James Kelly – ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?

In a sense, I didn’t choose it at all. I came to writing via fiction first, writing short stories and novels. When I took my gap year before starting university, my mum happened to know someone who worked at MHRA, which needed an assistant editor.

And then I was recommended to a new business owner who needed a copywriter. So I stumbled into these jobs where I got paid to write and realised that was pretty cool. So I just kept doing it!

What work are you most proud of?

I’m glad to say that it’s a difficult choice! I wrote a guide to British slang for a relocations service that was fun and funny while also promoting the business throughout. That was cool. It proved my favourite philosophy: copy can be fun and still sell.

What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?

Wow, there’s a lot of great stuff out there. I think the one that really felt it should have come from my pen was Oasis’ ‘Refreshing Stuff’ campaign.

The one that said things like “Please don’t stand in front of this poster, it cost a lot of money.” I’ve always wanted to write an honest campaign like that. It made me smile to see it in the world.

What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?

Write something else! A block is my subconscious trying to tell me something isn’t working and it needs time to figure it out. So I write something completely different. And when I go back to the piece, I have fresh eyes; I can see the problem anew and I can find the solution.

What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?

Least favourite is writing outlines. I find too much planning up front wastes time. I prefer to hammer out what I call Draft Zero and then start refining. Draft Zero is where the best, left-field ideas come from, and then subsequent drafts tidy up the mad creativity.

The favourite thing is being taken by surprise when you’re writing. You find yourself writing something you didn’t expect but it’s brilliant and elevates the piece from good to great. That’s really exhilarating.

Any copywriting pet hates?

Vague feedback based on personal feelings. “I don’t like it but I can’t say why.”

First of all, copy is written for the end user, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. The end user’s opinion is all that matters.

Second of all, if you can’t say why you don’t like it, go away and think about it until you can. How can I make amends if I don’t know what needs to change?

Thankfully, I don’t come across this too often, but nothing winds me up more!

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Be the reader. You’re not writing for yourself so ignore your own preferences and prejudices.

What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?

Learn and understand the rules. The rules are absolutely there for breaking, but you need to know what they are and how they work so you know when it’s appropriate to break them.

Learn as much psychology as you can. All our fancy words don’t mean a thing if we can’t move the reader. So we need to know how they think and why they act so we can use the right word at the right time.

Don’t try to be clever – be effective. We’re all tempted by that clever line or turn of phrase that might allude to a little-known Shakesperean sonnet, but that’s not our job. Our job is to make people buy. We resist the siren call of clever and choose the words that will make that happen.

Oh, and get paid. I once worked with a new freelancer who wanted to charge our company less than minimum wage because he was just starting out. Hell no. Don’t undervalue yourself or what you’re doing. Get paid.

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

When I made the move to freelancing, I had more questions than I thought I would. ProCopywriters offered so much support and resources that the move was much easier and less stressful than it could have been! And I’ve picked up clients thanks to my membership too.

Where can people find out more about you?

They can head to my website or to LinkedIn. Come say hi and tell me your favourite chocolate biscuit.

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