9 Lessons from the Legendary Gary Halbert to Make You a Better Writer (and Human Being)

By
Jason Gutierrez
in
Growth
November 15, 2021

Gary Halbert was the Tom Brady of copywriting — a legend on a field of his own.

Halbert, during the 1970s and 80s, reportedly earned millions of dollars each year from his advertisements (and made WAY more money for the businesses he wrote for). His book, The Boron Letters, is the only one you need to become an expert on copywriting.

Though Gary was big on writing, he also knew the importance of self-improvement in producing at such a high level.

Here are the 9 best lessons I’ve curated from his wisdom:

1. “Rely on your own strength instead of somebody else’s compassion!”

Gary Halbert wasn’t just an expert copywriter. He was some kind of a man, too. Have a look for yourself 👇

Courtesy Carmine Mastropierro

He knew that, at some point, others would fail you. So it’s important to train yourself to have the knowledge, skills, and physical strength to be successful.

2. Write down your goals and review them daily

Gary was big on knowing what he wanted.

He suggested to his son, Bond, that he should write down his goals and review them every day (not just once a year).

I believe this is especially important for newer writers — ones that perhaps are struggling to write consistently or those who don’t know what to write about. It’s critical to review your goals daily so that you become crystal clear (and kind of obsessed) with accomplishing them.

If your goal to be a writer doesn’t stand the test of time, you may be in the wrong business.

3. Get your mind right

Writing, like running or any other physically demanding task, is 95% mental.

“Everyone wants to climb the mountain, but the big difference between those at the top and those still on the bottom is simply a matter of showing up tomorrow to give it just one more shot.” — Gary Halbert

Gary’s most important advice that he gave to his son, was that if he could outwork and outlast the competition, he would rise to the top.

Same goes for you.

4. Keep “moving”

Writer’s block might not be real, but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever get stuck or emotionally jammed up.

Gary’s advice was:

“Don’t sit around waiting for a flash from Heaven.”

Run. Walk. Jog. Write (even poorly). Or do the dishes.

Just do something to move the number of words in the right direction or to physically move your own body to get the juices flowin’.

5. Find your target audience first, focus on product second

Most people make the mistake of starting with a product that they think is awesome and then finding a market to sell it. Their copy reflects this, harping on the features and glamour while trying to build passion for their product.

But this is ass-backwards.

Instead, Gary believed that the trick to selling was to find a starving market first and THEN offer a product to satiate their hunger.

In the Boron Letters, Gary shared a fun game he’d play at seminars where he’d ask folks how they would approach selling burgers at a burger stand. Some said the quality of the meat, others the buns, price, and a few mentions of location.

But Gary didn’t care about any of that. He just wanted a starving crowd. After that, writing the copy was infinitely easier.

6. Build a swipe file

All of the best writers steal information from others.

Sometimes, you come across an amazing sales page, Medium article, or Twitter thread that crushed it in the market. While plagiarizing is a big no-no, why wouldn’t you want to study and copy the underlying framework of the piece? At the very least, you would want to save and reference it later when working on a similar project.

A “swipe file” is essentially a collection of strong ads and great content that you can use as examples, templates, and a springboard for your own writing. So, make one of those.

Inspiration isn’t thievary, it’s tactical.

7. Create a Power Word list

In my own writing, I like to keep a journal of strong action verbs that I can use to minimize my usage of passive voice.

Gary advocated his son (and other students) do the same.

He suggested keeping a “power word” list of words that resonate with your readers. The idea being that those words would seep into conversations and eventually your writing. But don’t just steal others’ lists…

Create your own and carve your unique voice.

8. Use the proven AIDA formula

Gary knew that reinventing the wheel was a waste of time.

When sharing his frameworks, he always referred back to the time-proven AIDA formula. It’s simply irreplaceable as the best copywriting structure out there, as every wildly successful piece of copy follows AIDA.

Attention

“Jar the reader out of their boring ol’ lives” as quickly as possible. When writing online, your headline and the first sentence of your article is the best place for this.

Interest

Invoke interest by adding clarity to your headline or with unusual, counter-intuitive or fresh info.

Desire

Appeal to the deepest depths of your reader’s heart so that they feel like they need what you’re offering.

Action

Provide a way for people to take the next step. (Time-sensitive always helps, too).

Use this formula and you will be amazed at how persuasive you can be.

9. Never stop iterating (and reiterating)

Gary was an obsessive tester.

Before going all-in on a sales letter, he would send out a handful to a test audience and study its performance. If the tests didn’t go as well as expected, he would make slight adjustments and send them out again, repeating this iterative process until he found the magic bullet.

You should constantly be doing the same in your writing. The beauty of the internet is that it’s easier than ever to get rapid feedback on your work, especially on platforms like Twitter and Quora where shorter content is the norm.

Always be willing to try new things, see what works, see what doesn’t, and adjust your strategy accordingly. Consistent improving is the key to longterm success.

A quick re-cap to supplant your learning:

  1. “Rely on your own strength instead of somebody else’s compassion!”
  2. Write down your goals and review them daily
  3. Get your mind right
  4. Keep “moving”
  5. Find your target audience first, focus on product second
  6. Build a swipe file
  7. Create a Power Word list
  8. Use the proven AIDA formula
  9. Never stop iterating (and reiterating)

Gary Halbert may be deceased, but his lessons and legend will live on forever. Follow his advice and, in time, your writing will improve exponentially and you can someday make a (very comfortable) living from it, too.


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