Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
After graduating from the University of Edinburgh with an English Literature degree, I knew I wanted to write but wasn’t sure about how to get into it… so I decided to see a bit of the world before bothering with all that palaver.
In the middle of a three-year stint in the Americas, during which time I picked up fluency in Spanish, a taste for pisco sours and a whole stack of cringy “finding yourself” moments, I finally stumbled into the magical world of freelance copywriting.
It started out as bits and bobs here and there, something to do to keep me going while I was waltzing my way around Cape Horn and the Amazonas. Before long, though, I realised that I was onto something here – clients seemed to really love my work, and I found I could do it anywhere, anytime.
After satisfying my wanderlust appetite, I returned to my native Scotland in 2016 and sunk my teeth into full-time freelancing. I’ve not looked back since.
What work are you most proud of?
The work I most enjoy and which I’m most proud of, is the stuff that’s entertaining, engaging and (dare I presume to say it) funny, while still being educational and informative. I thrive when given free rein to implement a witty or playful tone, even in weightier political pieces.
Of course, there’s certainly a time and a place for gravitas and getting to the point, but if you can make a reader smile while they consume your work, surely that’s more desirable?
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Hmm, I can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind. There are authors, journalists and copywriters who I admire and whom I inspire to emulate (David Mitchell, Alasdair Gray and Edward St Aubyn in fiction, for example, or David Mitchell,the other one, George Monbiot and Barney Ronay), but I can’t say I’ve ever lost any sleep because I didn’t pen the work that they have. There’s plenty of time for that in the future – so I’d rather focus on the copy I’m going to write, rather than the pieces I didn’t.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Take a leaf out of Monty Python’s book and do something completely different. This could be some:
- light exercise (a jog or swim)
- heavy exercise (a game of squash or some five-a-side down the park)
- light reading (one of my favourite novelists)
- heavy reading (one of my favourite journalists)
- light snacking (any and all kinds of cheese)
- heavy snacking (any and all kinds of cheese)
I find that the activity doesn’t always matter so much – as long as it doesn’t involve me staring too hard at a computer screen or tying myself up in grammatical and lexicological knots. Coming back to things with a fresh pair of eyes and a rested brain is all-important.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite has to be the writing part itself. Once the interesting (but onerous) task of research has been shouldered to one side, then it’s down to the nitty-gritty of creating fluid, easy-to-read and above all entertaining copy.
I especially love adding wordplay flourishes and inventing new ways to snag the reader’s attention or pique their interest, if the subject matter allows it.
The least favourite has to be the proofreading and editing stage. Of course, it’s absolutely an essential facet of any copywriting endeavour, and I never submit a piece of copy for approval before giving it a once-over at least twice. But looking for mistakes in your own work, or trying to rephrase things better, isn’t the most enjoyable part of the process.
Any copywriting pet hates?
The Oxford comma can do one. I’ve no idea why it irks me so much, but I’ve always been raised to believe that punctuation is intended to let you know when to pause for breath, as if you were reading it out loud. Then along comes this plucky little upside-down apostrophe and upsets all of that, chucking in pauses where they really have no business belonging at all. I can’t stand the guy.
Capitalisation where it’s not needed is also capable of giving the gears a good grind. Whether that be in subheadings or to denote industry-specific phrases and titles, I’ve always thought that using capital letters out of place should be remedied with the reintroduction of capital punishment, so that it fits the crime. Appropriate, Don’t You Agree? (I jest, of course. Except about the Oxford comma bit.)
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Always being on the lookout for new clients and accepting any work that comes your way (within reason) is a sound piece of advice. Things might be rosy right now and that pipeline might be fit to burst, but in the whimsical world of freelance, you never know what’s around the corner.
That’s why it pays to expand your skillset, knowledge and experience as much as possible by taking on all kinds of diverse projects… and for searching them out, too. Just because you’re busy today, doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Make sure your approach is proactive.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
As mentioned above, I’d try not to specialise too early on. Try to take on all sorts of topics if you get the chance, even if you don’t have much knowledge or even a particular interest in them. The researching skills you’ll get, the acumen you’ll gain and the time management techniques you’ll hone will be invaluable further down the line.
With the same sort of thinking in mind, I’d also recommend reading as widely as possible. Newspapers, novels, the back of cereal packets, whatever comes to hand. Again, it’s irrelevant (to a certain extent) whether or not you have an interest in the subject, because bumping yourself up against all manner of styles and genres will mean that inevitably some of it rubs off on you. Which is only a good thing.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
It’s reassuring to know that there are other souls out there facing the same problems and reaping the same benefits as me. The forum is also great for putting questions to those who’ve been there and done that as you can get answers from real-life people who are fighting the same good fight as you, as opposed to bloggers and content mill wordsmiths who are just spinning the same tired platitudes in online articles and how-to guides.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
Without a doubt, it’s the flexibility. I was able to travel for the best part of five years and use my writing to fund my exploits, which is just incredible in my book.
Even now that I’m rooted in a single place, I love being able to organise my own schedule. Whether it’s a dentist appointment or an impromptu holiday, I’m almost always able to adapt my workload to whatever’s going on that particular week. That, for me, is the biggest perk of them all.
Where can people find out more about you?
I don’t have my own website and must confess that both my LinkedIn and Twitter pages are horribly neglected, but I do maintain a fairly active presence on PeoplePerHour and am heavily involved as the film editor on arts and culture website The Wee Review.
I also check my email (email@example.com) with almost concerning regularity, so if anyone would like to get in touch about my availability, my abilities or my background then my inbox door is always open.