The Secret Life of Copywriters
Published on Jan 29, 2015 by Stephanie Rizzo
In an age where content is king, words are everywhere, and the demand for people to write them is steadily growing. For recent Creative Writing grads, copywriting is a great way to support yourself while waiting for your novel or screenplay to take off. Of course, writing all day for a living can take its toll on a creative mind. Many writers find that their creative output suffers as a result of taking on a paid gig. At a certain point, it becomes helpful to define your goals: Are you a creative moonlighting as a copywriter or the other way around? If you feel the latter is true, we have a few tips to help you change your perspective.
One of the biggest factors in prioritizing one aspect of your work over the other is money. Getting paid to do a job raises the stakes, and increases the likelihood of sticking to a deadline. Chanel Dubofsky is a freelance writer and editor based out of Brooklyn, NY who's written for Cosmopolitan, The Toast, and The Billfold. She suggests imposing rigid deadlines on your creative writing, the same way you would your paid work.
“When it comes to my creative work, I’m one of those people who needs to stew on it for a long time. Once that fear [of missing a deadline] is fully present, then that’s what makes me do it,” she says.
Another good strategy is to break your creative writing time down into manageable chunks. Dr. Josh Begley, a Course Director in Full Sail’s Creative Writing for Entertainment bachelor's program writes for 15 minutes every day.
“Before I was a teacher, I would write from 9-11 in the evening,” says Josh. “Now, I might be in class during those hours, or I might have a morning class that I need to be up for. I’m in the classroom up to 18 hours a week and the rest of my time is spent grading.”
A quarter of an hour may seem like a relatively insignificant amount of time, but for Josh, it’s something that fits easily into his hectic schedule. Whether it’s setting aside a few minutes between grading papers, or writing for 15 minutes before bed, he can slot it in on even the busiest days, which means no excuses when it comes to getting the work done.
“Writers are so perverse—we love the work and we hate it at the same time. But I reason with myself like, look, it’s only 15 minutes. You can do this. The funny thing is, the first couple of sentences are hard, but once I get into it, the writing just flows.”
Since starting the practice six months ago, Josh has completed four short story drafts. Although he’s able to easily switch between his teaching work and writing, it’s not always a fluid process. When it comes to switching modes, Chanel finds it helpful to think of her copywriting work as a welcome respite from her creative struggles.
“I think it’s actually good for my brain. I think about my characters all the time, so allowing that part of my brain to click off once in a while is something I need. It’s a good mental break.”
She adds that while it’s important to take all of your work seriously, it’s equally important to bear in mind that most copywriting and freelance jobs aren’t about you as an artist. While it makes sense that you would fight for certain artistic choices in your personal work, doing so in a professional capacity could earn you a reputation for being difficult to work with.
“Yes, you might be contributing ideas, and it’s your writing,” says Chanel. “But if you’re going to be precious about it and fight every edit, people won’t want to work with you.” Focus on putting out the best work you can within the parameters of what the client is asking for. A good editor will work with you as long as you choose your battles carefully.
Finally, both Chanel and Josh agree that the best way to strike a balance between your creative and professional life is to cut yourself some slack.
“Sometimes I have to let a week go by where I don’t write anything [creative]. And that has to be okay. It doesn’t mean it’s over, it just means that I’m taking time to strategize.” says Chanel.
“There are going to be days when you don’t get to the work that you’re passionate about,” adds Josh. “Just keep at it, be persistent, and if you do stumble or you find that it’s not working that day, have the strength to forgive yourself.”