“I disagree with people who think you learn more from getting beat up than you do from winning.”
– Tom Cruise
The best advice Tom Cruise ever gave me
Back in May I was eating dinner with the television on. It was late at night and the channel was set to ABC. Jimmy Kimmel Live was playing.
I wasn’t paying much attention until Kimmel cut to a segment where he interviewed the show’s special guest, Tom Cruise. The first part of the conversation was standard fluff. “I heard you’ve got a new movie coming out. What’s the premise?” Basic nonsense. The second part however, that was pure gold.
Kimmel asked Cruise how he’d been able to succeed in the notoriously difficult entertainment industry for so long.
The secret: He watched some of the best movies every single day and took notes. Look at the greats and emulate them.
Sounds pretty simple right? Well, I didn’t start following his advice until recently. Applying this strategy to blogging hadn’t even crossed my mind.
How to become a better writer
I like to dedicate one hour a day to mindless web surfing. Every time I see an interesting headline that makes me click over to the article, and this isn’t very often, I’ll write the title down. Other times I’ll read a post that I really like and then hand copy it onto a sheet of paper. Occasionally I’ll even find an article that convinces me to buy something. When this happens I make sure to take notes on the product too.
Afterwards I get out a pen and make comments next to everything that I liked.
Most of headlines that get my clicks contain words like “How,” “Why,” or “Who.” I’m a sucker for grand promises too, as long as they sound somewhat reasonable. “Make One Million Dollars Today” is cheesy, “You Can Earn $100 This Afternoon” is much more effective. Titles that reference a famous person are also a guilty pleasure of mine. “A Life Lesson From Socrates” or “Bruce Lee’s Workout Routine” will get my attention. Celebrity trash, like articles about Kim Kardashian’s latest shopping spree, are ignored.
The importance of copying
One thing that I love about writing is the fact that anyone can do it. If you wanted to make a movie you’re going to have to spend several hundred thousand dollars. The written word costs virtually nothing.
Taking a good article and writing it out lets you feel what it’s like to make something of quality. It gives you the opportunity to better understand the author’s style and tone. If you copied Bukowski stories every day you’d eventually write just like Bukowski. We’re adaptive creatures our writing can evolve.
If you write garbage all day don’t be surprised when no one will read your work. You need to know what good writing feels like in order to improve.
I used to suck at sales. Then I started copying down old landing pages and product reviews that had sold me on all kinds of items. Within a few days my ability to sell improved greatly. Reading more books, or buying an expensive web seminar, wouldn’t have done nearly as much for me as copying did.
Becoming a better writer is tough. Some people spend their entire lives trying to improve but never make any progress. Although it isn’t a magic cure-all, I’d recommend taking notes on, and re-writing, articles that you like. Doing so allows you to understand what makes a good piece of writing and allows you to use this information in your own endeavors.