Copywriting is waiting – it can rarely be done both very thoughtfully and very quickly

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.

Go and read a job advert, any job advert, for a copywriter role. (Don’t read too many at once though, that stuff is bad for you.)

Now, I am willing to wager both my elbows that the ad you read contained the phrase ‘fast paced’ or ‘quick turnaround’ or, at the very least, that old favourite ‘tight deadlines’.

And fair enough. Copywriting, much like bank robbery, is the combination of imagination with momentum.

Much like eskimos and snow, recruiters for creative agencies have a hundred different words for ‘fast’.

But the word you will never find in an advert for a copywriter – or any advertising creative – is ‘patience’.

Possibly this is because patience has no obvious value in an agency – ie you can’t bill it, at least not under that name.

The more troublesome explanation is that agencies see patience as shorthand for procrastination – which, in turn, is a euphemism for slow.

But regardless of how tight the timings, how stretched the studio or how shouty the client, copywriting can rarely be done both very thoughtfully and very quickly.

Waiting is fundamental to the copywriting process.

Waiting for a good idea to come, waiting for a good idea to reveal itself as a bad idea in a clever disguise. There is a strange alchemy in copywriting that only takes place when a line sits for a while in a closed drawer.

Putting words onto a page is easy. The worst of us can do that in a moment and still have time to halfheartedly make seven different types of fruit tea for the account team. But the craft of copywriting is more about what you do after writing.

Of course, a wonderful line may plop right out onto the page at the first attempt. But for every minute that went into writing your ‘great’ line, there should be another 59 making sure it really is great.

This could mean pulling its legs off. It could mean trying to write something so different to the first line they could easily get off with each other at a party and have no idea they’re related. It could mean simply putting it away and letting tomorrow you (always a more objective judge) make the call.

But in a world where creative briefs are tossed into the studio like cold chips into a crowd of seagulls, it takes a courageous writer to demand time – not just time to write words, but the time to be sure they’re the right words.

So by all means tell your new copywriter how fast, how busy, how pressurised your studio will be.

But don’t be surprised if they answer that it’s ever so hard to build a sandcastle in a typhoon.

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer in creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. Follow Andrew on Twitter

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