Why I’ve Never Been a Copywriter

For a number of years, AWAI has helped me perpetuate a myth. Now, it’s time I made a confession.

Here it is: I don’t think of myself as a copywriter. I don’t even think of myself as a writer at all. Never was. Never will be. All the years I’ve marketed myself to clients as a copywriter, I was faking it.

A little history to explain how I can make this bold statement. I’ll gladly tell anyone who asks that the best thing I’ve ever done was work over 25 years teaching seriously-disabled children. Some of them pretty big. Many in wheelchairs.

As rewarding as that career was — as much fun as I had doing it — something had to give. It was my back. I looked to try something new. Writing sounded good. I’d always liked to write. Searching the shelves of Borders Books in those pre-Internet days, I discovered Bob Bly’s Secrets of a Freelance Writer. That’s what I would do. I’d become a freelance writer, a copywriter in fact.

I never became the copywriter I set out to be. Teaching had been my passion, and I never lost the passion. So, the reason I can honestly say I’m not a copywriter is that I never stopped being a teacher.

Here’s where you come into my confession. Copywriting is teaching. Real teaching. Not standing and lecturing but getting your students (your prospects) to act in ways that will benefit them. Often when they don’t even recognize that’s what they need.

Real teaching is you knowing where your students (your prospects) are emotionally and psychologically. It’s you understanding what they need and how to get them to buy into that.

Teaching — and A-level copywriting — is the finest form of persuasion.

Every day, copywriting allows me to do what I love best. Only this time, I do it on paper and with the written word. Every time I take on a new assignment for a client, I get a tingly feeling. I know if I do my job well, my prospect will come away from our relationship better. He’ll have learned something new. He’ll get some insight into his life and his problems. And, he’ll learn a new way to overcome those problems. Or fulfill his needs. Or live his dreams.

These are the rewards real teaching provides teachers. These are the rewards I get when I write an ad or a promo for a client.

Copywriting also allows me to go on teaching in other ways as well. Thanks to AWAI, I’m blessed with many opportunities to instruct Circle of Success members in the Copywriting Intensives. I’m also able to teach at Bootcamps, where I not only instruct but also get to meet other passionate people.

Best of all for me, becoming a copywriter has given me the freedom to teach young people at my local elementary school. Usually I tutor them in math (a hidden passion of mine). But today, I had a wonderful teaching/copywriting experience I want to share with you.

I worked with Andrew, a 7th grader who is part of a Rotary youth service group called Interact. Our Interactors are starting an outreach program to help the students deal with bullying. Andrew came up with a brilliant idea of how to get younger students talking with older elementary school “mentors” if they’ve been bullied.

Because of this, the school Interact advisor asked Andrew to write a prompt for the younger students. As fate would have it, Andrew hates to write.

Today — because I’m a copywriter and enjoying the perks of the writer’s life — I got the opportunity to teach him some basic copywriting skills. (Although he didn’t know it.) I convinced him not to try to write anything. Instead, I had him imagine he was talking to his 6-year-old cousin about this very serious problem.

It was hard for Andrew at first. Just like it’s hard for beginning copywriters to learn to talk with their written words rather than write. But, he got it. And, felt good about what he’d accomplished. You can be sure I felt almost as good as he did.

All because copywriting brought me the hidden joys of the writer’s life. All because I never really gave up teaching.

So, here’s the thing for you. The writer’s life can bring financial independence. It can bring freedom from the 9-to-5 grind. It can eliminate worries. But, if that’s all you get from copywriting, you’re missing the big picture.

Copywriting — the writer’s life — allows you to do more than just pursue your passion. It gives you the golden opportunity to actually live it. Mine is teaching. Yours might not be. But, make that passion of yours fuel your copywriting.

If you’ve ever met Josh Boswell at Bootcamp, you know his deepest passion is his family. Read his words, and you can see how that passion fills his writing. No, he doesn’t write about his family when writing ad copy. But, his love and commitment to them drives the power of his words.

Michael Masterson embraces a passion for knowledge and learning unlike most people I know. That passion fuels his needs to be the best of the best. It permeates every word he writes.

What is your passion? Is it music? Don’t leave that love outside your office when you hit the keyboard. Let your love of rhythm, tonality, and melody run through your fingers as you type.

Are you an avid sportsman or woman? You already know the thrill of competition. And, you know your biggest challenge is to constantly get better at what you do. Follow that passion in your writing and you’ll soon be an A-level copywriter.

What’s your passion? Whatever it is, look at your writing career as nothing more than an extension of it. It’s not separate. It’s really the same thing. You are both a copywriter and a passionate sportsman. Or a copywriter and a passionate musician. Or a … well, you get the point.

So, I guess I was completely truthful at the beginning of this short note. I am a copywriter. And a teacher. I can live with that.

Quite happily.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: November 2, 2010

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