“Isn’t it really hard, writing when you don’t feel like it?” asked the prospective client I met last week. She wanted to talk to me about some work on a restorative justice campaign and looked slightly taken aback when I told her I was going home after the meeting to work on a leaflet about Turkish carpets.
It’s the freelancer’s lot to have to be able to swing at will from the sublime to the ridiculous (or vice versa, I make no judgements about which is “better”. Prisoners’ rights or Persian rugs, they both have their appeal).
When you earn a living writing, it’s a bit of a luxury to sigh about the tyranny of the blank page. I’m no tortured artist squeezing my lifeblood into my art. I’m unlikely to die romantically of consumption with a leaflet about industrial pumping equipment unfinished on the softly glowing screen of my laptop. I just have to get on with it.
It can sometimes help to remember two golden rules of copywriting:
- Everyone’s first draft is always terrible, and
- Editing is easier than writing.
So write something – anything – knowing that it will bear no relation to what you end up with, and then start fine-tuning it. Getting the right words in the right order is the fun part of writing, whatever you’re writing about. It’s the challenge of switching from prison reform to Tekke rugs that makes the job a joy.
So writing is fine. Being edited. That’s what you have to be in the mood for.
My family is now used to my operatic howls of dismay as a piece of text I have lovingly crafted or edited, pings back into the inbox with the jokes excised; the Random Capital Letters which I have painstakingly removed, replaced; the clear, jargon-free prose contaminated. At which point it’s worth remembering the next golden rule:
- No-one gets it absolutely right first time. Not even you. So don’t take it personally.
Look at the corrections the client has made with an open mind. Just as I’ve never done a perfect first draft, I’ve also rarely produced a piece of work that hasn’t been improved by being edited. The best copy comes when you respect their knowledge of their product and customers and they respect your skills as a writer. The conversations may be tight-lipped at times, but the end result is always better if you’re both fighting your corner (politely and constructively, of course).
If the process is really painful and the blood pressure starts soaring, remember who’s paying. And if all else fails, this heartfelt blast about the iniquities of being edited generally raises a smile:
I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do.
And Amen to that.