Copywriting is hard. I’ve definitely learned a thing or too since I started! People skills and diplomacy are copywriting essentials- you need them pretty much every day. Working as a copywriter can be a bit of a minefield, with competing interests and priorities making it hard for you to satisfy everyone. Here are some key copywriting lessons I have learned over the past year- this is my ‘not to do list’!
Take copy edits personallyNever, ever take edits personally. Leave the ego at the door. After all, the problem isn’t you, it’s your copy. (Or you might be part of the problem too- but that’s a different issue). Try to see where the edits are coming from and always remember:
- A writer needs editing to grow
- Editing means people care about your copy (they actually read it)
- Without editing you don’t get a second chance to wow people and win them over
Wait for the perfect moment to writeOK so before I start writing I have to know everything about my niche, talk to these seven important people, sharpen up my three pens, read these two books, do my lucky dance, make a cup of tea, get the best playlist going and light some candles in a semi circle.. NO. You just need to start writing NOW. It can be tempting to wait for the ‘perfect’ moment to write or divine inspiration to strike but as copywriter you haven’t really got that luxury. Writing is a craft and you only get better at it by doing it- so keep doing it! You’ll learn a lot along the way and you will get faster and better, but there’s no shortcut to better writing that doesn’t involve lots of writing. Many people I know who write the occasional blog post or bit of content struggle to get going with writing. My advice is to just start writing- let go of perfection and come back and edit it all later.
Assume things and neglect clarifying the briefDon’t assume anything. Always clarify any potential queries with the person who gives you the brief. Making assumptions means that you may waste time and start writing about the wrong things, only having to go back and change it all later. Clarifications will always be a judgement call, but I suggest that if there is any room for ambiguity- just send a quick message or ping them an email to clarify what they meant. Don’t be shy- it makes you look like you care about the copy and that you are committed to delivering a great end result. This process may flag up the fact that the client isn’t quite sure exactly what they want yet. Which is fine, but it may be that they need to make a few more decisions before you can get cracking with copy. Talk them through the process to figure out what holding them back.
Take your role as a writer for grantedA lot of people don’t understand writing. And a lot of people won’t understand YOU. They may never have worked with a copywriter before, or they may not really understand what it is you do. I think it’s very important to help people understand your role as a copywriter so that they can get the most value out of your services. Some people may never write and may not understand what writers need, so be patient with answering queries and always tell people upfront what you will be doing and what you need from them to get started.
Refuse to branch outSticking to one thing as a copywriter gets boring and it makes your writing formulaic. Keep the creative spirit in you going by trying different things once in a while. This may mean changing your tone or style, or experimenting with new formats or themes. This process will help you figure out how to create really strong and varied copy; it’s always great to have a dynamic and varied portfolio.
Ignore your strengthsWhat are you good at? Are you more of a researcher or more of a joker? Do you write awesome puns or are you better at descriptive prose? Analyse your writerly strengths and use them in your work. Play to your strengths and don’t be afraid to market yourself as a specialist in a certain copywriting area. A strong personal brand is clear and will help people immediately decide whether you can write for them- so tell people what you are good at.
Rush in too fast or slow way downWriting is hard on timekeeping and it can be tempting to charge ahead at lightning speed or dawdle endlessly with copy. The best copy is usually produced when I implement a structure that goes something like this:
- Researching and sketching out ideas
- Planning and structure
- Writing (in one or two blocks of time)
- Editing (with a break in between writing and editing)
- Final polishing