“It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one's memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.” – Edgar Degas, Born Jul. 19, 1834.
“They” say you should take old winning sales letters by the greats, and hand copy them longhand.
And by “they” I mean typically crusty old fossils or dead guys or people who don't actually have any valuable tips to impart on how to get better at copy.
I mean, honestly. “Just go hand copy this pile of old crap” is something you tell someone to do if you want them to piss off and stop bothering you.
I've heard various bullshit reasons for why this Sisyphean task will allegedly make you a good copywriter. Muscle memory. Osmosis. Subliminal conditioning.
Basically a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Not a drop of proof.
It’s busy work. Anyone can go copy something and you never have to address if they suck so bad they should quit and find another dream of making easy money elsewhere.
Some people swear by it. And hey, I'm not even saying it WON'T do SOMETHING for you.
But here is why I hate it.
I feel like it's a waste of precious time.
Meaning whatever it is you can “learn” by doing that, you can learn by doing other things you can actually USE and PROFIT from.
So why not do that instead?
You certainly can't make any money with someone else's old letter you've simply hand copied word for word.
BUT if you take Degas' advice (and Ben Franklin's too, incidentally) you can study the “greats” and try to internalize the lessons and insights you find there…
Then EMULATE them in a piece you create in your own words, to sell your own thing. Because now it's transformed by your own memory, insight, and experience.
You are still putting study into physical practice, but you end up with something that is yours at you can use and test.
You're still benefitting from the pairing of knowledge and action to create a solid foundation of understanding and skill.
You're just not wasting time and effort while you do it.
And I believe this is a faster way to learn and level up than flat out hand copying anyway. Unless you need penmanship or transcription practice.
If you want to write copy, then write some already. It's called copy, but that's a noun, not a verb.