Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’ve gravitated towards the writing aspect of every job I’ve had, and when I left full time paid employment to look after my children, I began to find many opportunities to write for organisations on a voluntary basis: schools, Early Years settings, social enterprises…
An old friend and colleague contacted me one day, asking if I’d be interested in a writing opportunity. I jumped at it, embarking on a five-year casual contract of work for the Department for International Development (DFID), writing syntheses and summaries of research. As all this varied experience and practice accumulated, when I started to consider going back full time into the working world, I knew that writing was where I wanted to rebuild my career.
I began by creating an archive of my work over that 13-year period, both paid and pro bono, and reaching out to companies who might be interested in my skills. I’ve now been full time freelance for a year, and I’ve picked up some regular clients, both within the international development field and outside, plus some fun one-offs here and there. Currently I do a lot of bid writing, copy writing for web designers and directly for businesses, plus I teach academic writing as a university course.
What work are you most proud of?
I feel like I’m still learning – I’m very conscious that in order to do really good work, you have to do lots and lots and lots of it. I think I’m still too young as a writer to have moved past the point yet where I don’t feel too keenly the gap between what I want to produce, and what I have so far achieved.
That said, I recently led the writing on a very complex and substantial bid for an aid agency, and I’m really proud of both my writing and editing contribution on that, and the way in which I worked with the team.
I think a key part of being a freelancer is being able to adapt to the needs and style of whichever organisation you’re working for, and give them the best possible support with their projects. This job involved working across several different time zones, with diverse contributors, and I know I made a significant contribution to the final project.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
What an impossible question! Beautiful writing surrounds us… one of the best (and worst) aspects of this moment in history is the abundance of material we can access online, all the time. It’s so easy to get lost on the internet, waste huge amounts of time, and feel overwhelmed by others’ talent.
But I appreciate the opportunity to learn from what’s out there – my favourite writer on writing is Steven Pinker. I love his fluidity and clarity; he handles the technicalities of grammar and form in such an engaging and accessible way. I always recommend him to anyone who’s interested in the mechanics of writing, because he’s such an eloquent expression of the art in practise.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Go for a run.
I run daily, and most of my best thoughts happen whilst I’m pounding the pavement in silence, totally unplugged and distraction free. While my focused mind is looking out for traffic or complaining to itself about a twinge in my knee, the creative part of my brain can wander around and make associations, without me trying to pin it all down into something concrete in that moment.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite thing is when an idea begins to germinate – often when I’m out on that run – and I can feel it gently beginning to unfurl and put out shoots. That’s the moment when I have to be really careful not to kill it by handling it too roughly and getting ahead of myself. Pacing myself with the idea, and seeing where it goes, is the tricky part.
Does invoicing count as least favourite writing related task?!
I loathe the admin that comes with freelancing: the self-starter nature of every day when you don’t have any work on.
The internal conversations I have with myself about what I should be doing then are ridiculously exhausting, and on those days it’s tempting to think wistfully of a 9-5 office job, where someone else tells you what to do!
Any copywriting pet hates?
I’m a little fussy about the increasing Americanisation of spelling and word use which creeps into a great deal of the writing which comes across my desk, and occasionally I will go on an –ise spree, reverting all the aggrandized, re-organized and bowdlerized adverbs back to their native British form…
But generally, I enjoy the evolution of language; it’s ridiculous to think it should be constrained to that which we are used to, in the cultural snapshot we happen to live inside. (I also dislike prepositions at the ends of clauses, but as you see in the previous sentence, I’m trying to chill out about that…)
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
That confidence and hard work are a powerful combination. I struggle sometimes with a lack of faith in my own ability, and yet: I keep getting work. I embrace the truth that, as Elizabeth Gilbert has it, “Done is better than good”, and aiming for absolute perfection is redundant.
What I need to do for my clients is to write something which is on point, on budget, in time. They want an approachable, collaborative and reliable writer, who listens carefully and delivers. That mindset helps me overcome the fear of not going for work, and then of not feeling it’s good enough to submit.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Do loads, and loads, and loads of writing (for free, if necessary). Read loads, and loads, and loads of writing. And ask for real feedback from people you trust, and listen to them. Work hard, and keep learning.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
Being paid to do the thing I used to do for free, for the simple joy of it!
Why do you find PCN membership useful?
It can feel isolating and lonely, working at my desk all day, and I like the opportunity to have mini watercooler moments on Twitter when I read tweets from Leif Kendall, or following the various blog articles PCN post. There’s a lot of helpful thinking out there to access.
Where can people find out more about you?
My website is a good start, www.isandrews.com. I have various examples of my writing on there, and the sorts of people and organisations I work with, plus a blog about professional writing. I also maintain a personal blog, Running Away With Words, at https://isandrews.wordpress.com, which tracks my process as a runner and writer.