Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I didn’t. I thought I was going to be fashion editor of French Vogue up until I skipped that expensive gap year in Paris. Pretty sure speaking French would be a minimum requirement for that gig.
Copywriting has been a complete surprise – a five-year accident. I studied English Language at uni, which is fairly relevant but not in any way on purpose. Then I dropped out, worked in Wetherspoon’s for a year and then (lucky, lucky) piggy-backed my sister into writing websites for Yell. I slowly built my empire from there and ended up as the Global Creative Copywriter. Fancy.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m now the in-house content writer for ingenie and my ongoing big deal is our Young Driver’s Guide. When I turned up in May last year it was a little quiet, with not much activity around it. Since I started writing regular content with the right tone, traffic to the guide has increased by something ridiculous like 3000%.
It’s fun to write, it helps people and it gets results for my company – perfect project.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Tesco’s horse meat scandal apology. I loved it. I contacted their press office to ask who wrote it but got no reply. Anyone know?
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Go like this:
The big fat horse went for a walk and saw a huge bird. “I wonder what that bird is,” whinnied the horse. The bird took flight in a clatter of startling wings, and nipped the horse right on the behind.
Or something slightly relevant to what I’m supposed to be writing. I never have a go at myself for writing something poor at first – words on paper, people. I find 250 words very comforting, and I tend to start making something that’s actually good after that point. Those 250 words usually end up in the bin but they’re a good run-up.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Luuuurve this nerd question.
Reviewing. I get such a kick out of running my copy through analysis tools like Hemingwayapp.com. Any kind of score I can beat is heaven to me.
I love editing in general and my mind is pretty much constantly set to edit mode: toothpaste tubes, ads in the street, overheard conversations. I’m in the process of editing my friend’s guitar book right now; I’m a sucker for his grammar mistakes and he knows it – sometimes I think he chucks them in on purpose.
Chasing feedback. It makes me feel like shouting “I’m a delicate artist! I can’t be running around demanding you tell me things I don’t want to hear!”
But I don’t.
Any copywriting pet hates?
I have tried to become more tolerant over the last few years – “Correct by culture, yo” – because I used to cling to my rules like the ludicrous relics they were. Everyone writes differently because everyone is different, and if they didn’t make such STUPID STUPID STUPID mistakes, I wouldn’t have this neat job.
So yeah, I tried. But the pets wouldn’t die.
Double spaces after full stops, the insistence on ‘www.’ before domains, practicing/practising, inconsistent capitalisation, compound nouns as verbs… An endless litany. I can’t lie, it keeps me up nights.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
It’s got to be something Bob Bardsley has told me at some point. When I started freelancing I was completely freaked out at the idea of asking someone for money, and Bob gave me some excellent pep talks. “Don’t let them see the doubt in your eyes” stands out.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Write everything. Especially write the stuff you really bloomin’ hate. Writing things you like is easy and fun and teaches you nothing. I feel like I improved the most during the time I was writing endless press releases about steel tubing manufacture.
Also: stalk people. My very first piece of freelance was from the fantastic owner of a local copywriting agency. I emailed her to tell her I loved her and instead of calling the police, she offered me a bunch of advice and some work. I can’t tell you what receiving her reply felt like – it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me.
I still approach people all the time and it usually leads to inspiring friendships; more sporadically, actual money. And while you can’t pay your rent with friendship, having people to share the joys and frustrations of copywriting with is very nice.