Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I came to copywriting in a rather roundabout way – after a degree in Biology, I did an MSc in Science Communication, then worked in science journalism and TV production for a few years.
I moved into PR and marketing for the charity/public sector after having my first child, and it was then I discovered both my skills and my interest in copywriting and editing.
What work are you most proud of?
My favourite projects have been writing brand copy and campaign collateral for non-profits, where I’ve been able to succinctly capture a charity’s ‘essence’ and deliver a really powerful set of assets to help them reach an audience.
Many of these have been for small charities, like the Marmalade Trust (which tackles loneliness and social isolation), while others have been for much bigger organisations like Equality Now (an international human rights charity).
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I dabble in creative writing and poetry, so I read a lot of literary journals and magazines.
Sometimes a short story appears in the pages of one of these and it just gives you the most incredible gut punch, and stays with you for months afterwards.
There’s one story in particular that I wish I’d written, because it’s so beautiful and simple but very powerful – it’s about the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing during WW2.
But it focuses on the pilot who dropped the bomb and how this terrible task affected him years later. It packs so much into such a few pages – it’s a real masterclass in saying more with less.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
For me, writer’s block manifests itself in compulsively re-drafting the same paragraph over and over again. If I get to this stage with a piece of copy, I know that I need to a) step away from the screen and go for a long stomp with the dog, and b) revisit the purpose of the copy.
I find that writer’s block almost always happens because I haven’t nailed the ‘why’ – the central purpose; the fundamental reason that this particular piece of writing needs to exist.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
My absolute favourite task is getting a messy piece of copy that a client has written and tidying it up!
I love being able to see what they’re trying to say – finding that nugget of truth hidden in the words – and clearing away all the unnecessary clutter so that their message shines out. They almost always respond with “Yes! THIS is what I was trying to say!”
My least favourite task is anything repetitive. I thrive on novelty (I was diagnosed a few years ago with ADHD) so I tend to work best on ‘big-picture’ stuff that involves lots of ideas. Anything that requires doing the same thing over and over again is anathema to me.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Non-sequiturs; careless breaks in patterns; lazy copy that leans on cliches; misplaced apostrophes (although I do try to keep my grammar snobbery in check).
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Keep detailed accounts and put 30% of every invoice aside so that you don’t end up with a massive tax bill that you can’t pay. I struggled with money management when I first became a freelancer and was caught out by a few unexpected bills, so I am now ruthlessly organised.
I don’t use special accounting software, but I have a very detailed spreadsheet in which I track all my invoices and expenses, including forecasting a few months ahead.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Don’t use copy mill sites if you can help it – everyone finds it hard to get work at first, but I guarantee you’ll be better off tapping up your existing networks, including friends and family.
If you can write some website copy for a friend, or draft a sales brochure for your cousin’s new business, you’ll have the start of a solid portfolio without the soul-destroying experience of haggling over pennies per word on Fiverr.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I get a surprising number of email enquiries through my ProCopywriters profile in the directory, mainly from people with small businesses looking for website copy.
It’s also really valuable to be able to include the ‘ProCopywriters member’ badge in my email signature as a sign of quality assurance for potential clients.
Where can people find out more about you?
My website, lizbellmedia.co.uk, has some examples of my work and some more information about the type of clients I work with.
I’m not on any social media sites, which is unusual for a freelancer – I deleted all my accounts a year or so ago, which was slightly terrifying but ultimately a great decision as I’m a lot more productive these days!