Being good at writing and being a good copy or content writer are very different things. It took me a long time to work this out.
I first started content writing on a freelance basis well over a decade ago. I’d tried to change career and it hadn’t worked out, so I fell back on the one thing everyone had always told me I was good at – writing.
I started at a content mill. The pay was bad. So, so bad. But – despite having been employed in a writing/editing role for the previous five years – I wasn’t exactly Peggy Olson either.
I assumed every reader would curl up with a hot cup of tea and read my work like a Dickens. I wasn’t always mindful of the fact that they might skim my work for the information they needed, or only ever read the top line before clicking away. That – horror! – a lot of them wouldn’t want to read my words at all, and that I would have to write in a different way to persuade them to stick around.
And though my sentences were certainly evocative and pleasant to read, was I getting to the point? Not always. Was every idea I expressed crystal clear and fluff-free? Hardly.
Working for significantly less than a tenner an hour meant I spent precisely zero time getting to know the product or the target customer, too. I didn’t understand that words are a rope you use to bind those two worlds together. That if you don’t understand who they are and what they believe, you’ll have no idea where to chuck the grapple hooks.
And I didn’t scrutinise every sentence to make sure it punched as hard as it could. Because I didn’t understand that drafting and redrafting is the thing that will sharpen your idea until it cuts through the noise of the billion other messages competing with it.
Writing for web, to sell, is different to writing for yourself. For your teacher. For your mum. For your boss. Being able to put words in a pleasing order is a great start, but it’s only part of the picture.
I think I can forgive my naivety given I was earning a good deal less than minimum wage for my content-churning efforts. Fast forward through eight years working in various in-house content and communications roles plus a few more back in the freelance world and my approach to writing is unrecognisable.
I think less about wielding my quill, and more about the impact of where those words will land, who will see them, and what we need that person to do.
More importantly, I’ve learned that no writer is ever “done”.
Refining your craft, whatever it may be, is a life’s work.