October 7, 2023

There are many ways to become a master in all you do.

One way is to be a “mastermind junkie” and go to where the wisdom is…like I am doing for the next two weeks…a “3-city tour”:

From Nashville (for copywriting wisdom) …to Dallas (for online marketing wisdom) …to Phoenix (for entrepreneurial wisdom).

Being a lifelong learner involves racking up some frequent flier miles and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But it also involves staying home sometimes and studying…reading…sharing…and doing.

On the sharing part, I will be sure to do that in this blog over the next few decades…including what I learn from this upcoming trip.

I’ve mastered some things over the years but I’ve got a long way to go. Thanks for being on the inquiry with me.

Another path towards mastery is outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, where he lays out the “10,000-hour rule” which is the principle that it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field.

For you math types, the calculation is derived from practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years.

I know…that’s 10,400 hours…so consider the extra 400 hours as a head start in year 11 towards “Grand Master.”

Or I guess you can take 2 weeks off a year from mastery if you prefer to be a slacker. 🙂

It should be noted that there are as many folks who think this theory is a golden rule as those who think it’s hogwash.

I went down a rabbit hole on Google on that…not recommended.

I won’t get into an argument about the exact number of hours it takes…but I think we can all agree that it’s not 10 hours or 100 hours or even 1,000 hours to attain true mastery.

To be great at anything takes significant practice, repetition, and study.

Including masterminding in rooms where everyone is getting smarter…and you are never the smartest person in the room.

Gary Halbert and Gene Schwartz–two legendary copywriters Craig Simpson and I profiled in our book (his second, my first) titled The Advertising Solution, (you can read more about it in the P.S.)—became legends by following this prescription to mastery.

I’ll begin with how Halbert achieved copywriting mastery by quoting him…three times…and then I’ll add a technique from Schwartz which was critical to how he got there.

Safe to say it didn’t happen overnight for either one of them.

The first Halbert quote I will share is how he connects “hard labor” to becoming great (when speaking to prospective copywriters)—and I think he also used this quote to get the attention of those who dare think copywriting is a commodity or something you can pick up as an anyhow hobby:

“I have suggested that you do one hour’s worth of road work every morning right after you get up for six days a week.”

I marvel at what it takes to be a great copywriter and it’s not easy…like road work without the danger of getting run over (by a car, that is).

However, you will be run over by a client if you haven’t done the work.


Halbert knew this as well as anyone.

The quote reminds me of a story from one of my mentors, Adolph Auerbacher (business builder of the iconic magazine brands Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies Home Journal in the 1960’s and 70’s).

When his marketing staff, at their cushy offices in midtown Manhattan (New York City) got complacent or lazy, he would remind them how “easy” they had it.

And then he walked the laziest culprits to watch construction workers at a job site (and conveniently, there was always one outside a window in most skyscrapers in New York City at any time).

He would then have no need to explain what “hard work” really was.

And this was especially effective in the middle of the winter when it was 72 degrees inside and minus 12 degrees outside.

This visualization is motivational for copywriters, marketers, and anyone else who doesn’t want to put the time and the work into becoming great.

Then there are some specific instructions Halbert gave to every writer who thought they had the stamina to work with him (and to eventually be as good as him):

“Get yourself a collection of good ads and DM pieces and read them aloud and copy them in your own handwriting.”

Gary isn’t the only copywriting “professor” who gives this out as an assignment to students.

I remember the young writer who heard me quote Gary about this “technique” at a live event where I was speaking–and later in my presentation I mentioned that the first three chapters of Gene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising might be the most important 47 pages to read to become a world class copywriter.

He combined those two seemingly unrelated thoughts and invested time, paper, and postage to let me know he was listening.

He proceeded to send me, via snail mail, the first three chapters of Breakthrough Advertising, all 47 pages, handwritten on dozens of pages of legal pad paper, telling me he was starting to put in the time and effort to become a top gun copywriter.

It didn’t fit in my P.O. Box…but he got my attention.

Hopefully he applied what he copied.

Also: Don’t underestimate how much more you can retain by writing and re-writing rather than typing and re-typing.

In fact there is real data on how your thumb and forefinger are connected to your brain differently than a keyboard. No Bluetooth needed.

I give you permission (and even recommend) you go down this rabbit hole on Google. 🙂

And here’s the third quote from Halbert on writing and discipline…and becoming a master:

“I don’t know exactly what I am going to write about today so what I am going to do is just keep putting words down on paper until I start to get some direction.”

I know what you’re thinking:

Easy for him to “put words on paper” to begin creating brilliance. He’s one of the greatest copywriters of all time.

Like when my personal trainer says, “you can pop up now” (while I’m stuck to the floor after 50 sit-ups).

Easy for him to pop up…not me.

But believe it or not, writing begins with writing…or at least getting some rough ideas from ChatGPT. 🙂

Gene Schwartz had a similar approach (without using ChatGPT) …on how to put words on paper and never get writer’s block…by chunking down those 20 hours of work per week for 10 years into 33-minute segments.

And Gene was much more than just a copywriter. He practiced “writing by walking around” every day…a practice I highly recommend.

He was a mindful observer of everything around him…which means there was a never-ending number of things to write about…and he had a system that he layered on top of “copywriting by walking around”…as an insurance policy.

Here is a summary of his “33 minute/33 second process” (and if you are aware of it, read the rest of this post anyway to make it a practice):

  • Choose one (bigger) task you want to work on that requires focus and concentration.
  • Turn off all notifications and anything that could distract you (and that was before distractions on steroids) …Gene used a typewriter and a landline phone.
  • Set a timer for 33 minutes and 33 seconds (Gene used an old-fashioned egg timer for this task…but I give you permission to use your I-Phone).
  • Don’t stop and don’t do anything else till your timer goes off.
  • When the timer goes off, take a break for 5-10 minutes.
  • Reset the timer for another 33 minutes and 33 seconds and repeat.

I have probably read all the time management books you’ve read…maybe more…and there are variations of this in many of them, most notably The Pomodoro Technique.

I was sold on it when Gene simply said, “This is what works for me.”

Schwartz technique was just fine with me.

Productivity and success leaves clues…especially when one of the most productive and successful copywriters of all time doesn’t leave you guessing how he became so productive and successful.

And the bullet points below are why it worked for Gene.

I editorialized a bit based on what he told me…along with some observations that I read online in forums from advocates of Pomodoro (and derivatives).

  • The time slots give the impression of a deadline and you will work a little faster (and certainly more concentrated) than you might otherwise.
  • Even though we think we can multitask, we really can’t. Focusing on ONE task for 33 minutes helps us therefore to concentrate and thus do better.

    [If you want to read more about why we can’t multitask I recommend reading the work of Ned Hallowell, the world’s top expert in this area. I have mentioned him in the past in previous posts, first in “The real Vitamin C…and it’s not in your O.J.” and then in one titled “Driven to distraction.”]
  • Because you get breaks between two slots, you will be less tempted to check your email or go on social media while you are working (Pro tip: for maximum effect, allow yourself to only go “online” after three “work periods”).

    [Gene would like this stipulation despite passing away well before being distracted by email or social media. And before he could leave a digital footprint himself. His temptation might be to go to an art gallery…read the foreword and afterword to the Titans Marketing edition of Breakthrough Advertising for the skinny on that. As I mentioned, Gene was much more than a “copywriter.”]
  • It also works well with tasks that seem daunting, because you only “commit” yourself for 33 minutes. It’s less of a hurdle to start on something you’ve been postponing that way.
  • It’s a great idea to get up from your chair after the 33 minutes and do something else, something physical. Another idea is to do small chores on the breaks.
  • Research supports that working in time blocks with pauses in between is far more effective than trying to stay concentrated for hours in a row.

While the 33 minutes, 33 second limit is arbitrary, there is no reason to question Gene Schwartz, the man who didn’t write copy but assembled it.

I know I’ve made a huge jump in this post going from mastery of your craft to preventing writer’s block…from the macro to the micro.

But the macro is made up of many micros.

And you can never go wrong following the words and actions of Gary Halbert and Gene Schwartz.

Here’s a better summary:

Master your craft by setting a timer for 33 minutes, 33 seconds at a time, 20 hours a week for 10 years.

And then re-set the timer.



P.S. My first book, The Advertising Solution, is a shortcut to gleaning and understanding the greatest hits from six legends of “advertising” …who, on the surface, looked like guys who didn’t care about measurable advertising.

But with these six, you must go beneath the surface.

They were direct response marketers before there was a term for them…so they settled on “general advertising” as their field…but they were the pioneers of direct marketing,

Two of them I’ve already talked about above—Gary Halbert and Gene Schwartz—and the other four weren’t too shabby either: David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins, John Caples, and Robert Collier.

Go to TheLegendsBook.com and check out the free swipe file from these six geniuses…plus some videos of them…while you pick up a copy of The Advertising Solution.

It’s a reference book for a lifetime…and it will count towards your 10,000 hours. 🙂

P.P.S. Also: I’m announcing today the start date for the next “Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp”…our fifth…and it will be the best one yet.

After all, we’ve accumulated some additional mastery credit from the first four.

It’s a deep dive…with four (possibly five) 90 minute calls…dissecting Gene Schwartz’s profound masterpiece…and if you know the book, it needs a deep dive dissection.

The goal of the Bootcamp is to make the book a utility for you…applicable and actionable to any business…any product or service…in addition to reminding you that it is the most important book ever written about copywriting, marketing and human behavior.

The hyperbole is justified.

And the Bootcamp will bring it to life for whatever business you are in. And the training will include hot seats and answers to specific questions about your particular niche or business.

It will be starting up on November 7th…and we promise to overdeliver.

Click here so you can be the first to grab one of the 60 seats (max) we will make available…by putting yourself on the alert list…and read what it is all about.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, go to BreakthroughAdvertising.com to check out the book and the 500 page companion volume (which was inspired by previous Bootcamps).

Hope to see you live (on Zoom) on November 7th.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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