Why copywriters don’t need to have it all…

Are you an artist? A writer? How about a freelancer? I like to think I am all three, minus the moments when I suffer Imposter Syndrome. But that’s not the three things I talk about here. Instead, I explore Meatloaf and Neil Gaiman’s idea that ‘two out of three’ aint all that bad.

Starting out in the full-time freelance writing world can be lonely. I should know – I’m sitting here pretending that I’m actually reciting this post in a powerful monologue to an aspiring writer-friend over coffee… when really I am alone, at my freelance desk, writing a blog post inspired by procrastination and a Meatloaf song. But there is a point to all this!

About a week ago, while trying desperately to ignore my occupational loneliness, I was sent a video by my brother, (currently living on the other side of the world). So I bargained with my schedule that if I had a short break to watch this video, (which seemed predominantly educational anyway) I would then spend the entire afternoon working solidly on my business plan. It was a good deal.

But it failed. What actually happened was the following:


The author of The Sandman comics, The Graveyard Book, Stardust and Coraline. Humanitarian campaigner for the refugees and displaced people of Syria. And apparently the writer of great speeches too. The video my brother had sent me was actually of Neil Gaiman’s keynote address at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia in 2012. It was 20 minutes long. So, naturally, it was time for a cuppa first.


I paused the video on Youtube, wandered into the kitchen and flicked on the kettle. Grabbed a mug. Stared at the paused screen.

“I wonder whether this is another accessible yet forgettable TED-Talk style video, or if it will tell me something I don’t already know?” I arrogantly thought to myself as the water boiled. I quickly poured it over my lonely teabag, followed by a little milch, (as that’s the only way to make tea properly, none of that ‘milk first’ nonsense). The arrogance I expressed comes from my constant realisation that most advice articles I read on becoming a freelancer are uninspiring replicas of one another, echoing some pretty ordinary, common sense advice. That advice is: If you want to be a successful writer – write. Lots. I looked forward to being surprised by this floppy haired-man’s speech, as if it came from my brother’s recommendation it’s going to be either shareable wisdom, or hilarious.


After pressing play, the keynote speech unfolds to a room of eager-eyed Arts and Humanities graduates – my kind of people. They look genuinely happy, and I remember feeling the same when I graduated from my writing degree, but these guys were fortunate enough to have someone, (a writing professional whose worked his way through words for decades) tell them what comes next.

“If only someone had told me these tips during or following my degree, I’d be making art by now” I thought bitterly. Then the clincher came…


It was towards the end of Gaiman’s address that I found the most affinity with his words. He spoke about this formula that to be a successful freelancer, there are 3 attributes you should always offer the client: great work, pleasant attitude and punctuality:

“People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

  1. So, basically it’s ok for clients to not like you, so long as your work is on time and of a high standard.
  2. It’s also alright to be late if your work is of a high standard and the client loves you.
  3. You’re also allowed to deliver average work, provided the client hearts you and you’re always on time.

I am not sure I totally agree with this formula; that just two out of three does the job; but it was refreshing to hear someone speak so frankly about freelance writing.

I also applied the advice to my own life experiences, such as customer service in a retail store. There is one brand that I have NEVER had a positive or friendly customer service experience with, but I continue to shop there as the clothes are AWESOME and always on offer for a decent price. The problem here though is that I would not go out of my way to recommend the brand to my friends or family – and that leads to a dead end as I see it.


In my own freelance writing, I don’t think I’ll apply the Meatloaf formula just yet. Perhaps with time I will grow confident, stretched and only tick two boxes, but for now it sounds like the perfect USP to offer all three. 

The gist of Gaiman’s talk has, however, stuck with me like a toffee flicked on the ceiling. It echoed the same seam I found in Seth Godin’s book, (to the point that I wondered if Neil has read the book too): that as a creative your undeniable life’s purpose is to “MAKE GOOD ART” in whatever you do, and why would you consider anything otherwise. This not only made the watching of this speech worth my time and hot water, but also, it has further pushed me towards the path of creating rather than consuming in all that I do as a professional/person. And I probably should start now.

If you’d like to hear the words of wisdom from the creator of Sandman for yourself – watch and listen to Neil Gaiman’s talk here.

Thanks also to my brother, @TheTysonEdwards, for the prompt to start making my own art – today! This is something all of us copywriters can take on immediately.

This article was originally published on the heapswhitty Creative Communication Blog


14th July 2016

Leif Kendall

Love this idea! And delighted that you’ve managed to drag Meatloaf into another PCN post. 🙂

14th July 2016

Whitney Edwards

What! Don’t tell me someone has already blogged about Meatloaf on here… that was my hook!

15th July 2016

Whitney Edwards

So he did! We must be on the same wavelength.

That’s a pretty decent article of his too, made me feel better for recently turning down a religious-related education copy job, and won’t feel doubt about abiding by my own ‘instant no’ list in the future. Comfy position to be in though, to afford to say no to work (that’s the dream!).

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