Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I first started out in PR and always loved the writing side of the work. Eventually, I started writing diving and eco-tourism articles on the side (with my boss’ OK, of course) and, over time, my focus shifted towards copywriting and journalism until I went freelance full time.
I’ve also gradually niched into marine science and conservation. When I became a certified scuba diver at university, I discovered my passion for the amazing world under the waves but I never thought this would end up combining with my career. Now, wherever I can, I write about interesting new marine science studies or conservation work and also offer copywriting services to organisations who are taking steps to protect our blue planet.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m always proud when my writing results in a tangible conservation impact. I recently wrote a Guardian article about a freediver rewilding his local kelp beds – a couple of days after publication, he texted me saying donations had gone ‘bonkers’.
I also still pinch myself every time I’m published by National Geographic online – not just because it’s a great answer to the common question of “Who do you write for… that I’d have heard of?” because its huge reach means my articles are helping to spread the word about important scientific discoveries. I’ve recently written about the ocean’s largest stingray being tagged for the first time, and how lucky tourists have been able to see the incredibly rare phantom ghost jellyfish.
And it’s always nice when clients love your work – a client once told me they were so happy with the messaging I’d developed for their marine conservation project that they cried when they read it, which was lovely to hear.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
So many! The great thing about covering marine conservation is that there are exciting discoveries coming out all the time. But the downside… you can’t write about them all. I frequently have to let potentially great stories pass by because I’m already on deadline, at capacity or the embargo is too tight.
Recently, studies I would have loved to have written about include the recent discovery of pristine deep sea corals in the Galápagos marine reserve, the rare sighting of an albino bottlenose dolphin, and the fascinating study giving us new insights into the sleep patterns of elephant seals.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
When I get writer’s block, I have to get away from my laptop. I usually go to the gym or for a quick walk along the seafront. Sometimes I need to change up my location so working from my local coffee shop for a bit can give me a fresh burst of creativity too.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite is chatting to marine scientists about how their work is helping to change our understanding of the ocean and how we can protect it. I don’t have a science background but I’m fascinated by this work and I love translating scientific studies into stories that inspire members of the public too.
My least favourite tasks are probably pitching (specifically, when you’re struggling to place a story you know would be a great piece) and chasing late invoices.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Jargon! While it can be common within many organisations, the conservation sector in particular tends to be pretty bad for overusing jargon and acronyms. This is fine internally when everyone in your team is au fait with industry terms but it makes it so much harder to get people on board with your mission when they don’t fully understand what you’re talking about.
That’s why I always try to hop on an informal call with clients (usually with a cuppa and maybe a croissant!) to probe into what they do in their own words and pausing if they slip into using industry jargon to delve into what they really mean.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
I think most of us are told this early on in our careers but don’t always take it on board right away: you’re not charging enough! Looking back, some of my project fees were way too low when I started out.
Having the confidence to charge what you’re worth not only allows you to take the time to create stellar work, because you’re not cramming in projects just to make ends meet, but also means you’ll be working with high-quality clients who value your expertise.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Always think about the end reader when you’re writing and remember that, most of the time, complicated words and long sentences won’t do you any favours. If you can’t explain a complex topic in a clear and simple way, ask yourself if you’ve fully grasped the key points. Waffle is often a sign that you haven’t got to the crux of it yet. And if you don’t easily understand your message, how would your reader?
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
As a freelance copywriter, building a network of like-minded writers is one of the things I love most about my business so it’s great to be part of a community of other great writers.