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Copywriting with Lizzy Goodman

Also Watch: Storytelling with Lizzy Goodman

Video Highlights:
0:05 Ezra is interviewing Elisabeth “Lizzy” Goodman
0:20 Lizzy writes for many major news publications
0:38 People think that there aren’t many good copywriters
1:08 The Metaphor of the Blank Page
1:50 Lizzy feels lucky and aware of the process that got her to where she’s at
2:38 Being a Rock writer is like saying you want to be an astronaut
2:50 The role of gender in journalism and ‘being the only girl around’
4:00 You can get used to a skewed version of what’s normal
4:25 The advantage of working for yourself
5:10 Law school or writing
6:00 Networking is an important step
6:30 Walk through the doors that are open to you
7:19 Being self employed can be scary
7:50 Speak in your own voice
9:18 Copywriting and messaging is communicating
10:05 Adhering to a formula can be a negative
11:18 The priority is authenticity
12:00 Figuring out a structure
13:18 Lizzy sometimes pretends to write to a friend
15:07 The more communicating, the better (but don’t be redundant)
15:40 Ezra believed that writing was just not one of his skills
16:34 Let go of the ‘right answer’ – It’s about making a communication
17:38 Ezra on hiring a copywriter

Click Here For Video Transcript

Ezra Firestone: Hey, Ezra here from The Tank in Brooklyn. I’m here today with one of my best friends in the whole world, Elizabeth Goodman.

Elizabeth Goodman: Hey, Ezra.

Ezra: Or Lizzy Goodman as I call her. You want to be called Lizzy?

Lizzy: I mean, people call me Lizzy.

Ezra: Okay, Lizzy Goodman. So, Lizzy is a writer for New York Magazine, Elle, Fast Company, Billboard.

Lizzy: Rolling Stone.

Ezra: Rolling Stone.

Lizzy: Etc., etc.

Ezra: So, you’re like a bad ass in this world.

Lizzy: Yes, that’s my technical title, yeah, yeah.

Ezra: So, you know, copywriting, which is what we are talking about today, we’re going to do a couple of posts on copywriting, is such like a subject that really has people feel confronted and scared and, like, there’s a not a lot of good copywriters out there. Well, there’s actually a lot of good copywriters, but people have this belief that there’s a not a lot of good copywriters out there. They get really afraid when it comes to writing copy for their offers and I firmly believe that marketing is messaging and communication is what it takes to be successful in business. And why do you think it is that people are so freaked out by copying and writing and communicating their offers?

Lizzy: It’s a lot of exposure. You know? If you put a sentence down on a piece of blank paper, you’re sort of making a statement about yourself and that’s always really terrifying. It’s like there was nothing here and now there’s something here and I made it and, like, please judge it. It’s scary.

Ezra: Yeah.

Lizzy: And the blank page is like, the metaphor of that, is something that tortures everybody not just professional writers. I think everyone feels a certain fear of being judged for how they express themselves.

Ezra: Straight up. Really, no, truly, I mean, you are being vulnerable when you write, right, because you’re communicating how you feel about something. Before we go any further, I actually want to know a little bit about your story. So, like, you have made it to the pinnacle of journalism. Right?

Lizzy: I mean, I, of course, would not phrase it that way because you always want to have, like, I don’t think about that but, I do…there’s…I’ve been doing this for more than a decade and, I have got into write as I’ve gone on for impressive publications where there’re really incredible editors and other writers and I feel really lucky and aware of the process that got me there.

Ezra: Can you tell us a little about your story . . .

Lizzy: Sure.

Ezra: . . . like where did you start? Where are you now? How did you get there?

Lizzy: I started…yeah, this seems always a little tricky. It’s like how far do you go back? I started…I mean, I always wanted…I was always interested in writing. I kept journals from an early age and kind of . . .

Ezra: Did you have that experience of people saying like, “Hey, you can’t get…you cannot do this thing. You can’t get where you want to go in this field?”

Lizzy: Sure, especially, you know, especially music journalism which is how I started out and is a big part of what I still do, like, being a rock writer, it’s a little bit like saying you want to be an astronaut. It’s like, “Uh-huh, okay, cute.”

Ezra: Well, I think we should point out that you are a woman. Right? I mean that’s apparent? Right? It’s obvious, but I think in this field. Look, that’s like . . .

Lizzy: No, no, no. It’s totally…it’s not, we joke about it because it’s like, “Well, yes, obviously.” But, it’s, I mean, it’s especially…journalism is in itself is already like a boy’s club and rock journalism, in particular, is boy’s club. I was almost always…I worked at Rolling Stone on staff and I worked at Blender, which is no longer in existence, but used to be another big national music magazine and at both of those places, for the majority of the time that I was there, I was the only woman on the editorial side of the magazine.

Ezra: How did that feel?

Lizzy: That was, I mean, you don’t…what’s scary about it, I think, is it doesn’t feel different at all. Like, you sort of become used to the . . .

Ezra: Well, like, were you treated differently?

Lizzy: . . . idea of being the only girl around and then that’s a kind of dark thing. Yeah, but you don’t know it. It’s sort of that metaphor that they have in psychology about you put a frog in a frying pan and turn on the heat slowly, like, you don’t realize you’re being, like, cooked alive.

Ezra: It’s like cooking frogs?

Lizzy: I didn’t feel…they…yes, that’s the secret truth about, no, they were not. No, it wasn’t a specific…it wasn’t…I wouldn’t say like that’s like an exact metaphor, but the idea of you’re used to certain things being a certain way and you don’t realize necessarily that they are skewed. Like, that’s something that I think everyone can relate to whether you’re dealing, whatever kind of ism you’re dealing with, whether it’s sexism or racism or, you know.

Ezra: I bring it up because like in our field there’s business owners, entrepreneurs, marketers, oftentimes, people who go out on their own who want to create their own thing feel that same…have that same experience.

Lizzy: There is stigma everywhere and, like, you know, the idea of…because you’re…if you have something, a quality, about your persona, whether you’re a woman or you’re, you know, of a minority race or whatever it is that’s visually obvious, the stigma becomes more overt because it’s like, “Oh, well, everyone can see this about you,” you know.

But there’s all kinds of stigma and I think that it is one of the advantages of being and why I work for myself now. Why I’ve enjoy it so much is that you don’t…you do have a little bit more control over how your work life goes and if I don’t like the way that I’m being treated somewhere, I don’t have to work there anymore and that’s pretty awesome.

Ezra: That’s right. So, you were like a . . .

Lizzy: Yes, so I was in college, I was always interested in writing and always had attitude for that, and then in college I kept trying to go to law school. I kept trying to sign up for the LSAT and I kept sort of not taking it and I had got really into music and into . . .

Ezra: I could see you as a lawyer.

Lizzy: Yeah.

Ezra: Actually, I can’t see you as a lawyer.

Lizzy: You could see me trying to become a lawyer. Yeah, that would be very me. There’s a lot of lawyers in my family. But I was interested in music and I really wanted to pursue writing about it and a lot of exciting stuff was happening in music during the time that I was in college and, but it felt like a fantasy, as a lot of people feel, to be able to pursue this thing that I was secretly into. So, I kind of made my way to New York City under the guise of other jobs. I taught school for a little while and then I started interning. I interned at Spin Magazine. That was my first real thing and I wrote for England for a while.

Ezra: I’m going to interrupt you for a second.

Lizzy: Yeah, sure.

Ezra: Which is a good lesson here. Is that cool?

Lizzy: Yes, interrupt me.

Ezra: Okay. I’m doing [inaudible 00:06:02]. A good lesson here, she started as an intern. Right? And often just giving into the community of people, like, where you want to go, networking with that group of people, making those connections is a really important step. I think on a lot of people’s journey is they, like, met the right people . . .

Lizzy: Yes.

Ezra: . . . through an internship or through whatever.

Lizzy: Well, and I think people…I have a couple interns now for a series of products I’m working on and they always ask me, you know, “What should I be doing to get to write for a living?” And, I always say, “Walk through the doors that are open to you like internships,” and we work in an industry…if you work in an industry that doesn’t have a traditional structure, like, if you go to law school, then you apply for jobs as a lawyer and they’re looking at law schools, so there’s sort of a natural transition.

When you work in a field like journalism or like a lot of what your clients are doing, you’re not…there’s no structure. It’s not like here’s your entry point. You have to go in however you can get in and make as many contacts as possible and expose yourself to the inner workings of how the industry works. No one can teach you how to do that. Like I know a plenty of people who went to journalism school, but, and I think have learned a lot about the structure of writing from that, but you still have to start at an internship level, even if you have a degree in my field.

Ezra: And I think that is what makes entrepreneurship or fields where you are, would you say self-employed?

Lizzy: Yeah.

Ezra: Fields where you’re self-employed scary is that there really is no like A to B. Right? You just got to get in there and do it. And I think when it comes back to copywriting, which is what we’re talking about today, that’s the same thing. Like, if you want to get good at this, you just have to start doing it. Start expressing yourself. And we were talking before this post, before we started recording here, a couple days ago, about what we’re going to talk about, one of the things that you said was that a writer’s voice, this stuck out of my head . . .

Lizzy: Mm-hmm.

Ezra: . . . needs to have many shades. Now what…I think you…I want to know kind of . . .

Lizzy: What does that mean? Yeah, well, one of the things that I confront a lot in my field is people battling this difference between art and commerce. Like, are you an artist writer? Are you a commercial writer? And, I just kind of have no . . .

Ezra: I’m on commercial break.

Lizzy: Well, anyone who’s learned…if you…so am I. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t have an integrity about what I do or I’m not up for…I’m up for just writing anything, like, just come to my lemonade stand and I’ll write something for you. It’s not like that. What it means though and what I meant by that comment is you have to be adaptable. You have…everything that you write has to belong to you, has to belong to your own voice and be spoken in your own voice. But, if a client, and if you’re writing for your own website or whatever you’re trying to create, may be you’re your own client in that moment, but there are goals and needs that that copy has to fill and you shouldn’t be afraid to keep those in mind as you construct prose.

Again, that doesn’t mean like go…there’s plenty of assignments I turn down because I just don’t think that might voice will suit that assignment, but when I write for Elle or write for New York Magazine or I write a musician profile or a sport’s person profile, like an athlete profile, I change certain elements of how I’m writing to suit that and I think that’s important not to be afraid of making those kinds of accommodations.

Ezra: So, the tone of your communications are going to be different on your sales page than they are going to be for your welcome video. Right?

Lizzy: Yeah.

Ezra: Like you’re going to have these different types of communications that you’re making in your copywriting because, ultimately, copywriting and messaging and marketing is just communicating. That’s all it is, telling people what you think or what you feel or what’s going on in XYZ, offer that you’re making and so I want to talk a little bit about formula because, ultimately, our goal here is that you come away from this video feeling more confident about your ability to write your own copy because I think that for your core offers because, look, you’ve only got a couple core offers most likely, you should be the one who does that initial communication because nobody knows it better than you. So, how do you feel about that? Am I getting a little too . . .

Lizzy: No, no, no. I totally agree with that.

Ezra: So, formula.

Lizzy: Yeah.

Ezra: Adherence to formula. I see this a lot, right, because I deal with thousands of entrepreneurs every year who are crafting offers, who are trying to communicate to people why what they have is good. And, they get like a formula from some copywriting guru or some copywriting teacher and they, like, stick into that thing and we talked about that as like a negative.

Lizzy: Yeah, I think there’s…I always think about this quote I heard from Denzel Washington when I think about this, which is “He prepares an amazing amount for each of his roles like tons of research, reads everything there is, like total nerd-out, like must know every last detail about this person I’m playing and then on day one, on the set, it’s, like, that’s all out the window. Like, I’m done even looking at that or thinking about that in a conscious way.” Structure in writing is super important, like paramount and I think that people move towards the idea of formula for good reason and with good intention, which is like, “What am I supposed to put here? What are the main elements that needs to be included in each of these sort of semi-formulaic pieces on my website or in my presentation or whatever it is and you don’t want to be longwinded and you want to have a structure, so I get it, like, formula matters. But after you’ve kind of downloaded that sense of what needs to be there, then you want to throw it out because what I see a lot everywhere in writing is this kind of really narrow, fearful sentences like, “I know this is supposed to be here, so I am going to write it now.” It feels really inauthentic and it’s worse, I think, than just kind of having something that’s a little unwieldy because it’s not . . .

Ezra: Well, people feel it.

Lizzy: . . . it’s not personal and people feel it and they feel like you’re afraid and you don’t really know what you’re doing and you don’t really know what you’re selling or what you’re trying to express. And so that’s my, like, a big pet peeve of any kind of writing. It’s like the priority is authenticity, not structure, but you need both.

Ezra: Right. So you have your structure. Right? Like, your opening, “Hey, this is who I am and this is what I’m going to tell you about.” And then you tell them what you’re going to tell them. It’s the old, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them what you tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” That’s a good, you know, it’s like sort of a common structure.

Lizzy: Yeah, you’ve said that before and I like that. I’ve borrow that.

Ezra: So, like, that’s not mine. I didn’t come up with that. I heard that somewhere. I’ve studied copywrite.

Lizzy: Well, thank you person who came up with that.

Ezra: Yeah, whoever came up with that. So, structure is important. Right? You want to…so when I approach, I write a lot of our copy here at Smart Marketer for all of our offers, and then I have someone like my wife who is a brilliant copywriter, who is filming this by the way. Hi. We’re big fans of her. She just makes an appearance in every video. It’s like every video I’m always like, “She’s so great,” so.

Lizzy: That does not surprise me.

Ezra: Thank you, audience, for being willing to deal with me [inaudible 00:12:47]. So, here’s the thing, you got to have that formula and for any piece, any communication that you’re going to make you want to first, or at least the way that I do it, you can do whatever you want, but I’m giving you my suggestions, is figure out the structure. “Hey, I’m going to do an opening and then I’m going to tell them this and then I’m going to tell them that.” And then just talk just like, . . .

Lizzy: Totally.

Ezra: . . . like, as if you were talking to…if you wanted to explain it to yourself how would you explain this thing if you were trying to tell yourself? Does that make sense?

Lizzy: The sort of technique that’s often used in my line of works specifically is tell your friend. I will literally, when I’m struggling with how to…when I can feel I’m tight like I’m writing too much to structure, I will take, just to trick my mind, whatever I’m working on, and put it in an email box like on Gmail and act as if…and take off the formatting out of it, the formatting from Word to whatever and just write it. Just the experience of seeing it in an email box will loosen you up. And, I think those techniques, I mean these are sort of minor [inaudible 00:13:45].

Ezra: So will you repeat that? What did you just said?

Lizzy: So, if you’re feeling…when I’m feeling like I am writing in an uptight way, which is where…what…usually what that means is I feel the pressure.

Ezra: You’re contracted and, like, scared.

Lizzy: Yeah, like my body, I feel it in my body or, like, I know this piece, it often happens when I don’t have a lot of space, which is something I’m sure that your clients are dealing with all the time. Like, you feel . . .

Ezra: Physical space?

Lizzy: No, well, sure that, but I mean, like, say I have to write a certain number of words that’s relatively small and I have to put a large amount of information in that amount of words. That will make me feel like there’s just no time, there’s no space for the words, there’s no space for all these thoughts and I’ll get, I’ll feel myself getting uptight in my sentence structure. To put it in the terms we’re talking about here, I’m too obsessed with structure. I’m thinking way too much about this phantom thing that this needs to look like and not enough about telling the truth. So, often when that happens, I will open up an email box and pretend that I’m writing a letter to a friend, I’m writing, you know . . .

Ezra: To kind of loosen you up.

Lizzy: To loosen me up. Say that I am…this is just a dispatch from a vacation about this band that I just discovered. And just the visual trick of putting it in a non-formal document helps me relax.

Ezra: You could write it to me. You could put my email address in there. Make it so, you know . . .

Lizzy: I’ve used you for this before, so thank you very much.

Ezra: Really?

Lizzy: Yes.

Ezra: I didn’t know that.

Lizzy: Yeah.

Ezra: So, you know, this is the problem that Lizzy has because she gets these assignments from, like, the New York Magazine and they’re like, “Hey, you need to do this story on this musician in X number of words.” We don’t have that problem, guys. We got as long as we want to communicate our ideas and I will tell you, in my belief and my experience of crafting offers, because we’re also talking about writing copy for video, right, not just sales copy on your page, is that the more the better. Right? Like the more you communicate, obviously, you don’t want to be redundant and stuff but, feel free to just, like, let go. I took this course one time called “Freefall Writing,” and have I told you about it?

Lizzy: No.

Ezra: Okay. So this is, like, I did not believe I could write. I, like, had the viewpoint that I cannot write.

Lizzy: Right.

Ezra: I am not a writer. I can’t express myself.

Lizzy: A lot of people have that.

Ezra: Yeah. I really ,strongly felt that, like, the only way that I could express myself was verbally. I didn’t think I had the ability to write and so what they do is they, it’s like a three-day course and I don’t know, whole bunch of stuff happens, it was like eight years ago now, I don’t really remember, but, basically, what you do, the fundamental technique is you cover your computer screen so you can’t see what’s on your computer and you sit down for, like, three hours at a time and you just stream of consciousness, just whatever happens. And the next thing you know, you have, like, these long, you know, big stories and some of the best stuff I think I’ve ever written came from that course. So, stream of consciousness writing is really good. Like think about what your offer is and then just start writing as how you would talk about it.

Lizzy: There’s one more thing that I want to say about that which is just this idea of there being a right answer. I think this is something that plagues almost anyone who ever tries to put words to a page of any kind. Even if it’s spoken, by the way. Even if it’s a script for a video. You are not…the right answer does not exist. Like before we sat down to film this video there wasn’t up in the cloud somewhere a series of perfect sentences that had to get said in order to make sense to people. Like, it is what you put down.

So, I mean, this is something that’s helped me a lot. Just realizing that when I sit down to write something, I’m not writing for a grade, I’m not writing for a pre-existing sort of template that someone is going to know is right, and this is whatever I produced will be judged against that. It’s right if you communicate the thing that you are trying to communicate. That’s the beginning and end of this sort of spectrum of judging it. That’s it.

Ezra: Yeah. And I think that I agree with that. You are right.

Lizzy: Thank you.

Ezra: So, last thing before we end this post is that if you’re going to hire a copywriter, which is a cool thing to do, right, we are pro you hiring someone to do your copy for you, oftentimes, the experience that I have when I hire sales copywriters is that they have the desire to be really aggressive in their communications of the offer and so I think it would really benefit you to first do your best to communicate what this thing is and then maybe pass to someone to polish it. So, Lizzy Goodman, Ezra Firestone from The Tank in Brooklyn. Lizzy, thank you so much.

Lizzy: Thank you.

Ezra: We will be back to talk about storytelling because we believe that stories are what sell and stories are what engage people, so in the next post with Lizzy Goodman we’ll talk about storytelling. So, thanks so much. Catch you in the next one. You want to mention anything about, like, where people could…you care if people find you or you have that like . . .

Lizzy: I mean, well, . . .

Ezra: Maybe is where they’ll fine you?

Lizzy: Sure, yeah, because my website isn’t [inaudible 00:18:31].

Ezra: We’re going to get working and fix her website, but . . .

Lizzy: Yes. Ezra is fixing my website.

Ezra: . . . on one of our next posts we’ll mention your website.

Lizzy: That will be great.

Ezra: Okay. Cool. Thanks. Bye.

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