10 things about being a Copywriter

Copywriter

#1 It’s not the easiest of job titles to have. With no official passing out parade in the form of an apprenticeship scheme or universal qualification, you can spend the early part of your career wondering at what point you can genuinely claim to be a writer. Is it after a certain number of years of writing? After seeing your name on a magazine or newspaper byline? After publishing a book, even? The prefix ‘copy’ doesn’t help matters. “What’s that then?” is the most common response you get upon telling someone you’re a Copywriter. Others will ask if it’s to do with trademarking (copyright) or insurance (Underwriter). In simple terms, a Copywriter writes text – referred to as copy – for advertising, design and marketing materials.

#2 Copywriting is the literary version of a Rubik’s Cube. You start with a jumble – in this case, a jumble of facts, features and benefits to be communicated – then you have to twist here, turn there, twist some more, undo and re-do until finally all the individual components flow together in a seamless and logical order. Quite often you have no real recollection of how exactly you got the text to this stage, your brain just did.

#3 The beginning may well be a very good place to start, but it’s also the hardest; those first few opening lines need to grab your audience’s attention. No pressure. The second hardest part is fleshing out those same few early lines until you begin to see a coherent, persuasive argument take shape. Up until then, your job feels like pushing a very awkward, very cumbersome bike up a steep hill. Once there though, it’s like freewheeling all the way back down again to the point of completion. Speed, ease, exhilaration. At no stage in the writing process do you love your job more than you do at this particular moment.

#4 Skim-reading becomes both a blessing – and a curse. A blessing in the professional realm in that you’re constantly cramming up on new subjects, meaning speed of reading is essential. A curse in that you become so well-practised at skim-reading for work that when you try to unwind out of hours with a magazine or book you can find your eyes automatically scanning the pages at 10 to the dozen.

#5 It’s a solitary job, yet not particularly lonely. Whether you work alone in your own office or within an open-plan environment with your earphones in and iTunes on to block out the background noise, you quickly become lost in your own world as your brain gets going. Before you know it you’ve spent half an hour – or longer – perfecting one paragraph.

#6 It’s one of the more difficult creative roles. As one Creative Director was heard to say: “Few people would consider asking a graphic designer or digital developer to get up out of their chair in order that they can take over their place at the Mac and show how it’s really done. Yet because everyone knows how to pick up a pen, they show no such reticence in scoring through a Copywriter’s text.” See point 7.

#7 Having someone tell you that they don’t like your work is like having someone tell you they don’t like one of your children. Unless it’s done gently and mindfully, it can provoke inner fury (“What? How could they??”), followed by paranoia (“Maybe they’re right. Maybe I am a bad writer/mother”). On the flip side, having someone tell you how much they like your work is akin to someone commenting on how well behaved your children are. You swell with pride. All is momentarily well with your world.

#8 Often, ‘a few small edits’ are nothing of the sort. It may look as straightforward as including one new point or adding one more benefit, but depending on the precise nature of the edit it can require your carefully woven text to be painstakingly picked apart then delicately sewn back together again. Like a surgeon, but without the pay scale.

#9 There is no off button. Your natural instinct, 24/7, is to sort, sift and simplify information, be it in written or verbal format. Therefore when your personal life throws in your path a challenge that cannot be resolved by any amount of skilled communication – the sudden death of a loved one for example, or the slow disintegration of a once solid relationship – it can give rise to a feeling that’s close to madness.

#10 To be able to make a difference for clients through your writing is a great feeling in itself, but to have the opportunity to write for yourself now and again, in your own natural voice, pace and rhythm, is like slipping off your heels at the end of a long day or loosening your tie (presumably not both or it would make for one interesting outfit). It feels like coming home.

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© Lesley Dougall Copywriting Limited and 10thingsby.com, 2013. Unauthorised reproduction of content is not permitted. To request permission, email copywriter@lesleydougall.com or tweet @lesleydougall

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One thought on “10 things about being a Copywriter

  1. Enjoyed that, Lesley, thanks. Your sixth point really strikes a chord: a leading consultant in my line of work once commented, “the trouble with recreation is, everyone’s an expert”. Yup!

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