Anybody can just open a Google doc and start typing. Set up a WordPress blog, or a Tumblr page and start blogging. Anyone can just write stuff and everyone should. To write is human.
But that doesn’t mean anyone can write copy for a living.
Twelve years ago, I went to hear Tobias Hill read his poetry and have never forgotten his words:
There’s a difference between singing something that sounds good in the shower and performing something that moves people. There’s also a difference between writing something that reads well and writing something that gives your reader goosebumps.
The pursuit of that difference fascinates me and drives me.
But writing poetry is a walk in the park compared to copywriting.
Because although you must write something that gives your reader goosebumps, the writing is just the half of it. In fact, it’s a fraction of it.
You must also be these things as well:
Head-doctor: You need black belt listening skills and psychology to pull the right ideas out of clients’ heads.
Psychic: Sometimes you just need to know what the important ideas are, even if the client can’t articulate them.
Strategist: Often by pulling out those unspoken ideas, you end up helping them reimagine their entire business.
Googler: With clients as varied as ours you need to become an expert in record quick time.
Translator: OK, so you have the ideas, the facts, now you need to translate them into words anyone can understand.
Empathiser: But you also need to put yourself in the shoes of the reader and write from their point of view and what matters to them.
Method actor: Plus you need to write like it’s your client’s brand talking, not yourself; you need to get in character.
Designer: Copy doesn’t exist in a vacuum; these days it’s probably going to be a key part of a living and breathing website. So how will your words sit on the page? What images will you use to amplify them? What is the layout going to be? How will they look on mobile? How does each page sit on the site? What does the user journey look like? Where will they go next?
And then, when you have decided on the basic framework, you must bury yourself in your copy cave and as Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting so beautifully puts it, become a:
Job done well, right?
Because then it’s time to switch to:
Cold blooded killer: Once you’re out of the copy cave then you must morph into a ruthless, pitiless editor and kill every unnecessary phrase and word, no matter how beloved.
Online marketer: But don’t forget you need to write at least 350 words per page and weave in those keywords to boost the search ranking. Are we having fun yet?
Zen master: Now comes the part to let go of your ego as your client, their higher-ups and legal department come back to tell you what you got wrong. Hopefully nobody butchers the words in the process.
Truth-speaker: If you think the words are being watered down in the edit, you have to fight your corner but also know when it’s just your ego talking. Often the client is right but you have to be brave enough to tell them if they’re wrong.
Proofreader: No matter how many bloody times you read it there is always at least one typo.
Entrepreneur: And of course you must sweat blood over your copy whilst looking after your customers, marketing your business, managing your team, writing proposals, chasing invoices and keeping up with all the socials.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. It is never, ever, ever boring and being able to reflect a person’s brilliance back to them in new ways is my whole reason for being.
Yet it’s also the reason that after 16 years of professional copywriting it hasn’t really gotten any easier (I wouldn’t want it to).
Anyone can write stuff. Not everyone can be a copywriter.