Where Good Ideas Come From (and How to Get Them)

I’m not going to talk to you about the mechanics of solid copywriting tonight.

I’m going to talk to you about something even more important than that.  If you don’t have this, you can have all the fundamentals down but you’ll never write great copy.  You’ll slip by with decent stuff, sure.  But you won’t write things that knock socks off and cause avalanches of profits.

The only way decent copywriting becomes great copywriting is when it executes a good idea.  You can learn all the mechanics in the world.  You can become a master of split tests and tracking results.  But you can’t join the ranks of the copywriting elite until you add in that element of art – that creative twist – to push your work over the edge.

Let me clear something up: I’m NOT suggesting you throw in clever ideas just to “throw in clever ideas.”  Remember, the aim of good copywriting is to get people to open their wallets.  Period.

If you’re trying to force something and it doesn’t quite fit, you’re better off sticking to the basics.  Your “decent” copy – copy that sticks to classic fundamentals – will still STOMP almost all of the posers out there.

But you want to take your copywriting to the next level.  You want to know where good ideas come from… and how to get them.

Fair enough.  Start out by answering this question honestly:

“Do You Have a Ton of Bad Ideas?”

No?  Maybe?  Why do I care?  You’ll see…

This is something I picked up from Seth Godin.  In his book Linchpin (just get it…), he talks about this “drought” of good ideas problem.  Fortunately, Seth actually offers a solution that worked for me.  It made my creative center fertile again.  His book flicked on a light bulb that an entire stack of self-help books on my shelf missed.

And now I want to pass that advice along to you because I know it can help you write better copy.

Ready?  Here goes: you won’t come up with any good ideas unless you come up with a ton of bad ideas.  Here’s the relevant passage from Linchpin:

“I don’t have any good ideas”–actually, you don’t have any bad ideas. If you get enough bad ideas, the good ones will take care of themselves.

It’s deceptively simple.. but it hit me hard.  I remembered all the times I whined about “not being creative.”  I’d sit at my laptop or stare at a blank notebook, just waiting for a good idea to come.  Then I’d get pissed when I couldn’t come up with anything.  Sound familiar?

Look, my friend:

You Don’t Have a “Creativity Problem.”  Your Ability to Come up with Good Ideas is Directly Related to Your Willingness to Come up with Awful Ones!

This was my problem.  Still is, really (I’m working on it).  Maybe it’s something you struggle with too.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any good ideas… it was that I had no ideas at all.  I just expected great ideas to shoot out like pure water from a Norwegian fjord.  But I wasn’t willing to turn on the faucet and sort through the sludge.

Maybe you’re a perfectionist.  Or afraid to fail.  Maybe you’re both of those things… and that’s O.K.  But whatever you do, stop waiting around for great ideas to take your business to the next level.

You don’t have too.  They’re already inside you.  You just have to take a deep breath and turn on the faucet.  How?

Scribble Down Anything That Comes to Mind… Good, Bad, or Absurd.  Become an Idea-Generating Machine… and Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh at Yourself.

There will be a lot of stuff you won’t want to see (it will probably outnumber the good stuff 10 to 1).  But there will be beauty there, too.  Pearls that slip through the sludge.

Pearls like new product ideas.  New ways to reach your market.  Or something new in customer service you could try.  Your ratio of good to bad will improve over time, but one thing’s for sure: you’ll always crank out bad ideas.  And that’s O.K.  Just keep going.  Don’t turn the faucet off.

These are the pearls that can turn your copy from solid to stellar.  And they’re yours, if you’re willing to dive in and get a little messy.

Leave me a comment below and let me know how your idea generating mission is going.  I’d love to hear how you’re getting along!