Copywriting: time to make the doughnuts

It's a strange life, this sole-proprietor copywriting thing. Each day, the would-be copywriter must wake up from a blissful oh-man-it's-warm-and-cozy-in-here dream (warmth being a particularly prominent part of the dream if you live in Montana) to face a harsh, cold reality: I've gotta write something brilliant, meet my deadline and/or convince someone to pay me the big bucks today.

After 10 years as the queen of my own LLC, I can tell you, without reservation, that the ass-puckering daily encounter with reality still remains -- to some extent. But without knowing it, without having a roadmap, without anyone telling me so, I did, in fact, develop a routine that quietly reassures me through every creative tussle, including those occasional death-match dealios with Satan.

Generally, here's how it goes:

Every day, I wake up with one of two feelings (um, well, that is, right AFTER the newlywed ALL-goodness buzz) :
1) Crap! Did I really promise that? I now have 17 impossible deadlines.
2) Crap! Somehow NO ONE needs my brilliant writing today! Am I washed up forever?

Next, I generally go feed my horses, and tell them I am either a) screwed because I over-committed, or b) screwed because I am a no-talent ass-clown that no one will hire ever again.

After their typical response: Hmm.. ok, is that food? I pick up the paper, make coffee, read the headlines and conclude that most of the world is comprised of no-talent ass-clowns, and then (or therefore) get down to business:

For the assignments I have, I first prioritize: Deadlines I -- when the client needs the paid-for project, and when content dovetails with other steps in the production process -OR- Deadlines II -- when I can realistically deliver something asked for without a deadline.

Next, I break it down. One step at a time, usually starting with clearly and absolutely defining what is needed. What is the real assignment? What am I trying to accomplish? What do my clients really need from me today, and how will it be recognizable to them when I deliver it? That last part, about being recognizable, is crucial: will they get it, or will they just wonder what palaver I am throwing around today? I create a mental picture of the thing the client wants from me.

Then, I give it shape. Frankly, I hated it in high school and college when teachers told me to make an outline. I thought outlines were a waste of time that you could be spending on the actual writing. But after years in this business, even though I refuse to call it an outline, I do need some visual, almost tangible construct to get it all clear in my head. I love to work with graphic designers who have a clear vision about the end product, and I love photos and illustrations and even rough layouts. And just as much, I love a very clear view of where we're going with this. Start, process, finish. You'll know what you have to write.

The writing? Just start. I start with the ideas and shapes I have, and I do put them right there into a Word doc. Even just typing in the name of the project, the client's name and anything else you DO know for a fact is a start. Then, go. Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, "what am I really trying to say here?" Really... what am I trying to say? It's amazing how much the desire for Advertising Brilliance sometimes takes us away, even prevents us, from saying what we came to say. Yep, there is a brilliant way to say it, but if you focus on an outcome without going right through the truth, you are sunk.

Five or six or seven hours later, I'm generally hitting an interim SAVE or a final SEND button with a pretty good feeling that I've hit the mark. Or, worst-case scenario, that I've gotten this job off my plate long enough to get a good night's sleep and hit it again in the harsh, cold morning.

Written By:Jill Draper On June 18, 2005 7:16 PM

Like all good writing, your post captures the truth. The inner workings of the solo creative mind is full of swings.

I especially liked your admonition not to let the desire for brilliance overshadow your need to communicate.

Nice blog. I'll check in from time to time.

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