Quantity begets quality. It’s not the only means, of course, but one thing is certain: headlines you haven’t written will have no impact at all. Very few of us are geniuses, those with the unerring ability to crank out one brilliant idea after another. The good news is, the more you crank out, the higher your odds.
As with most things in life, I can relate this to the Beatles. I’ll admit it–I’m a Paul fan. With no disrespect to George or Ringo, when you break down Beatles fans into two camps, you’ve got your John fans and your Paul fans. Count me among the latter–lame lyrics, maybe, but boy do they stick in your head!
In the early 80s, after several execrable albums (all of which I own, of course), Paul finally approached legendary producer George Martin, the genius behind all the Beatles albums, about working together again.
Having heard Paul’s recent self-produced efforts, George was naturally tentative. It’s not like he needed the money. So George said, “What have you got?” Paul said he had about eight or nine songs and proceeded to play them.
George’s response: “You’ve got two, maybe three.” Not exactly what Paul wanted to hear, but he didn’t go to George to be told what he wanted to hear (he had Linda for that)–he wanted an honest, expert opinion.
In the end, Paul wrote a bunch more songs, George threw a bunch more out, and they ended up making Tug of War, one of the most critically acclaimed albums of Paul’s solo career.
David Ogilvy used to claim he wrote 50 headlines to get one. That’s a little extreme, but I do fill up a good page or two in an effort to nail the one. I teach copywriting at UNC, and I can’t tell you how many of my students turn in their first and only attempt at a headline. It shows. A truly great headline should take hours to write but look like you thought of it in seconds. And it does get easier the longer you’re in the game–you use less paper, do more writing in your head, etc.
But to this day, when I think I have eight or nine headlines, I have two, maybe three.