Stupid things professional writers say
And why you should never, ever repeat them
My office is a revolving door for copywriters. They arrive, full of pluck and ideas (or devoid of both — more on that later), and then they’re fed through the teeth machine that is our rigorous creative process and spit out the other end bruised in both ego and psyche. And they leave.
But before these writers inevitably crash and burn, they express some really dumb opinions—either about our creative process, their abilities as writers and more. Here are some of the things I’ve heard, and my rationale for why you should never let these words pass your lips:
1. I wrote it right the first time. This one’s a real doozy because any writer who says it operates under the assumption that they a) approve their own copy and b) crafted prose so beyond criticism that it should immediately be submitted for a Clio Award, which, unless your name is Luke Sullivan or something, is highly unlikely.
Look, Mr. Sullivan has numerous awards to his name, and even his writing process involves jotting down 100 iterations of the same headline before he lands on the one that’s working. If it takes him that many tries to get into the ballpark, you’re probably still tailgating in the parking lot if you’ve only made one attempt.
Nobody’s perfect. I make careless mistakes all the time, and the stuff I send my Associate Creative Director doesn’t always hit the mark. But, here’s the kicker: I have the stones to admit it. If you want to be taken seriously as a copywriter, grab some humility while you’re combing the aisles of the supermarket that is your giant ego. On that subject…
2. I want to work where there are no egos. Oh, the irony. If these words come out of your mouth, you’re basically telling everyone within earshot that you suffer from a blistering lack of self-awareness. Newsflash:
All creatives have massive egos.
Think about it: as a copywriter, my entire livelihood hinges on an innate belief that the copy I write is good enough to slap on a billboard. As in, my words are the ones Joe Sixpack gets to read because he’s the meat in a sedan sandwich, there’s nothing good on the radio and he’s the kind of weirdo that likes staring at billboards.
If you’re a creative, you have an ego. So take two steps back and check yourself before you wreck yourself. Because admitting you have an inflated ego of yourself and your abilities is the first step towards gaining respect as a creative. It also helps to embrace criticism — listening to and learning from other writers is what’s made me the writer I am today.
3. This work is beneath me. This one wasn’t said by a copywriter with whom I worked so much as she implied it. Many moons ago, my former ACD hired a writer who had written copy for Coca-Cola and other big name brands. This writer was given several projects with varying levels of priority.
But she chose to work on the project with the least amount of urgency because it was editorial. The two most important projects were web pages. She outright refused to work on them. When it was explained to her that she needed to prioritize her work, she balked. Then, she quit.
Getting paid to write is a privilege. I come into the office every day loving what I do and doing what I love — even when what I’m asked to write is a digital banner that probably ten people are going to see. Every project, no matter how small, is an opportunity to flex my creative muscle. That means that when a meatier project comes along, my prose will be properly hench enough to tackle it.
4. This isn’t creative work. Ugh. Please don’t say this. Ever. Because ultimately you’re devaluing what you do as a paid professional. Every project —even a technical manual—requires a creative touch, whether it means coming at the problem from many directions, writing the same exact sentence 100 different ways or doing something as inane as choosing between a comma and an em dash. (Have I made it obvious I’m a fan of em dashes yet?)