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Copywriter Creative Writing

How copywriters write copy

By Andrew Boulton

October 25, 2017 | 5 min read

Copywriting, much like making an omelette, shoplifting or choosing an analogy, is one of those things that seems easier than it actually is.

"a scribbling copywriter must posses the kind of memory palace made famous by Hannibal Lecter"

"a scribbling copywriter must posses the kind of memory palace made famous by Hannibal Lecter" / Photo: Freddy Agurto Par

But, just as you’re likely to be stopped in Waitrose with a shit-load of artichoke hummus shoved down your tracksuit, most people will find it remarkably easy to get copywriting wrong. And that includes copywriters.

You see, while copywriting may seem like the kind of task you could bash out during the big morning wee, it actually requires so much discipline, process, focus and rigour that it could easily be mistaken for actual work.

And while I would not presume to know how every copywriter goes about straddling the white bull, I have observed three common species in the alphabetical ecosystem.

1. The movers

For some amongst us, being asked to write at a desk is like asking a biochemist to develop vaccines in a bingo hall.

Instead, as soon as a brief is tucked inside these copywriters’ brains, you would be less surprised to find Tupac at that their desk than to see them there.

This breed of writer can only think as they move and, quite often, the further and faster they move, the greater the return.

Naturally, a mover isn’t necessarily the most immediately collaborative creative partner. But what they lack in proximity they make up for in prolificacy – only usually returning when they are able to unpack bulging pockets of scribbled ideas. (That is, if they remembered to take a pad.)

2. The scribblers

While a copywriter from the ‘mover’ category could wander into a neighbouring county before ever reaching for their pencil, the scribbler’s whole process begins and ends with documentation.

Scribblers operate under the belief that the answer to their particular problem is already within them. All they need to do is expel every possible idea inside of them and then sift through the glimmering vomit of their imagination – like a dog owner searching for a car key that was swallowed the day before.

To be a successful scribbler, however, you must also be a voracious gobbler of inspiration. To be able to create effectively in such a state of inertia, a scribbling copywriter must posses the kind of memory palace made famous by Hannibal Lecter – only with more clever slogans than human charcuterie.

Scribblers will bash furiously at their keyboard, or toss pencil-grey blankets over page after page of their notepad. And, the excellent ones, will then cross through 99% of everything they wrote before (smugly) handing over a perfectly formed piece of copy.

3. The talkers

Many writers would sooner fake a relative’s death than talk to you about an idea they’re not ready to discuss.

Some writers, however, prefer to do their thinking out loud and, ideally, with someone else in the room.

These copywriters effectively go through a similar process to the scribblers – filling the air, rather than notepad, with the good, bad and heavily plagiarised contents of their imagination.

But, while the scribbler consciously saves the stages of elimination and refinement until the end of their doodlings, the talkers descend swiftly into gloriously chaotic deviation.

Ideas leap quickly from genesis to articulation to an instinctive reaction – a unique platform for testing out the immediacy and impact of an idea. And, while it isn’t always an infallible measure of a line’s merit, an idea that jolt’s the room with excitement nearly always leads to something worth exploring.

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top 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. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

Photo credit: Freddy Agurto Parra

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