Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
‘Choose’ is probably not quite the right word. I kind of fell into it – or maybe was pushed – without knowing, for a long time, what I was doing.
Many years ago I worked for an architects’ practice, where my tasks involved producing ‘project sheets’ (case studies, effectively), reports, newsletters and flyers for community planning events etc.
I had not come across the term copywriting then and when people asked me what I did I never quite knew what to say. I usually just said ‘desktop publishing’ – but was probably underselling myself.
A little later I started working for an environmental consultancy, more or less doing the same sort of thing (project sheets, practice leaflets, newsletters). Soon after I joined, they decided that they needed a website – you can tell we’re going back a few years here! So, it was my job to develop their first website from scratch, figuring out what to say and how to say it. And still I had no idea that what I was doing might be called copywriting.
It was only when I moved on to become a translator, in about 2003, that I finally came across the term copywriting – and realised what I’d been doing all along. And, now that I was able to put a name to it, I thought I might as well carry on. Only that, as a translator, it’s no longer called copywriting, but ‘transcreation’.
What work are you most proud of?
Every time I transform a piece of clumsy, largely incomprehensible translatorese into sensible English that might even be nice to read. It gives me a real sense of achievement.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I like short, punchy slogans and headlines (I know, you wouldn’t think so from the way I’m writing this… I’m a woman of contrasts). So, I guess, it would have to be ‘Just do it’.
Imagine what it must feel like to be the copywriter who came up with that slogan!
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I switch mode and get on with some housework or do stuff in the garden. Anything that takes my mind off the job – and ideally gets me away from the computer. Though, if I’m stuck on a particular phrase or lacking inspiration, random Google searches around the general concept can also be helpful. But the best ideas usually come to me when I’m in the shower and have no way of jotting them down…
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I’m really an editor at heart. I actually hate writing first drafts, whether it’s the first draft of a translation or writing copy from scratch. My first draft always sucks. Big time. It’s only once I get down to editing and knocking things into shape that I really start to enjoy what I do. And the nearer I get to the final draft, the happier I become.
Any copywriting pet hates?
I don’t like all those lists of words and phrases “thou shalt never use”. Even jargon has its place, as long as it’s not overused or – as is so often the case – used to obscure meaningless waffle. I think jargon gets such a bad name because people use it to disguise the fact they have nothing to say.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Not exactly advice I’ve been given, but something I’ve come to realise – eventually: treat all the advice others give you with caution. Ultimately it’s all just someone’s opinion. By all means, listen and consider what you can take away from it that may be useful. But it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you. Know yourself!
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?