The midweight’s mid-life crisis: on giving advice

Wise owlOnce you’ve spent a few years working as a copywriter, newer writers will probably start coming to you for advice.

This is happening to me after six-ish years, and I’m happy to help people wherever I can. (Tweets/DMs welcome.) It doesn’t come naturally to me, though.

The mid-level point in our careers is a difficult time. It takes a while to settle in. We’re balancing the mounting experience we’ve gained with that feeling of yet more to come. The weight of another person’s work worries on our shoulders can be hard to bear at that stage.

Copywriters aren’t alone or without support by any means. There are a lot of helpful resources out there, the PCN being just one. But let’s say someone’s plucked up the courage to bypass the forums, blog posts and primers, and ask YOU directly. Gulp. What do you do?

Here is some advice on giving advice. Meta!

(Note: the following is based on you being willing to help other writers. If you’re not, fair enough but this won’t interest you.)

Take the compliment

Compared to many other copywriters, you haven’t been around as long or written quite as much. It’s easy to wonder why the inquisitive person in your inbox didn’t pick someone else. But there’s got to be a good reason why they came to you. Clearly your opinion is valuable to others. Give them some credit.

When another writer considers you important/respected enough to be a source of wisdom, try not to play down the experience you do have. It’s more than they’ve got right now, and they think it’s worth learning from. Be proud of that.

Save them the trouble

Assume the question being asked is one you once had. Back when you were starting out and had that issue, there was no advice for you. No Google results for a step-by-step solution. The only way forward was to suck it up, give things a go and see what worked.

This writer’s in a pretty cushy position in comparison, right? With so much help on hand at the click of a mouse. And you went through a proper learning curve to get where you are now. You struggled for your vocation good and proper. Why can’t they just find this out the same long-winded way you did?

Please don’t think like that. Begrudging someone else the support you didn’t get is sour grapes. Using your knowledge and position to make another writer’s life easier feels really good, I swear.

Be honest (but not too honest)

There’s no obligation to be impartial with your suggestions. If something didn’t work for you, and it hasn’t worked for others, saying ‘it’s worth a try’ would be disingenuous. The other writer set out to get the benefit of your experience, and that’s a personal thing. Maybe they’d get a different answer from someone else, but they’d have to ask them.

Some things, you can selectively omit. Like not having any other work to be getting on with that day. While that is a fact of life for the freelance copywriter in particular, in most cases it’s TMI. (The exception being if the enquiring writer is worried about their own work flow.)

You want to ideally strike a balance between the reality of the situation and reassurance. Just as sugarcoating the truth would be counterproductive, laying the worst-case scenario bare in black and white is something the other person may not be ready for.

Use the networking opportunity

Let’s say you actually aren’t well versed on the topic you’re being asked about. Replying with a link to someone else’s blog post and nothing more is a cop out. The person you’re ‘helping’ with that tactic approached you specifically. ‘JFGI’ does not count as advice.

A more beneficial tack would be to introduce them to that blogger, if you can. That way, even though it’s their advice you’ve still done something helpful. And now you’re all friends! You can never know too many copywriters, as I’m sure someone once said.

Keep a secret

One quick caveat on the previous bit about introductions. If you’ve been asked something privately and/or it’s a sensitive subject, for chrissakes uphold the confidentiality. Avoid involving others if it’s not necessary. Be the kind of person people trust.

Learn your own lesson

The conversation can be a two-way street, if you think you can gain something from it. That could be a fact you didn’t know, an opinion you weren’t aware existed, or the name of someone you should steer well clear of.

Note that I’m not saying ‘only give advice if it benefits you’. Just don’t pass up the opportunity to also learn something if it presents itself.

Leave the door open

Giving a constructive, useful answer will in all likelihood lead to being asked something else. Be open to that, unless your maiden stint as agony aunt was too traumatic to repeat. Be the embodiment of that advice animal meme you shared on Reddit while you didn’t have any work.

In time, you might gain an added reputation as someone worth talking to. Or become the kind of person who writes lengthy blogs for PCN on various subjects. Hint, hint.

What do you think?

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