I shouldn’t be saying this. I’m a full-time professional copywriter who’s been at this gig for more than 15 years. I’ve worked with countless clients to shape business and marketing communications into effective copy that achieves tangible goals. But here’s my secret: I hate writing. Or rather, certain aspects of writing make me so consistently uncomfortable that I hate it in the moment. These are my low points.
And yet, I remain in this career. Because, here’s the irony, all of the aspects that make writing difficult, draining, and frustrating are the same things that also make it rewarding, worthwhile, and—dare I say it—fun.
So here are my dark thoughts laid bare, along with the reasons why these are all actually good things and necessary for creating quality work.
Clients get really annoyed with me.
This makes me uncomfortable because I want clients to like me enough to keep working with me. But part of my job as a writer is to challenge them. I need to disassemble their point of view and identify blind spots.
I’m doing this to anticipate audience objections, but I’m also looking for the “hooks”—the attention-grabbing insights. They often hide outside of view, so I have to dig deep to find them. But when I do, it’s like unearthing an uncut gem that I can polish until it shines. These treasures reveal a fresh angle. This makes me feel like I have secret super-insight and can see things that others can’t. That’s satisfying.
So much of writing is not actually writing.
A lot of people don’t realize how much is involved in preparing for a writing assignment, even a short piece. Words on a page only represent a small portion of the full effort. To be able to write those words, I need to understand a client’s business as well as they do. I also need to understand a client’s audience, probably a little better than they do. This requires lots of time-consuming background research.
But something happens in the process of ramping up. The more I learn, the more invested I become in a client’s business and their audience’s hopes, fears, and motivations. I begin to identify and relate. As it turns out, copywriting is about more than the words; it’s about communicating, capturing attention and interest, and ultimately forming connections among humans. Creating that bridge is important, even if it’s often unappreciated.
Someone might see my mess.
Developing content is by nature iterative. You start raw and refine toward a finished state. This is not always a clean process. As a creative, my thoughts are mostly an abstract mess, and early drafts can reveal glimpses of my messy mind. I get nervous that clients will think I’m bad at what I do.
But a big part of creative work is ignoring uncertainty and continuing anyway. As I revise, a tangible, coherent thing begins to emerge. Intent and effort finally synergize into an effective message or copy that flows with ease, and suddenly all the work starts to mean something. Transforming nothing into something feels powerful. It makes up for the mess.
Presenting creative is terrifying.
As a writer, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in the occasional feeling that all of my ideas are terrible. We can be a fairly morose and cynical bunch. This feeling is especially tempting when I have to be creative on command, such as when I’m developing a conceptual approach, original message, or an attention-grabbing headline. Presenting creative work leaves you vulnerable. You’re putting ideas out there for scrutiny and just hoping that you’ve guessed it right.
However, accepting constructive criticism is simply a part of the job. Sometimes you nail it. Sometimes you don’t. After experiencing criticism enough times, I’ve realized that it isn’t actually that bad. When the opposite happens and clients like my stuff, it feels really great. Creative work is risky, but there’s always something to learn, so it’s always worthwhile.
It’s mentally exhausting.
Writing is not like knitting. You don’t sit down to your work and pick up exactly where you left off, looping out a few words here and there while watching TV or waiting for the bus. Writing is more like standing on one foot while juggling. It takes a lot of effort and focus, so you can’t do it very well when you’re tired, stressed, or distracted. This is why writers are often behind on deadlines, by the way.
But when I finally settle down into the writing process, I can achieve what’s called a state of flow. Flow happens when you’re so absorbed in a task that you’re not conscious of your surroundings or time passing. Flow is relaxing and good for your brain. For me, it makes up for all the anxiety around irritating my clients, feeling self-conscious about my messy thoughts, and the scariness of presenting creative ideas. I even write for myself on the side, if you can believe that.
To all the writers out there, your pain is real. Hugs. To all the poor souls who have to work with writers, maybe these insights into the mental and emotional contortions that a writer goes through to squeeze out copy will help the next project go more smoothly. OK, maybe this is all a little exaggerated for effect, but give me a break. I’m a writer.