Our past is guaranteed to us. As writers, we have the privilege of taking ownership over every word we’ve key-stroked into text. Generally, that’s a good thing. In time, those efforts help build a portfolio that provides proof of who we are. Problem is, what we put down on a resume is only a rough approximation of “what we were” at any point in time; not what we can do today.
Everything you do was once something you’d never done. The real test is always the blank page in front of us. The answer is less about how we got there and more a matter of where we go from here. Good writers are skilled at conveying reliable direction to others, even in unfamiliar territory, which is why an individual with a strong background in one industry should have little trouble adapting his or her tone and style to another.
You can’t change what you’ve done; only what you do. The good news is, for writers, what you do will likely change from day to day. The variety present in the job of a copywriter is one of the things that most appealed to me from the beginning. Now, after more than 20 years in the field, I can attest that what I do remains a work-in-progress.
- Copy on the clock. Having gone through it isn’t the same as bringing something new to it. For seasoned writers, there is little sense of the unknown on the surface. Yet, each new project offers a fresh opportunity to create content that’s decidedly original and distinct from anything that came before it. There is no app for it; only aptitude.
- Free yourself from distraction. Your mind cannot be in two places at once. I believe it takes extraordinary focus to produce well-reasoned and compelling advertising copy. Short of that, most attempts will result in text that, at best, will meander off course and, at worst, lose its bearings altogether. This also happens to be where typos and grammatical mistakes seem to multiply like rabbits.
- Avoid painting yourself into a corner. Being a subject matter expert is a truly valuable thing, but it becomes less so if it’s only relegated to just one thing. There is no cookie-cutter approach to writing copy that works across the board. Nor are there any algorithms or software programs that can do the job of a creative writer. Many decisions are made by instinct, yet they are not instinctual. Your past will get you a seat at the table, but what you do at it — in the moment — will determine whether you get to stay or not.
Not a moment to lose.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.
Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.
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