still make my dreams come true. It’s hard to stay motivated though, especially with all that is happening in the world.

That’s why I put together a list of ways to find writing motivation. When I was researching for this blog, I read a lot of the other posts about finding writing motivation, and I realized the advice was terrible. They give trite advice like “set deadlines” and “commit to writing.” It’s time to actually hear some real advice. Let me keep it real with you.

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Thoughts on Being a Dad on My First Father’s Day

Today is my first father’s day as a Dad, and while it was a marvelous occasion so far, I realized I was spending a lot of time thinking about being a dad and what it means, somewhat taking me out of the moment. While the day was incredible, there was something at the back of my mind, some darkness, that I couldn’t shake. I’ll try and explain.

Of course, father’s day is a special time for a first time Dad, and my wife made sure we celebrated in the ways only I would have wanted. For instance, I drove to Coronado and brought Remy to the beach. We walked close to the shore, and he felt how cold the Pacific Ocean is even in the summer. I pointed out the Sand Dollars on the beach, and I let him put his feet in the sand.

He looked perplexed by the heaving, gun-metal blob making a tremendous amount of noise in front of him. Part of me thought he was terrified by the immensity of the Pacific. He held onto me tightly. The other part of me thought he wanted to swim.

On the way back to the car, I carried him in my arms, and he laughed the entire way as if he already knew the secret to life and found it hilarious that no one else could see it. The Tao of Remy.

Remy fell asleep in the car. To let him continue napping, we drove aimlessly throughout the city, into Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan, and we drove past Chicano Park and gazed at the murals. When we came home, I read him books and watched him crawl around his room, and then my wife made me scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls. Then I played guitar as loud as I did before becoming a Dad. It was the best day.

But there was something else there. Something that was just beyond my ability to articulate. I couldn’t quite see it, but I knew it was dark. It was hanging at the back of my mind.

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