Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I had a full-time role editing online content from 2007-2012, but the schedule and relentless nature of the work were pretty bad for my brain, and I took the freelance plunge at the end of 2012.
After a scary first year of cold-calling and pitching, I began building up clients, many of whom I still work with today.
I’ve always loved writing and have been writing and publishing poetry for a decade now; copywriting has actually helped me edit poetry (my own and that of others) much more effectively. There’s no room for waffle in copy, so you get used to making blunt cuts!
I have a few different hats besides copywriting, and the variety is really important to me. I do voiceover, editing and proofreading, and even work in a library – the combination is working pretty well.
What work are you most proud of?
I love working with Jellycat, coming up with descriptions for their charismatic characters, and writing poetry storybooks for children.
I had a lovely message on Instagram from a Mum who said she had been reading my books to her child at bedtime, and it had kept both their spirits up during lockdown. That was incredibly touching and I’m always happy to hear that children are enjoying poetry.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I like short, sharp, witty copy that isn’t trying too hard. Hats off to the copywriter who came up with the tagline for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who debut: “It’s about time.”
I also really enjoyed the PornHub competition to find a Safe for work slogan. It didn’t make the final 15 but my favourite was a cartoon of a person at a computer and their partner coming in asking “What are you looking at?”, to which they answered “Nothing.” The slogan was “PornHub – the internet’s largest provider of nothing.”
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
If there’s a deadline to meet, I push on through, fuelled by coffee. More often I hop across to a different task until the blockage clears.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite task is coming up with new ideas for stories and poems for young readers, and absolutely anything that requires puns.
I was recently asked to think up possible taglines for a dark, sarcastic range of Christmas cards, appropriate for the annus horribilis of 2020. The perfect excuse to unleash my inner Grinch.
I was diagnosed this year with ADHD and this has explained why certain simple tasks become Godzilla-sized undertakings in my mind. My least favourite task is quoting for a job. I would rather file a decade’s taxes than compile a quote. Even now, years in, it’s surprisingly stressful.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Bad poetry in advertising is always top of the list. If you want poetry, ask poets. There are plenty of good ones about, and they need to eat.
Adjectives used as aspirational nouns make my skin crawl – “Find your happy”, “Be your wonderful”, “Live your confident”. Finish your sentence, damnit!
I also shudder at copy aimed at women that tells them they’re confident, empowered, shiny goddesses. If the path to Olympus involves buying overpriced soap, I’d rather be a hot mess.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
If you cannot meet your deadlines, be honest with your client and tell them as soon as you can, giving a revised estimate. The most maddening thing from either party is radio silence.
Also, establish a clear brief from the start. If anything is unclear, ask specific questions to get the information you need. It’s in your interests and your client’s interests that you both know what’s expected. If the job expands, revise the brief and if necessary, your quote.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read posts by other copywriters and follow them on social media.
Join ProCopywriters if you can! The copywriting community is really warm and supportive.
Once you’re up and running, work on as many different kinds of copy as possible, and find out which genre or medium really sparks your imagination. Once you’ve found it, steer toward specialising in that field.
Share your own mistakes and tribulations, where they would be helpful to others. In copywriting, as in all fields, there’s pressure to appear confident and composed at all times, but vulnerability can be a powerful thing to share.
Be professional, but do share things you’ve learned the hard way. Others will thank you for it.
Finally, don’t ignore your wellbeing. This can be a lonely business when you’re not an in-house employee. If you’re freelance and you know you need a certain amount of human contact, look for a part-time job that isn’t exhausting. This gives you some regular income in lean times, a change of scene, and a break from freelance isolation.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
ProCopywriters provides community and solidarity in what can be something of a lone-gun profession. ProCopywriters also curates a bank of really useful interviews with practising copywriters.
General theory is helpful to a point but practical, real-world guidance and troubleshooting, based on experience and misadventure, is indispensable and encouraging.