So you write and say you want to be a copywriter. Are you sure you’re asking the right girl? After all, I did leave the profession just so I could walk around museums all day and eat crêpes. I’m not exactly the poster child for a long, lavish career in advertising.
Though I may be the poster child for successfully leaving it.
But since you asked, I offer you my most sincere advice in hopes that you are provided with the tools you need to make a sensible decision about whether or not you should partake in the exciting world of advertising.
Janice’s top 12 thoughts on becoming a copywriter:
1. People will tell you that getting into advertising is too hard and competitive. Don’t listen to these people. Though this is true, it’s harder for people who aren’t actually good at it. As they say in Canada, if keep your stick down and eyes on the puck, you’ll be closer to your goal. Don’t listen to naysayers. They’ll harsh your mellow.
2. You say you don’t like when people tell you what to do. The good news is that nobody likes this, so you’re in good company. The bad news is that people tell you what to do all the time in advertising. But as the copywriter, you can convince them otherwise. Your entire career is based on the assumption that you actually can convince people to buy what you’re selling. And sometimes you won’t convince them and you’ll do what they want anyway because the client’s wife wants it that way and he’s trying to make her happy so she doesn’t find out about the floozie Project Manager he’s boinking at lunch time in the hotel two business parks down the parkway.
3. You will meet incredible people. You will learn a lot about iPhones. You will nearly pee your pants laughing while at work and even later whilst driving home, remembering that funny thing the Art Director said. Gosh that was funny. You will also cry. There will be people who will find you crying in the bathroom. Hopefully it’s the receptionist or the Print Manager with photos of her dogs on her desk who will hold you while you shake out “I HATE new business pitches. RFPs can suck it.” Sometimes, you will yell at your computer. You will talk to the printer. But you’ll be in good company. We all take it out on the machines.
4. You will meet the account guy who always wanted to be a copywriter but never made it. He will try to feed you ideas and pray that you ask him to be a junior copywriter. You will be glad you kept your stick down and eyes on the puck so that you didn’t become that guy. He drinks a lot.
5. You will make money. As my wise copywriter friend Jeff always reminds: The checks clear. You will likely spend most of it and end up struggling like everyone else unless you get wise and save up so you can quit your job at the brink of burnout and hall your suitcase to Paris to redefine your life. Or something of that sort. It’s been known to happen.
6. Balance is bogus. It may take you a very long time to realize that some jobs don’t give you a balanced life. Doctors and copywriters are in this category. Somehow it’s justified when you’re saving someone’s life. Less so when you’re clogging their mailboxes with flyers. But then again, everyone is fed, or at least that’s what your partner tells you when you call and say you won’t make it home for dinner. Again.
7. You get to draw pictures all day, which has more than just moments of okay-ness. It can actually be fun. You will also have an impressive job title for parties, especially since Mad Men.
8. Food for thought: I was once sitting in traffic in LA en route to the advertising agency. I looked across from me and Jon Hamm, the star of Mad Men, was sitting in traffic. He was heading to the studio to play the roll of someone like me. I was wishing I could be playing the role of anyone but me.
9. Burnout is a big, real, unhealthy thing. However, you usually get laid off enough that you’ll have time to (sort of) recover before the next gig. And once you convince another Creative Director to hire you, and once pay off the credit cards you lived off of while you were “in between,” you’ll love advertising again. Soon after, burnout will ensue. Apathy will follow. Then you’ll get laid off again. It’s the (arghm) Creative Circle of life.
10. You’ll start writing long-winded emails and wax poetically about your old advertising life like people in AA talk about their wild party days.
11. You’ll have a marketable skill that can open doors. Being a copywriter means you get paid to practice writing every single bloody day and this is a good life skill. For me, it’s led to a fancy New York literary agent, a great book deal, a fun letter writing business, plus a little bit of freelance copywriting if the price is right and it doesn’t get in the way of my museum going and crêpe eating. Copywriting still pays most of my bills. It taketh but it also giveth.
12. Before you do anything, read Linds Redding’s perspective on his life in copywriting.
But after all this, in the end I was glad I became a copywriter, even if some days I loathed it with the white hot heat of a thousand burning suns. I was also glad I stopped being a copywriter. Sure, sometimes it makes you feel like you’re in the trenches, but you aren’t actually in trenches. You’re never going to get your hands dirty or have to break your back lugging bricks. You’ll meet nice people and sit in a temperature-controlled environment. And that, my friend, is a dream job for most people. Perhaps one day it will be yours, too.
PS You had mentioned you’re a musician at heart. Do NOT stop playing music. Never. Stop. Doing. What. You. Love. No matter how many new business pitches you have, they aren’t worth it. Keep playing.