Leigh James — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

Leigh James

Letter Press | freelance creative copywriter | South Wales | Devon

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

I’d say writing found me.

From knee-high, art was always my thing. Every birthday and Christmas I’d get fancy art sets in wooden boxes, and spend hours playing with paint, clay and whatever I could lay my hands on.

This stuck with me all the way through school. It was only at art college where I had to make real-life decisions.

A series of sliding doors between photography and graphic design, then graphic design and advertising at uni, narrowed down again from art direction and copywriting, I finally found words were my creative choice.

I don’t come armed with English language (or literature) qualifications. That ended with my GCSEs. Writing comes more naturally to me. I say I play with words.

Picking the right words is an art, not a science. Like finding the perfect hue of red to add to a painting or design, it often feels right.

What work are you most proud of?

I find this really tricky to judge. Picking portfolio-worthy work is always a toughie. Slightly off-piste I’m proud of introducing ‘The Tony Voice’ award while working in-house at British Gas. We’d just launched a new tone of voice, going hand-in-hand with a brand re-design.

It’s often about more than ‘just’ the words on a page. So, I created a monthly prize celebrating tone of voice. Not just customer-facing stuff, inside their four walls too – top-notch brief writing, a quirky out of office, ‘Simply Human’ emails… and showcased it at our monthly marketing meeting.

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

An ad that often springs to mind is: 2002 Cornflakes Early Man Before Cereal “Neolithic to modern man in the time it takes to eat a bowl of Kellogg’s Cornflakes.”

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

Time away from the task at hand often does the trick.

My go-to thing, predictably, is running. (If I’m not in running gear, it’s a rare sight.) Running gives me a change of scene, a different focus, and helps clear the mind.

Failing that, a post-run soak in the bath with plenty of bubbles and music playing in the background.

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

I enjoy problem-solving. I’m happy wading through reams of info to understand what I’m being asked to write about. It’s a safe bet that I’ll end up with at least one question before I start scribbling.

I love the fact there’s no definitive right or wrong, that there are ten or more ways of writing something.

I dislike layers of feedback, particularly when it’s drip-fed bit by bit. (This was prolific working in-house.)

Any copywriting pet hates?

Thinking simple writing is dumbing down and not professional. “It’s more fun to talk to someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words, but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’.” A wise lesson from Winnie-the-Pooh.

My other pet hate might split the views of writers – track changes are a definite no-no for me. I need to know what doesn’t work and why. Having someone re-write copy for me doesn’t help me understand the problem, meaning my hands are tied when trying to fix it.

Comments of ‘I don’t like it’ are some of the most unhelpful you can get. (Of course, if a typo slips through, spotting and correcting that is very much welcome.)

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

This’ll sound wishy-washy, I stand by the belief in trusting your instincts. 9 times out of 10 it’ll guide you in the right direction.

I made the mistake of brushing over my niggly concerns in my first month of freelancing. It came to bite me when I sent the invoice. They refused to pay.

I think many freelancers, not just writers, have similar stories about ignoring red flags.

As a bonus bit of advice, I’d say not to put pen to paper before you get a brief. And some wise freelancers have drummed into me not to start work before getting a signed contract and deposit in your hands.

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

Be curious. Ask questions, questions, always. And step outside your comfort zone. You’re much more likely to stumble across interesting and quirky things when you step away from looking at a computer screen.

Give a knowing nod that everyone can write, but not everyone is able to write well. And if you send copy for ‘approval’ people will feel it’s their job to add a handful of comments, whether your writing needs it or not – that’s normal.

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

It’s a wonderful space to share our love of writing. I’ve not yet moved far away from pinning some words to my profile page, and uploading a few blogs.

I need to eke out time to dip into some webinars – I’ve only heard good things about them. And a spot at the Copywriting Conference 2020 is a must.

Where can people find out more about you?

Have a nosey at my site. You’ll also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What do you think?

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