Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
Believe it or not, I started out as a trained librarian. I worked in a big university library but soon veered off into business research and information management for a consultancy firm.
I then landed a knowledge management role for a brand design agency and loved the creative vibe of the place and the projects I was involved with. I gradually got more involved in brand analysis and strategy and ended up leading the ‘trends’ resource for design company, Fitch.
Scratching my head for a gear-change, I realised two things. First, that some of the best bits of all the jobs I’d ever had were the times I’d had to sit down and craft some words for somebody. And second, that writing is not something that comes naturally to everyone. So perhaps there lay my opportunity.
I’ve always loved words. I’m a voracious reader and can be gobsmacked by the power a few well-chosen words, bunched together on a page, can have.
The idea that I could spend more time writing became very appealing. Egged on by my good friend and one-time colleague, Fran (already a fabulous freelance writer herself), I quit my job and I’ve been freelancing on and off as a copywriter ever since.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m probably most proud of the odd poem that I’ve written over the years. Not because I think I’m the next Sylvia Plath or anything, but because they are true and honest to me. One day I might pluck up the courage to go public with a few, but I’m not at that stage yet.
Apart from that, I’m particularly pleased with the way a few of my articles turned out, such as the series I wrote for Roam, shining a light on some very talented, creative spirits invigorating Madrid’s ‘maker-community’.
I don’t think it will ever stop being a thrill to finally see something you’ve written – the product of all your best word-smithing – out there in the big wide world, doing its thing.
It’s particularly satisfying when bits of it you were quite chuffed with survive any editing shenanigans. I always punch the air quietly to myself when that happens.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I wish I’d written the book I’ve just read – The Man Who Saw Everything, by Deborah Levy. Multi-layered, fast-paced, inventive prose that tells a story of how big history and our personal histories constantly and profoundly intertwine and impact each other. A joy to read.
On a more commercial note, I have writer’s envy for the person churning out all the short copy for Mr and Mrs Smith (the hotel and holiday website).
It must be a fun gig. Its email headers always catch my attention. They consistently bring a wry smile, with a clever pun or play on words that helps to convey the brand’s accessible personality.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Do a downward dog (but not straight after lunch), spend a couple of minutes on my meditation cushion, unstack the dishwasher, eat an oatcake or strike out for a brisk 10-minute walk around the block.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
My heart usually sinks a little when a client asks me to write something and swiftly follows up by saying, ‘I’ll send you the draft I’ve written to get you started’. And then I have to try and think of a polite way of suggesting we start over with a blank piece of paper.
I perk up no end when I get a bit of free rein to research and ghostwrite a longer-style opinion or thought-piece. I love being the investigator on an article like this, getting under the skin of an issue, finding an angle and developing a well-argued piece that also reflects my client’s opinions.
I also get a kick out of writing about people. I’ve written a few interview-style features and it’s great having the conversation, finding out what makes people tick and writing something that accurately reflects this.
The act of writing for me is endlessly interesting. Tinkering with words, clauses and sentences to explore what reads best, or working with a client to thrash out their tone of voice – I love the granular detail of it all.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Chasing invoices repeatedly when the copy you’ve produced is sitting in all its glory on your client’s website.
Just not getting paid. That has happened. Once. But I’ve learnt and moved on.
And verbose prose written by people who think they can write (see why heart sinks, above).
Apart from that, all the things that will probably annoy any copywriter – like lots of marketing and corporate jargon, extremely long sentences that leave you gasping for breath, or using a plural pronoun when referring to a single entity such as a company or brand (ok, that last one might just be me). Gasp.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
When Fran said, ‘come and be a freelancer with me – you’d be good at it’. A push in the right direction, at the right time, from a trusted friend, gave me the confidence I needed to take the next step.
To be honest, decent careers advice has been sadly lacking. I’ve just made it up as I’ve gone along really.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Just to keep writing. Write anything for anybody – it’s all good experience and will help hone your craft.
But also read a lot too. Not just marketing copy and business books! But fiction and poetry. Especially poetry – for inspiration on the impact just a few words can have, the power of imagery, the importance of rhythm and how to tell stories. So important if what we write is to stand out in today’s ‘scrolling’ culture.
If you’re starting out as a freelancer, finding someone more experienced to talk things through with work-wise, can also be a real bonus.
Copywriters really need to be good listeners too, so try and sharpen your earwigging skills.
I spend a lot of time just listening to clients telling me about their business, the challenges they face communicating what they do and any internal company issues that could hinder producing good content. Sometimes it feels like a therapy session!
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
Because it’s given me the chance to write this little spotlight feature which I’ve enjoyed more than I thought!
And, on a more serious note, the webinar resource is fantastic and a productive way to use any downtime. Things like the salary survey are also useful. Generally, it’s good to know there is an organisation for us copywriters – makes me feel like I’ve got a proper job.