Confessions of a Copywriter

LOLcat amazed

In a perfect world. we’d all know our value. This is not a perfect world. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like an imposter. Me too. Especially as a copywriter. People either think I’m way smarter than I actually feel, or they simply have no idea what I do and how I do it. Either way tends to leave me at a loss for words sometimes (no pun intended).

Last week, it occurred to me: I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way.

This is a confession. My own personal confession as a copywriter. Because (and here’s my first confession), I often feel inadequate when I feel like someone assumes I’m smarter than I feel like I actually am. Like all copywriters should be these awesome, wonderful, intelligent, creative, magical creatures who know the English language inside and out, and if I don’t live up to one of these misconceptions, I’m failing my own vocation. Like I’m not a ‘real’ copywriter if I don’t fit the pre-defined mold.

So, my putting these out there hopefully lets you know that you’re not alone if you ever feel the same way.

Myth: I correct people’s grammar.

Fact: Only if I want to annoy them.

A lot of copywriters I know do this. However, I’d rather focus on what someone is trying to tell me than on their mechanics. I’m not a one-writer crusader out to single-handedly fix the world’s incorrect word usage, broken grammar and offending typos. And I’m okay with that; it leaves me more time to read.

Tip: Annoying someone by correcting their grammar is most satisfying when done in person so you can see their face and rob them of the chance to edit their response into something productive. I know from personal experience.

Myth: I’ve read all the literary classics.

Fact: No, I haven’t. And I probably never will.

In fact, there are several I won’t even put on my TBR list so I can look intellectual on goodreads. Some I enjoy. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse. But put off reading Stephen King’s latest in favor of War & Peace? No. That will never happen.

Bonus confession: I’m the only writer I know who hates (yes, hates) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I had to read that book five times in high school and college and do a book report each time—and I never figured out what that green light at the end of the pier stood for. Really, Fitzgerald? Overthink much? You suck.

Myth: I know all there is to know about the English language.

Fact: *laughs hysterically*

unrealistic idealsAgain, a lot of copywriters I know know a lot about the mechanics of the English language. Now here’s a quick question: Have you picked up a physical copy of the Chicago Manual of Style lately? It’s a 1,000+ pages. And even it doesn’t cover everything, such as spelling. I can’t remember the code to get into our mailbox; I’m not committing the entire English language, plus its mechanics and history, to memory. I may not know all the ‘rules,’ but I know what works, what doesn’t and when it’s a good time to bend the ‘rules.’

Because it’s advertising copy, not an Encyclopedia entry.

This style guide is too heavy. Pass me my Stephen King paperback, please.

Myth: I’m a mystical, mysterious wizard of words.

Fact: I enjoy what I do and work hard to continually hone my craft.

I love it when people appreciate what I do; it helps make up for the larger number of people who have no idea what I do and think they can do it themselves.

But it’s embarrassing when these kind, well-meaning people don’t understand that, as with any vocation, it takes hard work and practice to do what I do, well. I wasn’t born on a sweet summer’s day under the full moon, and my forehead has never been anointed by a blind fairy with the mystical dew from a five-leaf clover. I just constantly work on getting better.

Ignore the animalistic chanting and supplications for inspiration, please. That’s just how the creative process works.

Myth: I’m not a ‘real’ writer.

Fact: Yes I am.

LOcat doing jobLast week, a colleague asked me if I’d ever thought of becoming a ‘real’ writer. What she meant was had I ever thought of becoming a novelist. And, during a discussion about ways to generate passive income, another colleague suggested that if I wrote a book that sold well, it could lead to an outside revenue stream.

That’s the dream, my friend.

Copywriters make a living by artfully combining words to communicate ideas, and to compel people to take action or evoke thoughtful dialogue. Our livelihoods are built on our ability to apply critical thinking skills, communication skills, people skills and writing expertise to help build businesses and audiences.

Put more succinctly, our job is to find the right combination of the right words to get the job done and get paid. That’s called being a writer.

Or, as I often tell people, “I make pretty sentences for a living.”

Myth: My writing is always flawless.

Fact: *more hysterical laughing*

I make a lot of mistakes. True, I’m going to catch most of my typos (especially after I click Send, Submit or Publish). But I’m a human being. And, as I’ve already confessed, I’m no master of the English language. It’s a constant learning process, and sometimes those lessons are going to include screwing up. It’s par for the course.

Bonus confession: When someone corrects me, I’m not mad. I just feel silly for making the mistake in the first place and I’m thinking of how to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Unless they’re being a jerk about it.

Myth: I’m eccentric.

Fact: Okay, I’ll give them that one.

Of course I’m odd. Most writers I’ve met are a little skewed; it’s our job and our nature. That’s just how we roll. We are, as a group (and yes I’m aware I’m making a large generalization here), eccentric, insecure, creative, anxious people. And I daresay, based on statistics I’m totally make up on the spot and which are not based on any study whatsoever, that many of us also suffer from Imposter Syndrome. If you’re one, then you’re one of us and hopefully this has made you feel a little less lonely and a little more okay with picking up Danielle Steel’s latest instead of reading Crime and Punishment.

Over to you…

What are some of your writerly confessions around Imposter Syndrome? Share in the comments. You’re among friends.

10 thoughts on “Confessions of a Copywriter

  1. Did you perchance mean “I’m failing my own vocation”? You have vacation, and if that’s what you meant, then please disregard. :)Lisa_____________________________________________Lisa Easterling♥ Living, loving, learning, teaching, doing all the things. ♥

  2. “Real writer”, lol. You’re totally a real writer, if these posts are any indication. Not with you on Gatsby though–I taught that novel for many years, and never got sick of it (although I’m sure some students didn’t enjoy it, but a lot told me they did)! It’s always the part at the end when his father pulls that list of goals out of his pocket that gets me every time.

    • I fully respect your difference of opinion on The Great Gatsby and rejoice that it made at least someone happy. I once asked my teacher what the point of the book was because I wasn’t seeing it. She told me that the book was about how pointless it all was. I responded with “Well then, if it’s about pointlessness, what’s the point of reading it.” We got stuck in a conversational loop that went nowhere.

      There was just no coming back from that. 😦

      Also: Thank you for the very kind compliment! You just made my day. 🙂

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