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A Self-Help Guide for Copywriters by Dan Nelken

January 23, 2023

“I wrote A Self-Help Guide for Copywriters to help myself.” Nelken writes what he was just writing the book he wishes he had at the start of his career—a collection of all the tools, tricks and tips he uses as an advertising copywriter to come up with headlines.

There are a lot of how-to books on copywriting, and a lot of memoirs about time in the advertising world. And there are some excellent books of advice about navigating the ad world (e.g. Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple, Squeeze This and Thomas Kemeny’s Junior). But this is the best, most practical book I’ve read on the craft of writing headlines. And a part of writing headlines is learning how to concept — to come up with the ideas for headlines.

I recommended this to all the students in the University of Texas’s creative program, where I currently teach. I give a lot of the same advice Dan gives, but it was great to read his spin on it. And I picked up a handful of new tips and new ways to structure the process, new ways to articulate what we do.

I stress to my students that it’s important to think about how we think. Because you’re going to spend your entire career reliant on a process that will remain, at least in part, a mystery. It’s always a little chaotic and random, and you’ll never have a complete grasp on how or when ideas come. This can lead to all kinds of anxieties. But if you can have a toolbox of reliable techniques and an overall process that you trust, that distracting chorus of worry and doubt gets a little quieter, and you can focus on solving the problem at hand.

I highly recommend this book not just for copywriters, but for any creative in the ad industry. I wish I’d written this book, but I’m really glad Dan did.  

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