Updating my copywriting website last week, I had a look at some other copywriters’ bios for inspiration and comparison. I was struck by how many of us copywriters are also into our own creative writing – either doing it already, or wanting to do it. It makes perfect sense – we’re creatives and wordsmiths.
It got me thinking about how we combine these two complementary but competing demands, when we’re earning money as copywriters, but dreaming of publishing something of our own.
I’ve been writing stories, poems and scripts in some form or other for as long as I can remember.
In 2010 I became a freelance copywriter, after several years of in-house writing and editing, and this brought with it a great opportunity to combine copywriting with my own writing. The freelance work got off to a great start. So, alongside it, I started writing a new story. I got a few chapters in. I showed a couple of people and got some decent feedback.
And then, as often happens with my creative writing, I got disenchanted with it, and abandoned it. It reminded me too much of a film I’d seen, I wasn’t sure where to take the plot and, above all else, it was difficult to keep writing it.
It’s one thing to start a story, it’s a whole other thing to keep on trudging to the other end of it, alone, when you’re not quite sure where you’re going. I carried on with my copywriting work, which kept coming in, took up a lot of time and energy, and brought a sense of satisfaction.
The pull of copywriting
Doing a copywriting job for a client is often an easier prospect. It’s also more pressing. It has a brief and a deadline, and at the end of it, you get the reward of being paid and thanked.
Even if it’s a long project, you’re often working alongside a client, maybe a designer or developers, and getting some feedback. And there’s a waiting audience that you know will be reading your work too. That adds motivation as well as satisfaction.
The pull of creative writing
When I don’t write any of my own stuff for a long time, I’ve noticed that a restlessness builds up. Eventually, it gets harder not to write anything than to write something. That’s’ what happened to me towards the end of 2012.
I took some good advice and joined a private library with a membership fee, carving out a dedicated space for my creative writing. The fact that I was paying for it spurred me on to use it. I didn’t know what I was going to write yet, although I had the gathering clouds of an idea.
With the space secured, I needed to set aside some time. So I made the commitment to spend the mornings writing, from Monday to Friday. I treated the library like a place of work. I sat at a desk from 9-12, wrote and didn’t leave until the clock struck midday.
In the afternoons, I went home and worked on copywriting in my home office. I was working on small projects for three or four clients at the time, and they didn’t mind when I worked, as long as I met our agreed deadlines, which I always did.
It’s worth mentioning that at this time I didn’t take on the kind of project that took up 35 hours a week, as I had done in the past, but I still paid my bills.
I did this for about a month and a half, and by the end of it, I’d written the first draft of a script. Not just the beginnings of one, but the whole thing.
During this time, I noticed that I experienced a lot less angst with my copywriting work. And I’m pretty sure this was because my creative fulfilment didn’t depend on it.
I had a very fulfilling creative outlet of my own, and I could let go of my clients’ decisions on approach, style and edits as a result.
This is nothing revolutionary. But it started with a plan, I saw it through, and it worked for me.
Getting it finished
That was the first draft. The second and third drafts proved much more difficult, particularly as I gave birth to a child before each one. Five years later, I’m happy to tell you that I got the script finished and submitted.
How? Well, the practicalities changed, but the principles remained the same: an allocated space and an allocated time.
This time round, I couldn’t justify the cost of membership of the private library, so I joined my local library, which has a study room. It wasn’t as beautiful, but it got the job done.
And I set aside Mondays for my creative writing, focusing on copywriting for the rest of the week. Oh and childcare – but that’s a whole other blog post.
There was a stage when I wasn’t sure I could finish the script. Perhaps working on it for a total of five years, and through two babies being born, made it hard for me to let it go.
I went for coffee with a fellow writer, and we talked over the difficulties I was having with the ending. She made a few suggestions, but the one I took was to draft three different versions of the ending, and see which one I preferred.
Drafting alternative versions is something I’ve found useful so many times in my copywriting work, but hadn’t thought to try on my own script. It worked a treat, and version three was a winner. Now let’s see if any of the theatres who read it fancy turning it into a play…
Tips for combining copywriting with creative writing
- Assign a space. Know where you do your best creative writing, and make going there a ritual, so that you respect the time you spend there and the attitude you bring there. Personally, I write better when I’m out of my house. My distraction threshold is much lower for creative writing than for copywriting, because it’s a harder task, so the more removed I can be from distractions, the more chance I have of success.
- Define a time. Commit to your creative writing for a set period of time every day, or every week – perhaps there’s one day, or one evening, a week that you devote to creative writing. I like to focus on creative writing in the morning, before I’ve got bogged down in anything else. It’s also worked for me to spend Mondays out of the house, writing, before I’ve got stuck in to the rest of the week.
- Talk to another writer. Writing can be a lonely process. It’s the beauty of it, and also the challenge. Chatting with another writer about something you’re stuck on can help you through a difficult patch, or over a hurdle. Make it clear whether you’re looking for advice, feedback, or just a listener/sounding board.
- Set a target. It helped me to say that I intended to finish my final draft by X date, and to submit my script to X number of theatres by X date. I told one or two trusted people my goals. It gave me something to work towards and a commitment to keep. Copywriting has those targets built in, and so it’ll prioritise itself.
- Seek inspiration. I’m a strong believer in putting something back in the tank. It could be a trip to the cinema, or setting aside a tea break to read one chapter of a book. There will be a new word, a new way of expressing something, or a different way of approaching something. I take on board the things I admire, and I find it especially useful to consider what I’d do differently – it gives me confidence.