I wrote recently that a lot of copywriting left me cold. I also often claim that I don’t enjoy copywriting. This week I was reminded that’s not strictly true.
Copywriting: The activity or occupation of writing the text of advertisements or publicity material.
Creative writing is like being a dog who’s just been let off the leash in the park, whereas even a good copywriting commission is more like being allowed to run around a bit, but still being restricted by one of those long dog leashes. The worst copywriting jobs, the ones I dislike most, are like being taken to the park and kept on a choker lead. They strangle creativity, sending writers down a preordained road that’s destined to end at Blandville.
While it’s true I far prefer free-form, more creative writing, there are elements to good copywriting jobs I do enjoy. One of these is the challenge of meeting word counts.
Being able to stick to word counts is a discipline that is essential for a writer. Can’t get the required message across within a set number of words, and you’ll never be a professional writer. Even book authors keep word counts in mind when creating the next great novel, there are industry guidelines. General fiction should come in between 80,000 to 100,000 words, whereas sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy can get away with being longer, ideally around 125,000.
My Scottish book is 94,000. I didn’t aim for that. The originally draft was considerably longer, but a couple of edits brought it into the right ball-park figure without me feeling as though I’d sacrificed anything important.
When it comes to writing articles, the figure you’ve got to play with creates far more of a challenge.
In the last week, I’ve written five articles of lengths varying from 200 to 700 words. Within two of these, individual sections had word counts of 50 and 80 words. One involved taking a series of quotes of varying lengths and pruning them, so they all had the same word count, without losing the key elements of each. In a way, working with words can be like kneading dough; you work them till you’ve got it right. This is the challenge, and it’s immensely satisfying to turn a rough remit into something informative you’re happy for people to read.
Of course, the satisfaction only comes when the topic is interesting and the remit you’re given is good. When it’s poor, it’s like being handed a poisoned chalice and no amount of word alchemy is going to help you. That’s the side of copywriting which has me gnashing my teeth, and why I’ll usually give copywriting a wide body swerve.
This week, though, I’m back on friendly terms with copywriting, putting a chummy arm around its shoulders and saying “you’re not so bad, are you? I’ve quite enjoyed us hanging out together.”
No doubt next week I’ll be back to spitting at the very mention of the word.