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Why every copywriter must be able to work alone

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

Michelle Bender (Flickr)

If, like me, you’re not exactly a ‘people person’ I could cheerfully suggest a few careers you may enjoy. A surly mountain shepherd perhaps. A surly pearl diver. Maybe a lollipop lady on a really quiet street – providing the hi-vis doesn’t detract too markedly from the appropriate degree of surliness.

However copywriting, sadly, is no place for the eremitic. From the first scratch of your pencil, through the barrelling and bruising process of agreement, to the gnawed extremities of a project, a copywriter is rarely left alone.

And, for many inspiring and important reasons, this is the way things should be. Mostly.

Creative advertising is a little like herding eels. Despite the best and most rigorous of strategic intentions, it’s a process built on the unpredictability, combustibility and fundamental incompatibility between creative imagination and commercial imperative.

And, thanks to this uneasy splice, birthing an advertising concept is much like birthing a rhino calve – perilous, sticky and requiring many hands.

So a copywriter finds themselves working with a designer, an art director, an account team and ultimately a babushka nest of clients – in ascending order of authority and, unhelpfully, descending appreciation for the journey so far.

But while many young writers are grafted to creative partners from the very beginning, there remains a great deal to be said for the ability to work alone.

Yes, there are no copywriting jobs where you simply slip your words beneath the door and wait patiently for your cheque. But the ability to drive the creative beginnings of the process by yourself is impossibly valuable.

There will be times in any copywriting career, whether in the throbbing assurance of a busy agency or in the pants-and-Pringles tundra of home working, when being able to think, write and create alone will be necessary.

And I’d urge a young writer to seize any brief opportunity to detach themselves from their significant creative other and taste this strange, and deeply satisfying, experience as early as possible.

Because, as well as the ability to generate your own ideas, you learn to manufacture your own sense of internal balance and challenge. You also get the essential, if not always pleasant, experience of fighting for your idea without another creative to absorb their share of the pummelling.

The worst state in which any copywriter can exist is in the impotence of half-ideas – shackled uncertainly to someone else’s imagination while you wait for them to come and complete your thoughts.

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