Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
As a teenager, I had zero idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Secretly, I wanted to sit at a desk and write all day, but that sounded unrealistic, so I shoved those thoughts to the back of my brain.
At school, I was a good all-round academic, studious and achieved good grades, so the school career advisor ticked a few boxes and suggested I become a lawyer or an accountant.
Frankly, I was just happy someone was telling me what to do. So finance or law? I wasn’t really sure, which merrily led me to apply for a business degree to keep my options open.
I quickly realised accounting wasn’t for me (I never did get a spreadsheet to balance) and a few law modules confirmed my heart wasn’t in the legal profession. Consequently, I pursued the only creative outlet I could see within the business world and I fell into marketing.
I was successful and ambitious. I achieved lots of nice promotions and was on the speed dial of many of the local recruiters. But the more senior I got, the less I enjoyed my work.
There were too many budget meetings, high-level strategy discussions and power struggles to navigate for my liking. What I missed was being hands-on, rolling up my sleeves and coming up with ideas and creative concepts. Most of all, I missed writing.
That’s when I finally admitted what my teenage self knew all along – I wanted to be a writer.
When an opportunity to take voluntary redundancy conveniently came my way in 2009, I jumped at the chance. (My hand could literally not have shot up any quicker). That’s when I set up my freelance copywriting business.
What work are you most proud of?
I wrote a few articles for The Big Issue in my early days of freelancing covering the impact of poor sanitation on access to education for girls in Africa. It was a challenging subject matter, and way outside of my cultivated-in-the-corporate-world comfort zone.
It was the first project that made me realise I shouldn’t limit myself to ‘comfortable’ tasks. What makes writing interesting is exploring beyond ‘what you know’. I’ve embraced the most unlikely combination of writing challenges ever since.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I read a lot. As a result, I get writer envy at least weekly. This can be anything from a tightly constructed email that neatly and flawlessly hits the spot, to a Sunday Times column filled with flouncy language and overly poetic prose. This week it’s a piece of fictional writing I’m coveting – I’m devouring Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Read it if you haven’t already.
Also, I write a lot for software and tech companies so I’ve got a keen eye for this genre of copy. I’m shamefully predictable in my admiration for all things Apple. Short, sharp, clever content, that talks directly to its audience with lots of pace and expression. If I’m looking for inspiration, Apple is usually one of the first companies I turn to.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I put on my trainers, hit play on a favourite podcast, and run. For as long as it takes.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I love research and uncovering the real grit behind a company or subject. Listening to people talk with passion about their businesses, delving into the backstory and uncovering what really defines the brand is my favourite part of the writing process. I think it satisfies the wannabe investigative journalist in me.
Polishing and finessing copy gives me immense joy too. It could be adding in little touches that ramp up the personality of a bland paragraph. Or a change in sentence structure that completely alters the pace of a web page. Sometimes it’s uncovering a neat way to introduce humour or a witty pay-off line at the end of a blog. I love it.
On the negative side, I hate proofreading. I annoy myself by never knowing when to stop. “Just one more read through and I’m done.” Sigh. If I had a pound for every time I say this at the end of a project, I’d have a walk-in shoe cupboard full of Louboutins.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Considering I’m a writer, I’m very forgiving of sloppy grammar in other people (not myself obviously). As long as it doesn’t interrupt the flow of a story, I can gloss over a misplaced apostrophe or the overzealous use of exclamation marks.
However, in my writing room 101 is definitely overly formal language. Long sentences littered with ‘notwithstanding’, ‘hence’ and ‘therefore’. Paragraphs that go on for decades. Even worse, an unforgiving commitment to old-fashioned grammar rules (the ones we were taught at school). For me, they suck the life out of copy.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
My husband is one of the only people I know who is actually in the job he dreamed of when he was at school. He’s a television cameraman. It’s not a textbook job that comes with a tightly defined path to success.
Frankly, the narrow-minded school career advisors of the mid-nineties had no idea what to do with him. But he found his way.
Before I went freelance in 2009, I’d complain woefully to him about my various jobs. Every. Single. Day. From his point of view, the solution was simple – if there is something else you want to do more, find a way.
And here I am, doing it.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Enjoy it. Remember you can write about absolutely anything if you ask the right questions. So take on those crazy projects, embrace the adventure of it all, always be curious, and commit to being courageous with your copy.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I believe everyone has some ability to write, but not everyone has what it takes to be a copywriter. It’s a professional service. ProCopywriters recognises this. The survey and benchmarking of rates are particularly valuable to any copywriter who places a value on their skill.
*Whispers* I’m also incredibly nosey, so I love reading the member spotlights and blogs to see what fellow copywriters are doing.
Where can people find out more about you?
You can read more about me on my website (laurajanejohnson.co.uk). I also love a good chinwag. Instagram is my favourite of the social channels (I’m @itslaurajanejohnson) but I’m also on LinkedIn (search Laura Jane Johnson) and I’m a sporadic Twitter rambler (@laurajanewrites).
I also love coffee, coffee shops (particularly the overly pretentious ones) and human interaction, so if you’re in the Birmingham area email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s meet up.