How Woody Allen Would Write Copy

An interviewer asked Woody Allen how to write a joke.  Here’s what Allen said: “It depends on where I want it to take me.  First, I figure out where I want to end up.  Then I start asking questions so I can work backward to a beginning.”

Writing the end first is something a lot of novelists also do. Same for screenwriters.

So maybe it won’t come as a surprise to you that a lot of successful direct response copywriters to this too. For instance, I once asked great copywriter Bill Christensen how he gets started. “I write the offer card before anything else,” he said. “And then the sales close. Then I’ve got something to aim for in the rest of the letter.”

I was just getting started when he told me that. And I’ve done the same ever since.

Try it yourself. Especially if you ever feel unfocused or unsure of how to begin. Start writing by drafting a reply card and a sales close… and see if it doesn’t clarify your whole game plan.



  1. I couldn’t agree more! It’s one of my fundamentals when I’m writing DR copy. By starting with the response device (order form, coupon, sign-up form etc) it makes you think about the course of action you want the reader to follow – and it makes sure you hone and polish the offer and call to action so they can be read and easily understood in a confined space.

    What’s more, when I’m concentrating so much on the response device, nine times out of ten the headline will pop into my head too! It’s a double whammy!

  2. Wow, that’s interesting. It goes against Schwartz’s idea that the you start with the headline after weeks and even months of researching your audience.

  3. Thanks. Of course, Schwartz’s greater point here, and one I’m glad you mention, is that you start with a lot of audience research. This suggestion doesn’t so much counter that position as support it — because, after all, one of the great reasons to write out the offer first is because it’s in the offer that you really have to work out the details on what your prospects want and what kind of value they’ll place on on it. The better you’ve done this — and you’ll find that sorting out the offer helps — the easier those headlines come to you.

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