Sarah Jackson

PRO

19 January 2016

Sarah Jackson

Sarah JacksonWhy did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?

I’ve moved from in-house charity communications to freelance quite recently, but copywriting has been a common thread over the last 10 years.

What I enjoy most is helping charities to crystallize their key messages, and put into words what makes them special. Getting all that passion, determination, and ingenuity down on paper is a joyful thing.

What work are you most proud of?

I was working in-house at Liberty in the run up to their 75th anniversary. We knew a little about the origins of the organisation as the Council for Civil Liberties in the 1930s, but I went to the archives to find out more.

After a dusty day of research (and some fortifying tea and biscuits from the archive staff) I wrote a foundation story. I’m proud of it because I think it’s a good bit of storytelling, but also because I feel I captured the courage and dedication that has characterised the organisation right from the start.

What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?

I’m tempted to go for one of the famous, clever advertising slogans of course. But my whole career has been about using words to try and make the world a better place. I want to move people rather than product.

I’m drawn to speeches. The one that sticks in my mind from recent years is Michael Sheen’s speech attacking cuts to the NHS. “You must stand up for what you believe. But first of all, by god, believe in something!” I’d be happy to have written that, it’s got a wonderful rhythm.

What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?

Go for a walk, sit and read in a cafe, listen to some new music. Changing your setting and inserting a little space between you and your work can sometimes shake your thoughts loose. It’s important to let your ideas percolate.

What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?

My favourite task is editing. It’s very satisfying to take a big messy lump of text and cut away until you’ve made something sleek and powerful.

My least favourite task is proofreading. If I’m interested in the subject I get distracted by reading it, and if I’m not I get distracted by anything else. Someone gave me a good tip though: read it backwards. That way you will still catch errors but you won’t get drawn into the passage.

Any copywriting pet hates?

Policy or programmatic abbreviations and jargon finding their way into supporter-facing communications. People give their time and money to end violence against women and girls, not VAWG.

On the other hand there’s a type of very negative, very emotional fundraising copy I dislike too, which makes misery sensational. Sadly misery is rather mundane. It is possible to present terrible events and experiences with compassion and respect and still motivate people to give. I try to always think what the person I’m writing about would feel if they read what I had written.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Say yes to new opportunities, even if you’re nervous. I think this is especially true for women, who are often more hesitant to put themselves forward.

What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?

Can I come back and answer this one in a year or two? So far it would be to leave plenty of time for thinking and planning before you start to write.