Unconscious Competence and Copywriting

By Jamie McSloy / April 21, 2017
unconscious competence copywriting

Unconscious Competence and Copywriting


I’m not a master copywriter by any means. Nor am I even a top earner. There are guys that command six figures plus equity in companies before they’ll agree to write anything.

I mean, if you’re offering me that sort of deal, I’ll take it, but it’s not my regular rate, to say the least.

It occurred to me today though that I’ve reached a level of unconscious competence with copywriting.

For those of you that can’t be bothered to read the Wikipedia article, that means that I can write copy without thinking about what I’m doing in a technical sense.

As some readers will know, I recently discovered new niches to target and realised that I was undercharging for what I offered compared to other people.

Well, today I decided to sit down and write a sales letter for my new, updated and upgraded service.

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Despite the trepidation that always comes along with asking for more money, the actual process of writing the sales letter was easier than ever.

I started with pricing because that was where I thought I’d have the most hang ups.

I said to myself, “Jamie, it’s just a first draft you can change it if it’s terrible” and got typing.

Then I started by explaining why my price was what it was and how the fact that I’m charging more is a great thing for my client. Forty minutes later, I’d written 800 words of call-to-action that made me believe I’m giving those clients a great opportunity to give me bags full of money.

Throw in the scarcity system I devised the other week, and that’s a pretty effective first draft.

It also gave me an idea that fits well in the “features and benefits section” which I went to next.

This should be the easiest bit of a sales letter, because you start by writing bullet points about why you or the product you’re selling is great.

Well, I’d written the call-to-action already, and so I believed 100% in what I was selling – namely, my copywriting.

That made writing the bullet points easy… and at this point they’re pretty easy anyway.

  • Nearly five hundred clients in multiple markets from all over the world.
  • One campaign brought in millions of dollars for the company that hired me. (This is why I keep mentioning that I’m underpaid!)
  • I’ve never been late.
  • Of those 500 clients, I’ve had unsatisfied customers, sure… four of them to be exact. It’s a great track record.

Anyway, the benefits are obviously personalised versions of those bullets.

What’s interesting is that they led to a big idea that I’ve not really seen in any other copywriter’s sales pages.

I decide to run with this.

It’s a weird angle, so I might end up split-testing it out, but I used the Swipe File Of Facts technique and did a round-about tour of the Cold War, automated surgeons and a bunch of other stuff that’s got nothing to do with copywriting and tied that into why companies should hire me to write their sales pages.

A couple of hours later, I’m 4000+ words into something I didn’t intend to be a particularly long-form sales letter.

I tell you this because the key point is that with copywriting – and arguably with any skill – you’re looking to get to this point where you know the structure and techniques so well that they flow naturally without you having to think about them.

How To Attain Unconscious Competence With Copywriting


There are a few techniques specific to copywriting that will help you achieve this. I’ll list them now. I know they work because this is essentially what I did. You can test my honesty by reading through the long-and-winding archives of this site, and particularly this post on a daily copywriting routine.

Handcopying Ads


Copying great copywriter ads by hand is something that pretty much every decent copywriter recommends. Again, I’m not a copywriting god, but I agree with the sentiment.

Copy out great ads by hand and you’ll absorb it. You don’t have to do this process for years or spend hours writing out 20,000 word long form advertorials, but do it until you understand the structure well enough to get a sense of flow for the things you write.

Split Testing


Everyone who wants to make money online or in marketing should learn and understand basic split-testing. It’s as crucial a skill to copywriters as actually writing the copy is.

How does it relate to unconscious competence in copywriting though? Simple.

Let’s say you are testing headlines. (If you have a website, grab Thrive Headline Optimizer here. It’s absolutely the best thing for testing headlines.)

Two things happen when you split-test headlines, and both help you attain unconscious skill at writing headlines:

  1. You’ll find out via data what works, which means more certainty in your writing
  2. You’ll adapt your writing so it’s easier to split-test

When I started copywriting, my writing was dense and complicated.

You couldn’t easily break it into sections, and so that made it difficult to split test anything.

Now, I can break my copy into sections and test them against each other. But I don’t have to do this as much. Why?

Because I’ve done this so many times I’ll have an intuitive sense of what’s going to work.

As a copywriter, you’re trying to get the maximum conversions, and so this understanding is a big part of the skill.

Concentrate On Sticking Points


There’ll naturally be things you’re good at and things you’re bad at.

You might love writing headlines, but hate calls-to-action.

You might love the research but hate the writing.

Here’s the thing with copywriting: All the elements are effective in their own right, but you need all of them to work in concert in order for your copy to be effective.

By all means, if you’re great at writing one thing, then hammer that out until the sun burns out.

But you can’t “go with the flow” and complete whole sales letters until you get rid of all those nasty sticking points.

The quickest way to do this is to concentrate on what you’re weakest at and work on it until you’re good at it.

I was like this with headlines and “ideas” or “angles” for copy.

I’m naturally pretty good at working out the benefits of a product; sometimes I’ll be able to explain or notice benefits that product owners don’t see… but thinking about an angle to sell the product didn’t come naturally. (Psychologists would probably note I have an aptitude for one type of thinking and lack at another.)

Here’s what I did to fix the problem:

  • Go through the best ads and write the unique angle they hit. Nothing else.
  • Pick a hundred random products and write solely a unique idea for marketing them.
  • Get a list of products and a few funny stories/historical events and see how to marry them.


Having done these things (and it was pretty informal – I didn’t plan the above like a drill sergeant or anything) I found it a lot easier to come up with unique ideas.


You can do this with any aspect of writing copy.


Final Thoughts


Reading a great work of literature is something you can happily spend months or years on. You can read at a leisurely pace and savour every detail of the writing style… or something.

When it comes to learning a skill – especially one you intend to make money from – you should do the opposite.

You should aim to get to a stage where you’re unconsciously competent as fast and as hard as possible. When you do, you won’t regret it, you’ll love it.

It is hard going at first, but unconscious copywriting competence is easily within reach of everyone who can write words and read books on consumer psychology.

Once you get to the point where you can knock out a sales letter within a few days, your life will change dramatically.

What are you waiting for?