Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I get bored easily. Although that’s not really the reason I got into copywriting, it’s more the reason I’m still doing it 10 years later. Every project is a whole new learning opportunity.
I got into it because I saw a huge hole in the process of building websites.
Although I trained as a journalist, I worked mainly in digital (known in those days simply as ‘web’) editing and writing roles for a while before becoming a project manager for a web development company.
Almost every project we worked on was delayed because writing the content took so long. And when we received it from the client, it was almost always horrible. I couldn’t bear it!
I was also already getting a bit bored of being a project manager, so I began reading everything I could on writing for the web – all the early classics, like Don’t Make Me Think.
Usability was still relatively new then and I liked the idea of combining my knowledge of website development with my love of writing and editing.
I wasn’t sure what to call myself, so started my career as a ‘web writer’.
I got my first jobs by offering free website reviews at networking events and by learning everything I could about SEO and putting
it into practice on my own website.
What work are you most proud of?
The work I’m most proud of is the information writing I’ve done, where I’ve managed to cut out all the noise (despite internal organisational politics), get things into the language of the audience, and make the information easy to find, read and use.
They’re not glamorous projects, or particularly interesting unless you’re the person looking for that critical piece of information, but I do enjoy the
challenge of them.
More recently, I really liked the work I did on the story behind a local community project – A Drop in the Ocean.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I remember when I first saw some promo copy for Bulb, I actually said out loud, to myself: “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” It was so refreshing compared to every other utility company.
And when I switched to them – I mean I had to in homage to the copy – and all the emails throughout the process made me so happy!
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I jump. Fast and furiously on the spot for about a minute. It doesn’t have to be high, more like bouncing than jumping. Arm movements are optional, but you do have to leave your office to do it.
The kitchen or the garden work well. I read something once about your feet having so many nerve-endings that when you jump like that it’s like jumpstarting your brain.
If that doesn’t work, I go walking. Preferably by the sea. Then I throw some rocks in the water and stomp home. That usually does the trick.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite is probably editing. Although devising content models comes a close second.
My least favourite – proofreading.
Any copywriting pet hates?
I’m just going to say it… crafted. Anything crafted. Unless what you’re describing has been knitted, sculpted, carved, crocheted or beaded with your own two hands, it’s a cliché.
The day I craft copy is the day I stop writing. If you see it in my copy, it was planted (or put in by the client).
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
When I was about 16 and needed to make some choices about what to study next my dad said to me: “Whatever you pick, make sure it’s something you enjoy doing most of the time – 95% of people in the world don’t enjoy their day jobs. Don’t be one of them.”
I’m pretty sure he made up the statistic, but the principle has served me well in making decisions about my career.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read, read, read. There are so many brilliant books out there to help you become a better writer and a better thinker.
One of the earliest ones I read and that I always recommend is Made to Stick.
Talk to other copywriters as often as you can. If you can meet them in person, even better, you can buy them a coffee while you ask them questions.
I was lucky enough to be living in Brighton when I first started as a freelance copywriter and there was a great group called WriteClub, which ProCopywriters’ director Leif Kendall was running at the time.
Leif answered so many of my questions, and that group helped me more than they will ever know to keep going through the tough first year of freelance copywriting.
Go out there and make those connections, even if it’s terrifying and you feel a bit of a fraud calling yourself a copywriter to start with. Remember, we all started somewhere.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
Besides the enquiries I’ve had from the ProCopywriters website, I enjoy the feeling of being part of something beyond the walls of my office. It’s a bit like being in a club.
Then there’s the little bit of reassurance you need on a bad writing day: “I belong to this, I really am one of them – those people who write words for a living.”