I have a pet peeve. It’s when I (or anyone) thinks they have to always come up with something “original”. Let me tell you what I mean.
Sometimes I think about who was the first person to try coffee? How did they figure it out?
We are so lucky to have the experience of other coffee drinkers who have gone before us so that making coffee is not even difficult.
We have a coffee swipe file. It’s not an actual file, but we figured out coffee because people have been perfecting coffee since that first tired woman figured out it would help her stay awake.
My coffee is never exactly the same as anyone else’s coffee (trust me, no one uses this much heavy cream in their coffee), so it’s not like we’re copying.
You can start to perfect your copywriting skills in the same way if you learn how to create a swipe file for the amazing copywriting you come across.
What is a Swipe File?
A swipe file is like a digital scrapbook of writing samples that have captured your interest either as an inspiration or as a future reference.
You might have happened across a headline on a landing page with an inventive structure that you’d like to experiment with.
Or a blog post told in story form that you want to look at more closely to pick apart the different elements and how the writer used them.
You might even try an interesting game where you take someone else’s copy and think about how you would change it to improve it? What would you add? What would you take away?
Reading and reworking writing in this way is like an artist going to a museum and copying a famous painting.
It’s practice. It’s honing your skill.
The Swipe File Disclaimer
What you are not going to do, which I’m sure doesn’t need to be said, but I’m saying it anyway, is plagiarize any of the copy that you found for your swipe file.
The swipe file is about practice and inspiration and getting better by studying the work of others.
You are looking for patterns and structure and learning to pick out what works and what doesn’t.
You’re not copying.
How to Create a Swipe File
Learning how to create a swipe file is simple.
My recommendation for storing the files you’re swiping is Evernote. It’s free, it’s simple to use and you can use it on your phone or desktop.
You’ll want to set up a Notebook specifically for your swipe files. I call mine “Swipe Files” because I’m creative like that.
You’ll also want to think about adding some tags so that you can easily differentiate types of copy that you’re swiping.
So, for instance, I have tags for “Headlines”, “Titles”, “Email subjects” and “Benefits”. There are probably many, many more and I’ll continue to add to those as I add new inspiration.
What’s important about the tags is that they make sense to you.
For example, if I know I need some inspiration for a blog post title, I can go into my Swipe File Notebook in Evernote and just look at the files I’ve tagged “Titles”.
When I’m saving files, I’ll do a Screenshot, particularly for a Headline or an Email subject where I’m not concerned with going back to the whole page and reading everything.
Otherwise, if I want to be able to reference a complete article, I’ll use the “article” option in Evernote.
It’s a good idea to add a remark right away if you can so that you remember why you save the clip in the first place.
Finding Stuff for Your Swipe File Notebook
Possibly the most difficult thing about building your Swipe File is actually finding stuff to put in it.
What’s great about using Evernote is that it is super simple to add stuff to your Notebook when you’re on the fly.
You open an email that you like or end up on a landing page with something that sparks inspiration and you can quickly add it to your Swipe File.
But it can be fun to put yourself on a little bit of a treasure hunt when you are trying to build up your swipe file, too.
If it’s blog post titles you’re looking for, try doing some random Google searches. It doesn’t matter what for, just search anything:
- Best Way to Get Baby to Sleep
- How to Bake a Cake
- Why is my dog having accidents in the house
Literally just search whatever comes to mind and see what comes up in the search engine results for titles. If they look good, swipe them.
You can do the same in your email. Think about a keyword that you would expect to find in a sales email and search for it. Maybe “last day” or “don’t miss”.
Examples of storytelling can be harder to find by searching, so make sure you keep an eye out for them!
What to Do With Those Things In Your Swipe File
Here’s what I do not want you to do once you have learned how to create a Swipe File.
I don’t want you to start saving things and then never go back to it.
I would recommend putting a reminder on your calendar to review your swipe file once week. Take a look at some of the things you’ve been saving, or set yourself off on a scavenger hunt to find more.
When you’re reviewing the swipe file, be prepared to take some notes.
This is a great time to practice the re-do exercise where you think about ways you would change, add to or subtract from the copy that you’ve found. This is a great mental exercise that will help with creativity.
You’ll also find there are articles that you’ve saved that at your first glance you knew had something special.
Sit with those for a bit and pick apart what you loved about them. Make notes on the techniques or wording or emotion that the writer used and then note how you would like to incorporate those into your own writing.
Even just the simple act of re-reading good writing is going to help you become a better writer.
Go Start Your Swipe File!
Creating a swipe file is going to be one of the easiest ways for you to get better at copywriting.
It’s free and it take up barely any of your time. And once you start thinking about what to add to your swipe file, you’re going to find it’s even kind of fun to do!