In truth, I could have called this ‘the difference between copywriting and travel writing, and any other kind of creative writing. I reference copywriting or ‘writing copy’ quite a lot but, unless you’re in the business, you might not be sure what what it involves.
Google search ‘copywriting’ and you’ll see this definition: the activity or occupation of writing the text of advertisements or publicity material.
That’s basically it. But there’s more. I like the way writer Alex Cattoni describes it on her website: ‘…in a nutshell, copywriting is the art of crafting words for the sole purpose of conversion… Good copy convinces people to take action.’
It is writing to make people do something … spend money. Websites, flyers, magazines, newspapers, book cover, the blurb for movies, adverts and so on, all involve copywriting.
I’m not a copywriter. But I have written copy at various times throughout my writing career, and it’s the aspect of writing I like least.
Travel writing usually, not always, involves writing about somewhere the author knows well. Writers can delve into first-hand experiences, knowledge, information they’ve picked up travelling around a destination. The people, the food, the views, the smells, sounds etc. are all tools used to mould an article around a theme. Real knowledge of a place is essential.
Creative writing is even better. It’s like a dog being let off the leash in a park. You can run in straight lines, big circles, bark at birds, jump in rivers, do whatever the hell you want.
Copywriting, on the other hand, is being in shackles by comparison. You’re told exactly what to do, and often how to do it. Occasionally, that can be challenging. Working to strict remits, tight deadlines, and limited word count is a good foundation for writing in general. But in many cases, it can lead to bland text. The upside is that with copywriting, your name doesn’t get attached. If you produce something and it’s turned into magnolia-coloured mush by an editor, then it doesn’t matter. Except it does. Every time it happens, a creative part of you withers and dies.
Years ago, at the start of our travel writing careers, Andy and I were commissioned to write website blurb for a chain of Croatian hotels. There were dozens of them, each virtually indistinguishable from the other. And each was meant to sound different. We exhausted ways to describe ‘show cooking’ involving the same regional specialities. It put food on the table and was good experience, but it was tedious.
Mostly, a lack of knowledge of a destination is a handicap when it comes to copywriting. I can spot copywritten travel articles a mile off (it has crept into ‘real’ travel writing more and more). When we visited Croatia years after writing about the hotels, and saw a couple of them, I realised not knowing the brand could sometimes be a bonus. What we wrote might have made the hotels sound appealing, but the reality didn’t match. And that’s what copywriting can be. Not always. But sometimes, like when travel brochures/websites refer to ‘charming fishing villages’ which are really purpose-built tourist resorts.
It’s not an aspect of writing I like, and mostly I’ll avoid it. But I have the utmost respect for good copywriters and I’ve worked with a couple of excellent ones. However, in the travel world at least, good ones are few and far between. To me, most travel copywriting isn’t great.
There’s even AI software now that writes ‘copy’ for you. It’s become so sophisticated that many people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between copy created by a robot and copy created by a human.
And there lies one of the main differences when it comes to travel writing and copywritten articles.
Travel writing should educate people about a destination, tell them something a quick Google search couldn’t. Conversely, copywritten travel pieces are often just the product of Google research.
Robots can Google search better than any human, but until they actually get passports and start travelling themselves, they’ll never be able to inject first-hand experiences into their writing.