Why I’m Unlearning Everything That Earnt Me a First-Class English Degree to Pursue My Dream Job as a Copywriter

Copywriting:

‘The act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing’.

The moment I found out that this job existed, I was immediately sold.

To put it simply, writing + marketing = two of my favourite things.

I’ve been completely infatuated with writing since before I can remember.

I can get lost in the zone for HOURS.

Like, tummy rumbling, eyes straining, fingers fatigued, the lot.

And my passion for marketing, albeit slightly more recent, is what actually cemented my career path. I fell in love with the industry and its scope for innovation, collaboration and creativity.

 So, combining my two favourite things should be easy, right?

WRONG.

How to be a great copywriter?

Take everything I’ve learnt over the last 17 years of education, and completely bulldoze it.

Having graduated with a degree in English Literature just last year, my writing was…

Well, quite frankly:

Basically, everything that a copywriter shouldn’t be, I was 😂

Obviously, I possessed the foundational knowledge required to become a writer…

But copywriting isn’t exactly writing about ‘the development of the heroine character and the subsequent portrayal of masculinity as presented in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights’ – (the kind of thing an English Lit degree consists of).

In fact, it couldn’t be more opposite!

So, on my quest to pursue my dream career, I’ve taken everything I’ve ever learnt, and flipped it on its head.

It’s been a pretty crazy ride, but I’ve picked up some handy tips and tricks along the way…

Here’s just a few:

1) Getting Into the Zone

After speaking with our clients, I noticed that one of their most commonly faced challenges was actually getting into the right mindset to be able to sit down and write in the first place. 

Trust me, I’m extremely familiar with the dreaded ‘brick wall’!

So, since this is now my full-time job, and writers block isn’t really an option for me anymore, I’ve fostered a sequence to avoid it:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Draft
  3. Break
  4. Edit/rewrite

 Picture this:

You have a strict deadline approaching and you need to write X number of emails by the end of the week. 

No more time for procrastination.

Panic strikes. Inspiration diminishes.

We’ve all been there.

But brainstorming is pretty much the easiest way to simply force yourself into the zone.

Jotting down one simple note can trigger another idea, and from there, a domino effect usually ensues.

Once you’ve decided on your topic, the next plan of action is finding an angle that works.

Will you ask a question?

Will you offer a solution to a problem?

Will you put yourself in your prospects’ shoes?

Will you tell a story?

Figure this out and you’ll be ready to go. 

And by go, I mean write – like your life depends on it!

Run with your ideas. Vomit first, edit later.

After all, you’re only drafting at this point.

Far too many people attempt to perfect their writing as they’re writing it, which simply stunts creative flow.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with drafting 4 or 5 times, before showing it to someone else to proofread, and then re-editing again.

Once you think you’re done and everything is perfect, go away and take a break.

I can almost guarantee you’ll come back and find multiple things to change, add or delete.

Trust me, you’ll be grateful you’ve done this!

2) Writing as a conversation 

Informal wins over formal every day when it comes to writing copy.

This means:

I’m not going to lie, all of this seemed pretty inconceivable to me at first.

But that’s nothing…

I’ve actually read that some copywriters misspell things or make grammatical mistakes…

INTENTIONALLY.

*Shiver*

Believe it or not, this is a commonly used method to grab the attention of the grammar police out there, prompting them to comment on an ad/post with their amendments, in turn, boosting engagement.

Admittedly, up until 6 months ago, I too was a scrupulous member of the grammar police.

So, as you can probably imagine, it physically pains me to start a sentence with the word ‘and’…

And if any of my university professors found out I was doing this, they would quite literally be losing their minds.

HOWEVER…

In The Ultimate Sales Letter, copy king Dan Kennedy actually advises that as copywriters, we must write to ‘frustrate the English Teachers’, and that:

“Successful copy reads much more as we talk than the way we’re supposed to write”.

One of the most important things that I’ve learnt so far is that your audience much prefer being conversed with than being lectured.

Starting a conversation with someone means that you can speak with them on the same level, so I often imagine that there’s a real human there while I’m writing.

It’s just a conversation between two people: the copywriter and the prospect.

This helps me to speak the language of our audience and in a way that conveys that I’m a real person, with genuine interest in offering you our help and expertise.

It’s a straightforward approach that identifies with the reader.

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t get too hung up on the rules, or your copy will probably end up sounding robotic and ingenuine.

And if you’re a member of the grammar police like I was, you’ll get over writing in conversational prose eventually, I promise!

3) Embracing simplicity

Repeat after me:

Simple is good!

Now, I’ll admit, this one has been a difficult pill for me to swallow.

I’m a self-confessed rambler who bloats their writing.

And writing long, complex sentences comes a lot more naturally to me than writing short, simple ones.

I mean, take this extract from my dissertation that I wrote just last year:

‘The novel exhibits a polyphonic narrative structure, presenting opposing narrative modes. By blurring the lines between history and fiction, the historical hierarchy is challenged, undermining its efficacy and legitimacy. The genres of fantasy and realism intersect, emphasising the discursive nature of postmodernist writing, and indicating the ability that reality possesses to be infinitely revised due to its mere existence as a linguistic concept. Through the transgression of boundaries and the deconstruction of traditional frameworks, we are presented with a contemporary method for reconstructing meaning in times of prominent social change’.

Be honest, you stopped reading after the second sentence, didn’t you?

And I don’t blame you!

(Oh, and full disclosure: reading this back now, I have no idea what I was talking about either)

But that’s the whole point.

Clear communication is the key to effective copy.

Obviously, this kind of writing earned me a great grade at university, but in literally any other context, it’s needlessly complex.

But more people write in this way than you’d believe.

And there’s a good reason why: that’s how many people were taught to write!

At school, we’re taught to write like adults. To talk with “big” words.

 So tired became enervated. Hungry became famished. Stubborn became obdurate. And so on…

 But because we were trained to write this way, we tend to write this way when writing anything.

 This means that when we write an ad, sales letter, email, web page or brochure, we sound like we’ve swallowed a thesaurus.

 And as Drew Whitman suggests in his book Cashvertising, by doing this:

 “We are, in effect, flushing our money down the toilet. Why? Because nobody understands what the [email protected]#!* we’re talking about!

It’s 2021…

Not only are people busy, but they’re also extremely lazy.

So, it’s a copywriter’s responsibility to make their text as easy as possible to read.

This means:

This is Copywriting 101 – precise language convinces; flowery language distracts.

Less. Is. More.

4) Writing to sell to your audience

I soon came to realise that one of the only things Copywriting actually has in common with English Literature is that:

All writing is selling.

Even fiction is selling.

It sells an ideology, a philosophy, a fantasy.

At university, I would sell my tutors a viewpoint, an opinion, a perspective.

Now, I write to sell products/services.

However, the key here is that you need to know exactly what you’re selling with your copy before you can write it. 

This means getting to know those products/services inside out.

You can never have enough information to aid your inspiration.

To break it down, you’re essentially selling an ideology and trying to attract people who will be drawn to that idea…

And logically, the number of people you attract is directly proportionate to how well you sell the idea.

Which brings us nicely onto getting to know your audience…

We’ve covered selling an ideology to attract people, but who those people actually are is obviously an extremely important factor.

The style and tone of your writing has to depend on who your readers are.

What’s your demographic?

Who is your audience?

How old are they? Where do they live? What are their interests/hobbies?

Being a relatively new member of the EE team, this aspect is still a work-in-progress for me.

But after reading Kennedy’s book, I came to realise just how important consumer research really is.

I mean, Kennedy literally immerses himself into the lives of his clients to become an embodiment of those he’d like to attract.

Here’s a few ways you can do this:

At the end of the day, if you don’t have a clear idea of who your readers are, your writing will seem aimless and vague.

So make sure you’re clued up before you start writing!

5) Being Yourself

Did you know that the average person in the Western world receives around 150 emails a day?

Yep, 150 🤯

So it’s safe to say that competition for email inbox is at an all-time high…

Which is exactly why it’s so important to stand out from the crowd.

Let’s face it, there’s endless amounts of educational content out there.

And the fact is, people are less responsive to this type of content, because there’s so much of it floating around.

In other words, we’ve become content blind!

But the number of people actually being themselves, telling stories and getting their personality across in their content is surprisingly low.

All too often when writing copy, we forget about being:

And this is exactly where we’re going wrong!

Nowadays, people are so much more receptive to honesty, humour and vulnerability.

Being your authentic self will make you more relatable, helping to establish trust between you and the reader. 

…And here’s a couple of bonus tips 😉

1) Getting into my Dad’s head

Yep, you read that right.

Now this one might be a little subjective, but I thought I’d include it anyway (for comedic value if nothing else).

 There’s really no other way to say this, other than:

 When writing copy, you kind of have to adopt the voice of a dad…

 Which can be quite challenging for a 22-year-old (or anyone who isn’t a middle-aged man).

But seriously, you have to get used to using phrases that are a little out-dated or cringey.

When I’m in writing mode, my brain now magically produces expressions that I have literally never used…

But they just seem to fit!

The only explanation is that my subconscious mind has dragged a memory from its very depths of my dad saying it one time at tea (thanks dad).

Here’s just a few phrases I’ve used in emails:

It’s safe to say that these expressions aren’t part of my everyday vocabulary.

But regardless of the demographic, I’ve noticed that this kind of language just seems to work, and it contributes nicely to that conversational tone I mentioned earlier.

2) Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!

I’ve definitely been guilty of this one in the past.

Obviously this all depends on the tone of your writing and the culture of your company, but generally, I think sparing them is the way to go.

I was always taught that writing was all about making every single thing sound super exciting, and that exclamation marks were the best way to express emotion.

But like in any story, there should be peaks and troughs.

And in fact, using a full stop can be just as impactful, if not more.

You can get your point across without shouting!!!

So, that’s about it for now!

Now, please bear in mind that I began my journey at EE/ECA as Social Media Marketer, so I’ve only been copywriting for around 6 months…

So far, I’ve absolutely loved every minute of it, but obviously I still have a lot to learn (and unlearn) myself!

But either way, I’m hoping that some of these tips came in handy for those of you who have experienced similar challenges in writing.

And who knows, maybe I’ll write another article in 6 months’ time with more of my learnings!

Head over to the Expert Empires Community and let me know your opinions (make sure you tag me in your post).

Beth x

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