Why every copywriter needs a set of buckets

Copywriters need to come up with brilliant ideas at lightning speed, all while fighting deadlines and a sh*tload of self-criticism. How to survive this chaos, and turn it into creative confidence? Dan Nelken to the rescue!

Sitting around, spitting out words and ideas, crafting them into clever and catchy headlines, what a glorious job it must be. Ask any copywriter, you’ll see them nod their head in agreement while they fight back the tears. 

This is precisely what Dan Nelken came to address. 

With A Self-Help Guide for Copywriters, he wrote a remarkable piece of advice for aspiring (or experienced) copywriters. In just 150 pages, the Chief Creative Ding-Dong of Nelken Creative (that’s what he calls himself on LinkedIn) holds a mirror up to your creative face and helps you recognise, understand and overcome some of the hurdles in the creative process. 

Wait, there’s a process to creativity?

As creatives, we often despise the word process. Or even worse, structure. Yuck! However, Ding-Dong Dan keenly points out that our brains do follow a certain pattern when generating ideas and building associations. As a copywriter, you can learn to leverage these thinking techniques to improve your ideas, headlines and concepts (and overall will to live.)

Of course, there’s room to stray from the path and let your mind wander. But a little backup process is what keeps you from getting lost. It puts you back in control of your work – and of your self-confidence!

So what does all of this have to do with buckets? 

Introducing: The Bucket System

In the book, Nelken applies his ideation process very specifically to writing headlines, and dubs it “The Bucket System”. Here’s how it works in just 4 simple steps:

  1. Create your buckets
    Many people make the mistake of immediately looking for ‘the line’ and end up getting stuck. What you want to do is start listing general truths, benefits, attributes or insights about your product or service. These areas become your ‘buckets’ and you’ll find them by doing the one thing all creatives love to hate: research.
  1. Fill your buckets
    Nope, still no headlines here. Nothing good is going to come out of an empty bucket. Fill them up by first looking into each area and jotting down ideas that could spark a headline further down the line. Don’t promise yourself to find gold at this point, you’re just mapping the field. 
  1. Crafting ideas into headlines
    Now it’s time to start digging! Which ideas are most promising? Take a closer look, spin them around, exaggerate, play, get messy. Do this until – bonk! – you hit gold*.

    *You’ll know when you’ve stumbled upon something great. But just in case, read on for some easy, yet effective headline crafting techniques.
  1. Editing
    Once you find your gold nugget, start polishing it. I know, editing feels like reviewing an exam paper you just finished writing. Still, with a little extra effort, you might score some bonus points – and an award-winning headline! 

Not a B2B example, but a tasty one nonetheless:

1. A draft pint of Guinness takes a significantly longer time to settle
2. People have to wait longer before they get to drink
3. A pint of Guinness is worth the wait
4. Good things come to those who wait (god, what a legendary headline)

How to hack your headline

You’ll find about 25 different headline types and techniques and over 200 example ads in Dan’s guide. He goes on about their greatness, weakness or sometimes daring brilliance. But, more interestingly, he also unveils some of the simplest tricks behind the magic, giving you a shot at finding easy gold yourself! 

These are some of Dan’s tactics that get you from bucket to brilliance:

  • Sack the competition (or just sucker-punch yourself)
  • Why not add a cliffhanger or leave a piece …?
  • Maybe your ad doesn’t need a headline at all? Or your headline is the entire ad? 
  • What if there is too much of your product? What if it didn’t exist? 

Some will bear no fruit, but others … KA-CHING! 

Still, that’s not the real reason he calls his book a self-help guide.

The moral for your self-morale

The most important thing Mr. Nelken teaches us is this: every copywriter, every creative, spends too much time telling themselves they aren’t good enough. 

We suck at being nice to ourselves. Why is that? A little self-doubt is normal, it makes you want to become better at what you do. Too much, however, keeps you from doing great work, and from having fun while doing it.

So next time your imposter syndrome acts up again, flick it a nice finger – or better yet, yeet a bucket at its head! And remember (also talking to myself here):

  • Good writing takes time
    and a lot more of just writing, writing, writing
  • Having a process keeps you on track
    and can help you find better ideas, faster
  • There’s no gold standard
    many ideas are worth pursuing, that’s why you better start off with a bucket-load
  • Dare to deadline
    set the timer to 5’, clear your head and just fill the page – something will pop out!

Stuck on a bucket? Or keep hitting rock bottom? Let’s find your gold together! Our copywriters are all read up on Dan’s work and are sparking confidence. (Quickly now, before they slip back into self-doubt!) 

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