What Porn Can Teach Us About Good Copy

The Difference Between a Writer and Someone Who Writes

I’m reading Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. So far, it’s an excellent primer for people who are not writers but want or need to write. Everybody writes is a great title, because most people do write regularly, and could be better at it. However, the fact that everybody writes does not mean that everybody is a writer.

The famous test for whether something is obscene or not is “I know it when I see it.” Good copy is identified the same way, unless it’s split tested. Which leads people to think that because they write, they can produce good copy. Sure, most people write. But they write on occasion, in private, and for free. And most people have sex the same way.

And most people should do neither of these things regularly, publicly, or for money.

There’s a difference between someone who has sex and a porn star, and there’s a difference between someone who writes and a writer.

Here are some differences I’ve noticed.

Someone who writes tries to be interesting. A writer cultivates interest.

Being interesting is to writing as getting an erection is to p-in-v sex: Necessary but insufficient.

Writers are interested. They read (and read and read) because they love to learn, not to become better writers. Handley advises her readers to think out the points they’re going to make before they start writing to speed up the writing process.

But writers constantly turn ideas over in their minds, attacking points of view from every angle, conjuring every objection, assembling every fact. They don’t do it to speed up writing. They do it because ideas possess and distract them.

Being genuinely and endlessly curious leads to great questions. In my experience, if one thing marks a writer, it’s not the quality of the prose. It’s the quality and volume of questions. It’s far easier to improve prose than to cultivate curiosity.

Someone who writes tries to answer other people’s questions. A writer reads everyone else’s answers and then thinks up a new question.

When you need to know, you learn how to loosen up your subjects. You learn which kinds of questions challenge assumptions without scaring people away. A good question infects readers with some of the writer’s fascination with the matter at hand.

Writers are present in conversations and events because they’re fascinated by what’s going on.

But they’re not content to know what’s happening. They need to scratch below the surface to reveal the why.

Being interesting is answering an old question in a new way. Being interested is asking a new question entirely. A writer constantly asks “What ifs?” and posits crazy hypotheticals.

Someone who writes wants people to know they’re an expert. A writer is more interested in learning from experts than being one.

The last way that writers and porn stars differ from amateurs is that love what they do. Whether it’s a video or an article, the audience can tell if creating it was a slog. If you don’t love writing, you’re a person who writes. And that’s okay.

Most everybody writes. Most everybody has sex. Not everyone should try to take it pro.

One Comment

  1. Hi! I’ve been following your site for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out
    from Houston Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the fantastic job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.