“The mind thinks in pictures, you know. One good illustration is worth a thousand words. But one clear picture built up in the reader’s mind by your words is worth a thousand drawings, for the reader colors that picture with his own imagination, which is more potent than all the brushes of all the world’s artists.”
– Robert Collier
Once in awhile, I find myself in the company of someone who has no connections to the marketing world. Typically, the conversation will roll around to jobs, as polite small talk is wont to do. Over the years, I have come to realize that very few people in the outside world have any concept of what a copywriter is or does. Oh! You copyright books? Um, no. No I do not. If you enter into this profession, prepare to spend a great deal of time trying to explain what your job entails to the outside world. (And take a drink every time someone replies, “Oh like the person who came up with JUST DO IT!”)
On that note, six more observations on life as a copywriter:
1. You can’t be in it for the glory or the recognition.
With the exception of your internal colleagues and clients, copywriting is pretty anonymous profession. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked by someone, “Doesn’t it suck to write something awesome and not be able to put your name on it?” Not really, because that’s just part of the deal. However, if you’re the kind of person who needs/wants to feel like a rock star in the spotlight, this is probably not the career for you.
2. No words will ever cut quite as deep as, “It’s just a couple paragraphs.”
When you’re killing it as a copywriter, you make it look effortless and people around you will tend to forget that copywriting is a skill and a craft with a little sprinkling of your unique magic. The majority of a copywriter’s job is a one-on-one dance between our brains and a piece of paper (Fiiiine, the laptop screen. That just doesn’t sound as romantic.) Most of us prefer (and need) to retreat to our own space when we work, which can make our jobs a bit elusive to others. There’s no such thing as “just” in copywriting. Some of the most complex moments of my career have been spent in the company of very smart, talented, gifted people toiling and lamenting over a single word in a five-word tagline.
3. Writers and editors are not the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong, we love to pull out “the red pen of doom” and rework something from good to great, but when it comes down to every iota of grammatical minutia pulled from The Lively Art of Writing in tenth grade, that’s typically a different breed of human known as an editor. Editors and creative copywriters, however, are a bit like writing cousins. Most creative copywriters I know really love, admire and value the technical skillset that editors bring to the table. The world needs them! Which leads me to…
4. You can’t proof your own work – ever.
Sure, you can reread it, but there is nothing quite as valuable as colleagues willing to serve as your secondary proofers. (You know who you are!) One of my college professors was adamant about running everything through at least two sets of additional proofers who hadn’t touched the project. His theory = As long as your brain knows what it wants to be on the page, your eyeballs will be tempted to deceive you.
5. A lot of the most prolific copywriters are introverts – and that can be a challenge.
We live in a culture (and work in an industry) that reveres the almighty extrovert. These are the people who do their thinking externally and get supercharged by being around others, as well as thinking and responding on the fly. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, their presence will be known. On the flip side, I tend to see a lot of introverts drawn to copywriting, which poses a strange challenge within an industry that can undervalue the wonderful gifts, talents and balance they bring with them. We may not be the showiest or loudest people in the room, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less passionate about our clients, work or agencies than our more extroverted counterparts. A mix of personalities is what creates a strong agency and a strong team – and there is tons of science to back this up. As an introvert, however, you will have to work a little bit harder than extroverts to become an advocate for yourself. Get comfortable with sometimes being uncomfortable, especially when it comes to bringing your (valuable) voice to the table.
6. Find a hobby that has nothing to do with words.
I know, I know. We allllll love reading. But seriously, find yourself a hobby that gives you time away from screens and words once in awhile. Take up painting. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Take cooking classes. Become the most ruthless Settlers of Catan player the world has ever seen. Give your brain a word break. It will thank you.