6 things all newbie copywriters should know
By Carolyn McMurray, SOCIATE’S Junior Copywriter & Blogstar
The ugly draft, writer’s block, miscommunication, and creativity slumps – here’s everything newbie copywriters should know.
The first time I started copywriting was at 18. I was still in university and had no idea about the journey ahead of me. I had always liked writing. I had always sort of been good at it. Dissertations, essays, stories, poems – you name it, I had written it. I came into my first copywriting job with a lot of preconceptions and expectations – all of which fell flat on their face.
Copywriting can be an extremely rewarding career, but you need to go into it with the right mindset. You’re not going to be the greatest copywriter ever – at least not in the first month or so. It takes time. It’s a skill. And whatever you thought you knew about writing? Well, it won’t always apply here. You’ll also come to realise that you just can’t be ‘on’ all the time. Spurning out innovative, creative lines and phrases is not something that will come to you in droves. There will be good days and there will be bad days (but more on that later).
So, after having gone through all these learning curves I thought I’d dish out a bit of wisdom to my fellow newbies. Stuff I wish I’d known in the beginning. Stuff that would have probably made navigating this whole journey a lot easier.
1. The first ugly draft
I remember when I wrote my first ever piece of copywriting. I knew drafts were important, but I didn’t really understand how important. And whenever I did do a first draft, I would always be disheartened. My writing looked like an absolute mess, there were blanks, there were bits that didn’t make sense (there were even spelling mistakes). Over time, I actually learned to embrace that first ugly draft. I realised that it was the only way to get my ideas – good and bad – onto the page.
Sometimes, you just need to get something (anything) down. This is especially important if you’re up against a creative block. Getting a rough draft down, no matter how bad you think it is, will help oil up your creative gears and get the ideas flowing. I’m not saying the first draft is perfect. It certainly isn’t. You have to come back to it and edit like crazy. Polish it up. Fix mistakes. But it is a crucial starting point – a starting point that will help you get projects off the ground.
2. Creativity slump
Copywriters are supposed to be creative. Magnetic with words. Innovative. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work like that. Creativity isn’t on tap. Unlike maths, it’s not something you can learn and absorb. It’s something that can be sparked, but there will be days when you’re feeling a little meh. Days when your writing is alright, but definitely not as sparkly as it could be. Days when you sort of settle for average. I’m not saying this is ideal, but you need to set yourself up for those moments because they will happen.
You can’t be on all the time, and that’s okay. Whenever you feel yourself sliding into that slippery slope, take a step back and dust yourself off. Go for a walk. Do a bit of exercise. Have a snack. Take a quick-fire break. Sometimes, all your brain needs is a little bit of distraction. A little bit of time away from the screen.
3. Ditch uni rules
Copywriting isn’t one bit like the stuff you wrote at uni or secondary school. Sure, it may have laid the core foundations (grammar, spelling, punctuation, how to form a sentence) but the formula you used for essays and dissertations definitely won’t work with a piece of copy. I actually had to unlearn a lot of stuff. Stuff like eight-page long pieces of writing. Verbose, high-brow language. Stuffy phrases and flowery words. None of that stuff translates well into copywriting.
Why? Copy needs to be easily understandable and user-friendly. Customers need to be able to read your blog/caption/newsletter/website and know exactly what you’re talking about. They’re also human. All that professor-level jargon is just going to stump them. Think of good copy as a conversation with your readers – you’re not talking at them, you’re talking to them. Ask lots of questions, engage them, and try to make them feel something.
4. Achy limbs
This one’s a bit funny, but it’s true. As a copywriter, your desk and your laptop will become your new home. It’s where you’ll spend 99.9% of your time. And 99.9% of that time will be spent looking at a screen, sat down with very little movement. Cue lots of back pain, neck pain, and weird achy joints. Not exactly the best recipe for creativity. I learned this the hard way.
As a remote (work at home) copywriter, my desk can be whatever I want it to be. My bed. My sofa. The floor. For some reason, it was never the desk. Instead of sitting up straight like a normal person, I would always be hunched over with my neck looking down at the screen. It was no surprise when back pain kicked in (and for a 21-year old, that’s a bit alarming). I decided to switch things up a little. I forced myself to sit at the desk and sit with good posture. I forced myself to get up every hour or so and move about a little. It might seem trivial, but it pays off in the end.
5. The importance of actually good tech
My trusted Lenovo laptop was my first ever copywriting sidekick. It had been with me for three years and was coming up to its fourth birthday. It worked well-ish – the only problem was the mouse. It had a mind of its own. Some days it behaved itself and other days it was like a dog without a leash. I thought I’d be fine. After all, it didn’t happen every day.
I was wrong. I found myself lashing out and getting annoyed with my mouse (or lack of) which had an impact on my copywriting. You can’t write well when you’re angry. You’ll be distracted. And having a bit of faulty tech will also slow you down. Getting some good tech (laptop and headphones) is actually a really good investment and will make sure you get the job done efficiently.
6. Imposter Syndrome
I’m three years and five months into my copywriting career, and no matter how many times I’ve written there’s always a seed of doubt somewhere. I call this Imposter Syndrome – a pretty common workplace phenomenon that happens to people of all ages and levels. You might feel like you’re not good enough. That you’re not worth it. That you can’t actually write that well – that you’re somehow kidding yourself. This might stop you from applying to a more senior position (even if you tick all the boxes) and limit your career in more ways than one. I get it from time to time, but I try not to dwell on it.
It usually happens when you’re confronted with a change or a bit of a challenge, so try to remind yourself of how valuable you are and how great of a writer you are. You’ve got this. You can knock this out of the park. And the more you put yourself into new and uncomfortable positions, the better you’ll be able to face Imposter Syndrome head-on.
As you can probably guess, copywriting isn’t all rainbows. It can be a little bit murky at times, but once you know how to work it and work it well, you’ll find it to be an amazing career. And why do I love copywriting? I love it because it gives me a chance to talk and be loud and clear and colourful, even if my in-person persona is a little more quiet and subdued. It’s my alter-ego, and I love it.
If it’s copywriters you’re after, SOCIATE has an entire department dedicated to all things copy. Blogs, newsletters, emailers, social media captions – whatever copywriting service you need, our wordsmiths will whip it up! Hit us up at [email protected] for a quick consultation.