So you’ve watched a couple of seasons of Mad Men and you’ve been won over by the casual misogyny and liberal approach to liquid lunches. Becoming a copywriter seems pretty simple, right? With enough whiskey and self-loathing anyone can become Don Draper. Absolutely incorrect but that doesn’t stop many from believing it.
One aspect of the Copywriter Experience, Mad Men doesn’t prepare you for is the constant rejection, essential learning from the very start. That’s why the unofficial copywriter banner contains a bloody pencil with the words, “Actually, beggars can be choosers” superimposed across the bottom in Latin. Of course, the Latin is written in comic sans because your early years as a copywriter can be a complete joke.
Ensure you have the last laugh by reading through a selection of new starter tips:
1. Beauty in simplicity
One of the most obvious amateur writing tells is the overuse of a complicated language. We get it, ‘solipsistic’ is a great word and you want everyone to know that you are intelligent enough to use it. But maybe save it for academic papers or your personal Sam Beckett fan fiction. Jazz is often described as the notes you choose not to play, similarly, a large part of copywriting is in the words you decide not to use.
2. Let’s get visual
Writers often take shots at the design team for lacking substance, overusing a particular shade of Crayola or general literacy issues. Don’t let design know I’ve written this, but they may actually be onto something. Visualising your work is an effective tool to fight writer’s block. Take it back to basics, create a mindmap, write down ideas, feelings and thoughts. Give it a few hours, go back and see if anything jumps out.
3. Make a note
Remember that you can’t spell think without INK. Drafting copy should begin the old fashioned way and include the holy trinity of all great copywriting; pen, paper and finger calluses. In a scrape, phone notes are an acceptable way to note down stray bits of inspiration. But as a general work practice, there are too many distractions for it to be effective.
Validation is great, as humans, we crave it. But if you only seek criticism from people who validate you, your writing will not improve. Picking a critic is a balancing act; choose someone who cares little enough about you that they can be objective but not so little that they take pleasure in crushing your confidence.
5. Feed the engine
Copywriter engine rooms are delicate ecosystems powered by caffeine. Is it healthy? No. Is it sustainable? Not especially, but short-term it can put a little extra pep in your step. Beware though, there are caffeine guidelines. Stick to the three golden rules to prevent forcible exile from the copywriting community.
- It must be black and thick enough to tar a motorway.
- It should never be instant. It tastes like trash, and the added convenience deprives you of valuable thinking time away from your desk.
- If you are able to push down the plunger on a french press unassisted it means you are incorrectly feeding the engine.
At the end of the day, the emotional reaction is all that matters. Sadly there are no bite-size tips that will teach you to connect with an audience. If it were easy, as many believed, we wouldn’t be getting paid for it. Rather this guide will provide you with the basics as you learn to create emotional connections through trial and error.
About the Author:
A Londoner driven to Rotterdam by a quarter-life crisis, Brexit and despair. My first gig was writing cover letters in exchange for beer. Now I mainly trade creativity for cash, currently for HLO Branding. A passionate non-cyclist and Al Green enthusiast.