The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

No pencil, no problem – the art of survival copywriting

By Andrew Boulton

March 23, 2016 | 3 min read

There can’t be many amongst the copywriting community who have never had a potentially magnificent idea slip away, like a crumbly biscuit in the ocean. In fact, it’s almost a copywriting badge of honour to have found inspiration at precisely the same moment you lost your pencil.

Of course nowadays the chances of being adrift from any medium for recording thoughts is preposterously slender. Such a scenario could only conceivably occur following a series of unfortunate events, beginning most likely with a smashed, drowned or simply malfunctioning smart phone.

Very rarely, in this age of palm-ready posterity, should we find ourselves manically gnawing a witty headline into a tree branch with our teeth.

And yet, in a medium where inspiration keeps less regular hours than we do, it pays to be prepared to pin each and every flash of an idea inescapably within your reach.

In fact, many copywriters I know write exclusively away from their desk, and indeed office. I’ve known writers whose initial response to a brief involved nothing more structured than a long walk punctuated by occasional breaks for scribbling.

Likewise, how many times have we spent the day dragging lazy and obvious headlines to the table only for the perfect solution to jolt us from an uneasy sleep? Even if your mobile phone remains so close to you it may as well be an additional kidney, it seems impossibly cocky to go to bed without a pad and pencil within reach.

And what if, like many copywriters, you simply can’t associate the creative approach with tapping clumsily at a keyboard? If you’re the type of writer who can only properly judge the merits and limitations of a line that has been scrawled by your own aching hand, then to leave home without emergency writing rations is like setting off to crack a safe with nothing more than a packet of wafer thin ham.

Whatever hours may be reflected in your pay slip, copywriting is one of those dreadful, inescapable professions where your finest work can take place entirely by accident and with no ample warning. Unfortunately, it’s also a scenario where we are so drenched in words and phrases that our powers of recollection are frequently not up to the task – even when what we’re trying to remember is possibly, or so we believe, the greatest idea we’ve ever had.

Treat copywriting as a wilderness pursuit. Act as if there’s been an unexpected stationery apocalypse and you may never see another writing implement as long as you live. After all, we can safely assume that the fellow who came up with the motto ‘Be Prepared’ had, if nothing else, remembered his pencil.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +