How To Find an Endless River of Copywriting Ideas

If you’ve ever been stuck with writer’s block, then this message might be the key to saving yourself from disaster.

Here’s why:

You probably know the best way to get ideas for your ads and promotions is to go through your swipe file of ads written by other copywriters. Take a headline from one, a lead paragraph from another, a “PS” from one more, and bang! Your ad is written, right?

Well it’s not that simple. First off, if everyone is using the same classic ads, wouldn’t your “swiped” ad look just like all the rest?

Also, there are times when even your swipe file can’t save you from dreaded writer’s block. You’ll look and look, but nothing seems to “jump” into your subconscious as it should.

Luckily, I recently discovered a site which might cure your writer’s block forever.

The site: Google News Archive Search. Using this site you can search newspaper and magazine stories going all the way back to the late 1800s.  Here’s a direct link to it:

For example, if you are looking for classic ads from Eugene Schwartz for your swipe file, you can find them using this search engine. Same with Gary Halbert’s famous ads and Joe Karbo’s classic “Lazy Man’s Way to Riches.”  (By the way, if you click on these links, you’ll get some clues on how to search for these).

But why stop with just looking up direct response space ads to swipe from?

You can also try looking up articles on your topic, giving you valuable background research.  Some of the headlines in these editorial articles are pretty good too.

For example, I was doing background research for a public speaking product I’m working on, and found an article titled “Speak Up! It’s Easier Than You Think” from 1981. Not a bad headline actually, it would probably work just fine on a promo written today. (The lead paragraph happens to be solid gold too.)

Now keep in mind this story isn’t even “copy”…it’s just a regular newspaper story I just happened across during a search.

And here’s the kicker: Like most everything else Google offers, it’s completely free!

There’s a ton of swipe-able ideas buried here. Just spend a few minutes sifting through keywords, and you’re bound to pan some gold for your copy.  Who knows? Maybe you’ll find acres of copy diamonds to mine on your latest project.

So what do you think? Am I onto something here or what?

Contact me today to let me know.

PS: If you can figure how to print or create PDFs using Google News Archive Search, let me know and I’ll send you a valuable gift.


  1. You are on to something, my friend.

    This is an awesome resource.

  2. Tammy says:

    This is good Ryan, but just thinking about the stand-up-from-your-desk-and-take-a-stroll-or-do-sumfing-else concept. Does it also work when a writer finds himself in a block?

    The inner creativity inside all of us; the inner archive in our minds when over-probed goes to sleep. I believe getting involved in some other activity when we experience a block could help too.

    Wadaya fink?

  3. Ryan McGrath says:

    Hi Tammy:

    Yes, I completely agree that taking a break is an important part of the creative process. It’s technique advocated by most of the copywriting legends. To quote David Ogilvy: “Nobody ever arrives at a very big idea through a conscious, rational thought process. It comes from your unconscious.”

    There’s a book called “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Young which has a good process to follow…

    A key thing is to fill-up your subconsciousness with ideas to process…and having a swipe file (or looking through the Google News Archive Search) are great places to load up on ideas.

    Usually I get my ideas while taking a shower, or driving. It drives my wife nuts that I often run out of the shower, soaking wet, to grab a pen & paper. Or worse, start scratching notes on my steering wheel while (trying) to stay on the road!

  4. Joanne Grey says:

    Great tip, Ryan! My ideas usually arrive at around 11pm, just as I am trying to get to sleep :). Thank you for sharing this post.

  5. Ryan says: “It drives my wife nuts that I often run out of the shower, soaking wet, to grab a pen & paper.”

    Here’s one of my tried and true ways to jumpstart the creative process: “The Copywriter’s Bible.” It’s made up of very interesting essays about writer’s block and copywriting strategies, written by old-school UK copywriters. I really can’t recommend this book enough. First of all, it’s a comfort to learn that the world’s most successful copywriters also agonize with writer’s block. But most of all, their essays are so encouraging, funny, and quirky, you will truly be inspired to take your copy to a far more daring level.

  6. oops…Ryan, I quoted you because I meant to acknowledge I’ve actually cut my husband off in conversation to run and jot down a copywriting idea.