Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’ve had an unusual route into copywriting. I started off flogging mozzarella kitchen door to kitchen door. Many Apprentice-level awkward conversations later, I found my way with words won more sales, and so I began to write sales and marketing collateral in-house instead.
A year later, I started my own freelance business. At first, I wrote anything and everything, primarily focusing on food and drink because it’s a niche I know well.
After a few years, I began receiving branding projects, and that’s when I had another mini-revelation. For me, brand writing is the best fun you can have while getting paid. You do conceptual work to create a brand identity, combining creative writing with strategic depth, collaborating with brilliant like-minded designers and strategists.
Then you delve into the nitty-gritty bits of linguistics to shape the tone of voice and carry it through everything for a brand. Plus, you also get to train other people, and see their smiles when they realise they can write. It’s so rewarding. I love it.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m very proud to be involved in the latest creative writing project for the Ministry of Stories, along with Sarah Farley and Reed Words. Launched on Halloween, the Hoxton Monster Postal Service allows the young, and the young at heart, to write a letter to a monster. For a small fee, the kids get a reply written from their monster.
Kids can choose from a lonely yeti, a plucky werewolf, a teenage dragon, a curious mummy, an excitable vampire or a whimsical gremlin.
As one of the behind-the-scenes brand writers, we took these baseline monster archetypes and made them our own, creating backstories, full persona profiles and tone of voice guidelines for each monster. And they really do all sound completely different.
We’ve also created full writing guidelines on how to write as a monster, bearing in mind safeguarding issues around correspondence with children, and trained a team of ghostwriters in monster writing. We call it horrorspondence.
It’s been brilliant to work on a project focused on creating a magical writing experience for a child. Plus, all the profits go to the Ministry of Stories, a lovely charity doing great work providing creative writing workshops, mentoring and opportunities for kids across East London.
If you want to experience it for yourself, head over to Hoxton Street Monster Supplies in Shoreditch and write a letter!
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I love the British Library’s copy sign welcoming all sorts:
The insights into the different audiences, their needs and how they perceive themselves, perfectly reflected back to them in a loving, cheeky way, makes a really lovely, positive piece of copy.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I do creative exercises. I’m a big fan of mixing my practice up between writing, drawing, design, photography, and whatever other media I might be curious about that day. I’m a restless soul, so I find that if I can’t write, it’s because I need to change what I’m doing.
Drawing allows you to express your ideas in a fundamentally different way, with more energy and physicality. It teaches you to see. Regardless of whether you think you’re ‘good’ at it, it’s a brilliant discipline to have because it enhances your observational skills.
At the moment, one of the exercises I do is combining writing prompts with tarot cards to fill two pages of a sketchbook a day. Tarot cards are extremely useful as a creative tool for dictating the emotional focus of a piece.
I usually spend an hour a day doing this, first thing in the morning as a warm-up. Just as you would warm up your muscles for exercise, I think it’s vital to prime your creative brain to be open to the world, and bin the inner perfectionist for the day. This exercise helps me do that, and gets rid of writing blocks in the process, which are often related to our inner negative blurts.
I think the key with writer’s block is to create an environment where you can work without being a perfectionist. Don’t worry about whether anything is good, just start somewhere and see where it takes you. Cultivate curiosity about what might happen.
If you’re interested in creative practice and tarot, I particularly recommend The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
I love diving into a brief and writing all kinds of nonsense before the drafting begins. I love to push my ideas far beyond the boundaries of reason, to see how far I can take something, before I begin to rationalise and take things back. The most painful task is managing finnicky clients who decide to decimate my work.
I’ve devised a little process that seems to reduce this. Treat each first draft as a working draft with notes on where it’s strong, and where the narrative needs to be strengthened.
Often, copy is weak where you don’t have enough information, so it puts the onus back on the client to work with you on it rather than taking their own red pen to it.
This technique also guides them through the feedback process, which can be daunting to many people who simply don’t know how to judge what you’ve given them. It’s made my life considerably easier.
Any copywriting pet hates?
The endless snark towards poor work. We all know there’s a lot of guff out there. Why not raise up the work that is good, rather than focus on what’s wrong with lower quality work? Who knows whether it was the creative team or a dreadful client with no taste?
There’s a lot of cynicism and negativity in the industry, and it’s wearying. Let’s champion great work rather than tearing each other down.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Just ask. What have you got to lose? I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve been afraid to approach someone because I wanted to work with them, collaborate with them, learn from them or just chat to them because they seemed interesting.
Over the past year, I’ve challenged myself to actually talk to these people, ask for the meeting, the advice, the job. The more people you know, the more opportunities you’ll have.
The more you open yourself up, the more good things start to manifest. Don’t be shy. Just ask. Want to chat to me more about it? Just ask!
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
You’ll be writing about a lot of things that on the face of it, you don’t understand or care for. Go deeper. Go outside of your frame of references, your book collection, your comfort zone to find answers.
Challenge your own biases. Talk to people. Really listen. Leave your ego at the door for every single piece of work you do. Be fully open to the world. You’ll get somewhere interesting.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
It’s useful to be connected to other copywriters and learn how other people approach problems, especially as we’re a niche little industry.
There aren’t too many communities you can meet like-minded writers, but ProCopywriters provides a great platform for us to share stories, tips and celebrate our craft.