What does a copywriter need to do his/her job? I asked myself this question today and whilst the mind boggled with a number of pretentious and coincidentally shit ideas, I believe I have narrowed it down to just 5 actual, existing things we need.
No it isn’t a pen, a piece of paper, a creative mind, a love for words and a strong coffee (these were my pretentious ideas).
This list is not exhaustive and could potentially be huge, but I don’t think I could do it without any of these. Please argue with me.
1. The pen is not mightier than the PC
Yes, a PC (if you’re reading this you have one, and understand blogs, websites – congrats on that by the way). Well, a computer of some type, whether you’re a loveable MAC user, or a disease ridden PC user (like me), there is no getting around it, you need a computer. I have read far too many comments about how a pen is all you need.
We need a PC to e-mail, to access resources, build websites, host blogs, comment in forums, keep abreast of current news and of course most importantly word process. You need Microsoft Word or something to that end. Do not use TextEdit (MAC) or Notepad (PC), as it lacks formatting options, spell-checker etc. It is also highly likely clients will want your copy in something like Word, or a pdf version so Adobe Acrobat is always good to have around too.
2. Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus of English
I’m talking about the big fuck off bastard one. The one that creaks when it opens and hurts when you drop it on your toe. If you like words (as you hopefully do, being a copywriter) then understanding their origin, meaning and relationship to other words is obviously essential. I like the Oxford version for it’s friendliness.
Now you may think this is obvious, but far too many people I know rely on that stupid thesaurus in Word (I know I just praised i, but it’s not all good) which doesn’t help all the time.
3. A copy of George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics & The English Language’
Truly inspirational stuff from the late and great George. A man who saw the connection between words and politics and how certain phrases, specific words and jargon are used to deliberately blur meaning and generally confuse us. This essay is downloadable from a number of sites including this one.
In this essay are golden rules for any writer. I really felt ashamed after reading it, as I have often made these mistakes and you can’t help but agree with everything he says.
4. One of those how to become a copywriter books
Something like The Copywriters Handbook by Bob Bly or a number of other ‘How To’s’. There are some good tips in there, and the kind of jobs a freelancer gets from places like elance.com or getafreelancer.com are covered well.
But mainly get one because it makes you not want to write like a used car salesman. I am angered by laziness in writing and I also believe there has been too much ‘Americanism’ in writing allowed into the UK.
5. Your own blog or website
Somewhere to post your work, get involved in the community, provide contact details and essentially just a bit more credibility i.e. Copyvirgin. I recommend wordpress or blogger for a blog.
You can get a domain with hosting for less than £5 a month ($10), and it is surprisingly easy to do it all yourself just following guides on various websites. I did it with no knowledge of html or servers or anything.
The chosen 5
So that is my 5 things you need to be a copywriter. I could have made a list of 10 or 20, but these 5 seem (to me at least) pretty much the essentials in forging a career in copywriting.
I think it covers the instruments, the general rules but most importantly the motivation to get going in the first place.
These are by no means exhaustive. I would be very interested to hear what others believe are the essentials.