How to make your readers cry

A recent copywriting project brought me to tears.

The project was an email I wrote to raise money for charity:water, a charity that brings clean water to people in need in Africa. The content for the email, and the source of what made me cry, came from this 20-minute video that told the charity's story.

As I usually do when given a video for a copywriting project, I watched the video several times and took notes.

By the way, anytime you notice something moving you, compelling you to take an action, or simply capturing your attention — make a record of that fact. Often times, inspiration for copy can come from movies, conversations, and other things outside the realm of copywriting. Basically, don't stick to learning copywriting from just copywriting books and courses.

One of the big takeaways from the charity video was the structure used to tell the story. It went like this:

  • Present situation

  • Tragedy

  • Success

  • Deeper tragedy

  • Stronger success

  • Even deeper tragedy

  • Even stronger success

  • Present situation

  • Mission

  • How you can participate

I bolded the important parts, so you can see what makes the structure so powerful — being taken through a series of highs and lows. Similar to how a good song has a build up, a good story hits both ends of the spectrum, multiple times.

This isn't the first time I've seen this up-and-down formula. I remember watching a TED talk, many years ago, that broke down the powerful structure behind of some of the world's greatest speeches.

While neither video is directly related to copywriting, both of them have several impactful copywriting takeaways. I'm sharing them with you because copywriting isn't just about how you write — it’s how you think.

When in doubt, write some shit

Even though I’m a horrible writer, I owe a lot — like my ability to travel the world 11 months of the year, work from anywhere, and basically live life by my own rules — to writing. To date, my ability to get words on a screen has made me about half a million USD, net.

Which is CRAZY now that I think about it.

One of the biggest challenges for writers, including myself, is coming up with what to write. How much should you research? Who are you writing for? Are you even qualified to write about the topic you’re considering writing about?

Those questions, while important in some situations, aren’t necessary. Sometimes you want to write, simply because you feel like it. When you get the feeling, go ahead and write. Don’t allow the pressure to write something legendary hold you back.

This post is an example of writing without reason. I didn’t research anything. I’m writing this post mainly to clear my head and warm up my writing muscles. And I’m as qualified to write about writing as anyone else — if you can write a sentence — congrats, you’re a writer.

Let me tell you a secret:

This post went through a few drafts before I published it. The first few drafts were really shit. If I didn’t edit the drafts, you’d have probably stopped reading.

But no. You’re still here.

I’ve edited this post in such a way that your eyes are still glued to this sentence. And the next one. How am I doing this? Am I magician?

What I’m doing is called copywriting and yes, it’s kind of like magic.

Similar to how a magician improve their craft from practicing magic tricks, copywriters get better the more they write. When you’re practicing, it doesn’t matter what you write. So, after reading this post, here’s what I want you to do.

Open up a Google Doc and write some shit. Keep the keys moving and eventually, you' may write something useful. If you don’t?

No biggie.

Even if you write 1,000 words of boring shit, there’s an upside — at least that shit is outta your system.