Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I didn’t. Becoming a copywriter was never really part of my career plan, it just kind of happened. Call it serendipity if you will.
I wouldn’t say that I’m not academic, but essentially, I’m lazy (was!). When school handed out GCSEs, I was round the back of the bike shed ‘avin a fag’ and having fun, with no thought to my future. I went into the automotive industry as a ‘Cylinder Head Porter’ and progressed upwards.
The highlight of my then career was working in F1 and IndyCar, before running my own business specialising in performance cars, I was even under contract at one point to write a technical book for a major international publisher.
Everything was great until my wife died, aged 37. This led me to spiral downwards, rapidly; I lost my business, our family home, my ability to communicate, to socialise … I was a shell of my former self.
Five years later and I was ready to do something about it. I created a social enterprise with the help of a former friend, and we set about changing the world.
As part of that process, I found that my most effective form of communication was writing, and I wrote, wrote some more, and more still. I even self-
published a book (with an award from the National Lottery) about hospice care, and the myths surrounding it.
As a way to pay bills while waiting for the social enterprise to work, I found that people were offering me cold hard cash to write ‘stuff’ for them, the first steps toward copywriting came about through a well-known platform, where it was a race to offer the cheapest quotes.
In my time, I’ve been offered everything from £1.50 to £450 for an article.
What work are you most proud of?
I’ve been involved with some great projects in my time, working with hospices, social enterprises, charities and the like, although technically, that’s not my day job.
I was super proud when I wrote something that was published by The Guardian, but that was overshadowed after writing to The Royal Foundation – Heads Together.
The Foundation offered me the chance to attend an event with Prince Harry, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, meet them, and have a chat with Prince Harry (proper mancrush). It was fabulous and only came about thanks to my efforts with words.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I don’t think there’s a single piece. Yes, I read of the ‘rockstar’ copywriters that land huge clients, or that get praise from industry peers because of a single piece, but that sort of thing doesn’t really bother me. I do what I do, and most of my work is repeat business, so my clients must be happy with it.
That said, I do like words, in any form really. There are some lyricists that deserve to be right up there with the greatest copywriters, and I’d say that I wish that I had Lemmy’s (from Motorhead) way with words.
Unless you really listen to them, you’ll assume it’s all just nonsense, but he had a magical talent for words, how they fit together, what they can say, and how powerful they are. OK, forget about the whole ‘bacon torpedo’ thing, but take a listen and you’ll see how good he was.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Everyone tells you to walk away, have a break, come back to it another time, but sometimes you have deadlines to hit, and they care not for writer’s block. It really depends on what I’m writing, or what pressure I’m under.
If I have the time, I’ll walk away sulking, if not, I’ll try and push on through, but conscious of the fact that I’ll need to revisit the words before submission, because they’re probably crap. The plan is to just get thoughts/words out to give me a basis to work on later.
Once the base of the article is there, I can usually finesse it up a bit if I need to. (And I can guarantee that I will need to).
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
It all depends on what mood I’m in, or even perhaps how tired I am. Sometimes, even writing seems like a massive chore. But I have to remind myself that when I started down this route, I couldn’t believe that people were offering me money for sitting on my bum, and writing ‘stuff’. (I use ‘stuff’ because I wouldn’t really describe myself as a specific thing – content, copy, article, book. I just use words).
I can’t really define singular things that could be favourite or least favourite. I recently lost my father to cancer, but when I turned 40, he bought me an expensive fountain pen, so I take great pleasure in using that for writing my notes while researching something.
Spending hours on research can be painful, especially if you have a client that doesn’t understand the price you’re charging covers extra time for exactly that reason – they want cheap, no-frills words and baulk at paying more than a few quid, because all you’re really doing is sitting at a computer writing words down, and anyone who left school can do that. Right? Anyone can write! Right?
Any copywriting pet hates?
I guess I kind of covered this with question five, but clients who assume they know better really irk me, even more so if their level of communication is poor.
Of course, I am willing to accept that clients have their own style or voice, but please don’t question why I may have used a certain word or style, and that goes doubly for people that want specific SEO articles.
I’m quite grumpy, I know that, it’s not news to me. I like to think that I offer a professional, specialised service, and just because I’m sat at a computer for most of my working day, I’m not a receptionist or your secretary.
People that don’t understand that should be dealt with … having their fingers jammed in an old mechanical typewriter while I type “N O T Y O U R S E C R E T A R Y” over and over. Fortunately, I rarely venture away from my home office now, so that’s unlikely to happen again.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
I wouldn’t really say career advice, but back when I lost everything, I was in a legal wrangle and my barrister sat me down and told me: “Yes, it’s shit. No, it’s not going away. All you can do is get your head down and grind through it. Just grind on. You’ll get through it, bit by bit”.
That has stuck with me ever since. No matter how bad things get, just keep your head down and get on with it. The very fact that you’re finding the courage to beat it, will give you some relief. That’s my motto: grind through it.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
This is difficult for me. I’m not some superstar copywriter that’s built up their career in an agency, turned freelance and made a million overnight. I’m just a guy that happens to like using words. I started at the bottom (earning around £10 an article) and worked hard to understand, learn and improve.
I think people need to find the courage to go with their gut, and to walk away from a client if it isn’t right, and believe me, I know only too well that it’s a hard choice when you’re picking up their money at the end of the week, but sometimes it’s the right decision, no matter how much you need the money.
I’ve sacked four clients in my time as a freelancer, and while I may have regretted one or two in the short-term, it’s always been the right choice.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I initially looked at the ProCopywriters site as something that could give me validation … “I’m a member of the Alliance of Commercial Writers” kinda thing, which it does, but it’s more than that.
When I first became a member, within three days I’d picked up a new client who had found me on the ProCopywriters site, and while we’re still sorting details, it’s the highest paying client (per single article) that I work with.
There’s a load of great resources also, and lots of information. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a newbie, or a seasoned pro, membership will definitely benefit you.
Where can people find out more about you?
My website is www.writeything.com – that tells some of my story. But along with the ProCopywriters membership, I’m also a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and I’m always happy to answer direct questions from people.
I’m on Twitter, although most of my feed is very random, you can find me at @writeything I no longer use Facebook (if you want to hear a rant, get me started on that subject), and my Instagram account is pretty dormant for the same reason, only I can’t remember the password to log in and delete my account.