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November 14, 2016

Four Things I Learned During My First Month as a Copywriter Intern

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By: Matt Swecker, Copywriter

As soon as I hung up my white lab coat and dove head-first into the pursuit of a career in copywriting (with a skeleton of a portfolio), I became a full-time networker. Classmates in Copywriting 101 had tipped me off that this would be the best way to land my first gig as a writer.

My planner filled up with schmoozy events, meet-and-greets, coffee dates, and informational interviews. Through many discussions, I received plenty of great guidance for a copywriter like myself, starting from scratch. Things like: ask for work and do it well, be curious, learn what people do, ask for clarification of expectations, and don’t fall in love with any ideas. Even so, there were some things that nobody told me about life at an agency. That few could have told me. Things that would have been really helpful to know. Read on, young copywriter, and be stronger for it.

Write and Don’t Stop

You’re being paid to write now. So write!

I like to think that I can handle pressure, but this was a kind of pressure I’d never experienced – the pressure to be creative on the clock. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time, but in practice, the clock ticks loudly, the time flies by, and a blank page is daunting. Gone are the days of writing on an inspirational whim. It’s time to make your own.

Sometimes you get lucky and you have a week to spend on your first brief, brainstorming and writing. But inevitably the time comes when a client gives an urgent request, asking for, say, radio ads, which you’ve never written before. You have two hours. Go. That’s when the voice in the back of your head hits the panic button. Am I cut out for this? What if I fail?

The only way out is through. Write. Start writing and keep writing. Write all the terrible nonsense that comes through your panicked brain first. Read it. Read it aloud and keep panicking. But also keep writing. The more you write, the more you’ll work through your thoughts and find the good ones, the effective ones. Get good at writing while you cringe at your own writing. But please, don’t leave a blank page blank.

Own Your Work

In my first week I sent a rough draft to my supervisor for opinions. It was a word doc, no titles, no fluff, just naked copy. And the next thing I knew, it was circulating around the office for revisions. I was totally ashamed because I knew how rough it was. If I’d known it was going to circulate I would have waited, refined, dressed it up a bit.

Before you send any copy, to anyone, make sure it’s ready. Make sure that it’s not going to make you blush if everyone reads it. Make sure your words are wearing their best suit and tie and they’re ready to go slay the dance floor. If you aren’t done with the copy, don’t pass it along. And if you do want opinions on direction, print out one copy, stick it in front of their face, and leave with it in your hand, marked up. Your work represents you. Own it and make it as great as it can be.

Let It Go

Once you have written some things you’re not terribly ashamed of, pass them on for revisions and comments and let them go. It’s almost good to forget it was you that wrote it. So that if and when it comes back torn to bits, you aren’t all bent out of shape about it. Your personal writing may be sacred to you (I’m sure your poetry is fantastic, even if nobody ‘gets’ it), but your professional writing cannot be. You’re trying to write the most effective copy you can, for a purpose, for a client, that is paying money to have it written. Feedback and criticism is your friend. It makes you better in the long run.

Voice Your Opinion

I am painfully aware of how little experience I have. Everything around the office is new to me. Because of this, I am constantly torn between sitting back absorbing information like a sponge, and giving my opinion on subjects I feel I have little authority to give my opinion about, possibly making myself look like a fool.

Here’s the thing. You will make yourself look like a fool. That’s part of being inexperienced. But voicing your opinions, in a respectful way, is a win-win. On one hand, you’re a set of fresh eyes, and your opinion may be the missing piece, the new perspective that sparks a different idea or direction. And on the other hand, you make an ass of yourself, or ask a stupid question (I don’t care what people say, there is such thing as a stupid question), and through burning cheeks you learn something you won’t soon forget.

Go Forth

It’s one thing to hear advice, and an entirely different thing to learn the hard way. So go forth and write, early and often. Hopefully, I’ve saved you from my mistakes, so that you can be a pioneer in your own.