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Sara Donaldson — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

Sara Donaldson

Northern Editorial

PRO

Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?

I got into it by accident (cue cliché klaxon). When I started moving into editing I found work with a publisher who didn’t seem to put me in a box (which is nice).

I love working with him and at the time took any work he threw at me, but one day the penny dropped. He copied me in on an email with one of his large clients and called me his copywriter.

My first instinct was to go ‘woooah, hold on, I’m one of your editors.’ Then I looked at what I’d been doing.

The books we work on together are very niche, and although I hadn’t gone down the traditional copywriting route, I’d ended up writing chapters for his industry books — interviewing, researching, writing blurbs and advertorials, and even writing a book (basically ghosting) in a very short timescale when he needed help.

The more I looked at what I was moving into, the more I realised I was becoming a copywriter as well as an editor.

What work are you most proud of?

That’s a difficult question as I still feel quite new to copywriting. I can’t just choose one, but a guidebook I put together every couple of years makes me smile.

It’s had great reviews and over the years, since I took over, I’ve tweaked and changed it so that I can’t remember which words are mine any more. As copywriters and content writers need to remain largely invisible I get satisfaction from that.

The one that gives me a warm glow, though, is my work for Dunnet Bay Distillers, the creators of Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka.

Since meeting Martin and Claire at a local business networking event, when they were about to set up their business, I’ve seen the business grow to become an established player in the spirits sector.

It’s honestly one of my favourite gins, and I’m proud to play a tiny part in its bid for world domination.

What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?

Well, obviously I couldn’t have written this because I was only a kidling at the time, but the Pepsi ad from the mid-70s has stuck with me – LipsmackinthirstquenchinacetastinmotivatingoodbuzzincooltalkinhighwalkinfastlivinevergivincoolfizzinPepsi.

I remember my favourite T-shirt was pale blue with the slogan and Pepsi logo on it (I cried when I outgrew it … I was only five at the time).

To write something so iconic must feel amazing, and Dave Trott went on to be involved with some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of my youth.

What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?

I walk away. I’ve found that trying to force it just won’t work. You can stare at a computer screen for hours and fiddle with your notebook, but if it’s not coming you’re not going to get anywhere.

Usually, ideas and solutions come to me when I’m distracted, so I’ll go and bingewatch ER or play with the dogs.

My favourite distraction is driving to John O’Groats for an ice cream or a coffee (it’s half an hour away from me), so by the time I get there and back the ideas usually start flowing again.

What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?

Apart from the actual writing (which I love), my favourite task’s one that’s combined. I love researching (I’m also a genealogist) and enjoy the twists and turns you get from researching a topic or a company’s audience.

But it soon turns sour when you have to drag yourself away and start the writing. Making sense of all those notes can be a nightmare if you’ve been less than disciplined in the note-taking. And my handwriting is awful. Truly awful.

Any copywriting pet hates?

Writing in third person and fancy words.

I like my English plain without the bullshit. Why alienate huge chunks of the population trying to be clever? Leave the jargon and flowery language for the people who need it, otherwise keep things simple.

While one potential customer’s starting to feel small because they don’t understand what’s written, the one reading the easy to understand write-up is reaching for their wallet.

And people writing in the third person about themselves just makes me want to vomit.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Just bloody do it.

I originally went freelance because I had to (long story involving relocation, lack of actual work and needing the money) and for a long time I held back. I was scared of filling out a tax form, I was scared of changing careers, I was scared of looking like an idiot.

Imposter Syndrome has always been a problem for me. But the more you think, the worse it gets. Just bloody do it – if you fail, you learn. It’s no big deal. It’s taken me a long time to realise that.

What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?

I’d say ‘just do it, don’t be scared’. Be yourself. The world is beige, be your own colour and don’t be afraid to stand out.

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

It gives me somewhere to find answers and allows me to meet other copywriters. To know that I’m part of a community is invaluable and the directory entry is a great way to promote myself.

Where can people find out more about you?

You can find my website at northerneditorial.co.uk, I’m on LinkedIn under sjdonaldson (or you can check out my ProCopywriters directory entry).

I’ve loved Twitter since the early days and spend way too much time over there @nrthrneditorial (bonus points if you can if you can find my non-worky account) so come find me and say hi!

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