Copywriter Andrew Boulton on the dangers of only ever writing in the same place.
Some jobs are fixed to a certain environment. Pilots can only actually pilot if they are in a cockpit. Otherwise they’re little more than an overdressed airport accoutrement, no more distinct in that setting than an uncomfortable plastic bench or the faint ‘poof’ of a suspicious duffle bag being blown up by security.
Copywriting, on the other hand, is not tethered to a particular point. Except, of course, when it is. Which, of course, is a lot.
Survey the copywriters in your immediate circle and I’d be surprised if all of them did not spend most of their creative time in the same spot, working with the same apparatus, trying to scrape inspiration from the same surroundings.
Yes most copywriters are, willingly or unknowingly, drawn to confinement, soothed by the familiar. We are wild animals flinging ourselves in front of a zookeeper, eagerly volunteering to abbreviate our own territory.
On the one hand it is understandable. Familiarity, comfort and the reassuring sovereignty of a habitual space all add up to a controlled and consistent place to work.
But, in our line or work, controlled and consistent can provoke an unusual sort of chaos. At the very least, it breeds a stale sort of fluency that gradually erodes the need for imagination.
We are, after all, not authors or poets with a distinct voice to refine and maintain. In their case, writing in the same way, at the same time, in the same setting may be essential to preserving the ‘self’ in their work.
But as copywriters, allowing a distinctly personal terroir to permeate what we write is the opposite of our basic function.
In other, less French, words there is a danger that only writing in the same environment, and through the same behaviours, will only allow you to write in a style determined by the rigidity of your method.
Whether we recognise it not, the conditions in which we write will inevitably seep into our process and therefore our output. It sounds simplistic to say that if we always write where we’ve always written, then we’ll always say what we’ve always said. But there is a valid theory that without adaptation, challenges and a shift in perspective, copywriting becomes more about easy answers than effective ones.
Essentially, the only signature a copywriter should leave behind is their invisibility. Our purpose is to absorb, and be absorbed in turn, by the uniqueness of the brief, the problem, the voice and the audience. That leaves no room for an approach propped up by convention or throttled by routine.
For unknowable reasons, copywriting is one of those strange self-dogmatising professions – creating a perverted belief system in which stimulation is unnecessary and stagnation is allowed to go unseen.
And then, before we realise it, we’re just sad pilots without a plane. Wandering pointlessly through Duty Free, gazing wistfully at the big Toblerones.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @boultini