How to Overturn the Myth That Copywriters “Just” Write

Mindy McHorse

It happened again last week, at a pool party for a good friend. I found myself chatting with my friend’s father, a jolly fellow I’ve gotten to know over the years.

So, Mindy,” he asked. “Are you still dabbling at writing a little on the Internet?

I swallowed my lemonade. “Um, yes. I’m still doing copywriting

You know,” he said, interrupting me. “I think it’s great you kids these days have a place to put all your stories.”

I smiled and excused myself to get more pie.

The thing is, I’ve had this conversation with my friend’s father—and lots of people like him—many times over.

Maybe you’ve been there yourself, trying to explain exactly what a copywriter does. First comes the “No, we don’t work with lawyers on copyrights” explanation. And then the, “Yeah—you really can make a living doing this” conversation.

There are several illusions surrounding copywriting as a writing profession. So this week, I’m going to overturn the five biggest myths about copywriting and shed light on what copywriting is and isn’t.

And while it’s not essential that people like my friend’s father ever understand what we do, it is important for you to have these facts in your back pocket. That way, you can lay a stable foundation for your own writing career, since you’ll be better able to recognize pitfalls and opportunities.

Let’s start with Myth #1: “Copywriters just write.”

Well, if that were true, we’d still be having a lot of fun … but we wouldn’t be earning nearly as much, or even have much access to real money-making opportunities.

Stereotypes for writers range from air-headed creatives to dark and brooding geniuses to someone who refuses to adapt to the regular working world.

None of those is true. (Though, I’m tempted to cut a few words from the previous line to describe writers as, “Creative geniuses who adapt differently to the working world.”)

That line is true for copywriters as well. We’re creative by nature. We’re not all geniuses, but there are many approachable geniuses among us—Herschell Gordon Lewis and Bob Bly, to name a few.

And while we don’t follow the schedule and norms of the regular working world, copywriters certainly have the capacity to work hard. Six-figure businesses don’t just fall from the sky, after all.

The difference is, we do our work on our own terms.

Beyond wordsmithing, that work includes playing a vital role in the content marketing industry, estimated at over $118 billion and growing, according to eMarketer. Our words can turn entire businesses around, grow revenue, harvest donations, bring attention to important needs, and build loyalty for brands and causes alike.

Whether copywriting is your profession or your aspiration, there’s a host of pseudonyms you can explore depending on where you plan to focus your writing efforts, from “professional content creator” to “inbound marketing expert” to “content marketer.”

And, here are some of the specific areas you can focus your writing expertise:

  • Blogs
  • Social media
  • Articles and editorial
  • Direct-response sales letters
  • eNewsletters and print newsletters
  • In-person events
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Fundraising appeals
  • Videos
  • Online presentations
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Research reports
  • Microsites
  • Magazines and digital magazines
  • eBooks and print books
  • Mobile apps
  • Podcasts
  • Annual reports
  • Games/gamification
  • Emails and autoresponders
  • Lead generation
  • Search engine optimization

If anybody ever questions the writing path you’re on, share the above facts and writing paths to overturn their misconceptions. It’s not always worth getting into (as with my friend’s father—I’m fine knowing he thinks I’m just another happy writer!). What’s most important is that you understand the enormous value you contribute to the world of communication.

I’m curious now—have you ever had a funny or awkward conversation with someone trying to understand your career as a writer? Please share your story below.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with Myth #2 about the world of copywriting, which will help you stand out from all the “pseudo” copywriters out there.

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Published: September 28, 2015

13 Responses to “How to Overturn the Myth That Copywriters “Just” Write”

  1. I found your article amazing really, & I was drinking lemonade!! I've always wanted to write or become a writer.. I've just got $0 to invest in getting started! I have one heck of story about my life I know could help others and I just don't know what to do about it!

    Guest (Brandy Hughes)

  2. Yes, I tried to explain the difference between a copywriter and underwriter to my youngest step-daughter.
    She doesnt' understand that underwriting is about risk; insurance, investment products and loans...and copy writing is about marketing.
    I can't seem to make it clear how I promote products and services, not assess the risk of using them!

    Nancy Tossell

  3. Dear Ms. McHorse,

    The one question that left me at a loss for words was a friend had called to ask for a job reference and in casual conversation asked:"So Ken, what are you doing with yourself these days?"

    I responded: "Well, I am doing copywriting now."

    His next question was: "Who's writing are you copying? Can't you get in trouble for that? It really doesn't sound like you."

    Guest (Ken McGaha)

  4. I had this conversation 40 years ago when I was a musician. At least with music people can picture famous rock stars. There are no copy writers with the fame of a Bono.

    To build visibility we need a big award show like the Oscars. Do you think we could get copy writers to dress in formal wear?

    "And on the red carpet is the lovely Mindy McHorse in a stunning cerulean strapless fit and flair by Vera Wang accented with Ruby's from Tiffany."

    Nothing says success like a two foot trophy.


  5. As an architectural visionary, I primarily draw pictures for a living. Usually bird's-eye perspectives of new entertainment districts in expanding cities. So, given the adage that "a picture speaks a thousand words," people wrongly assume that either I didn't or couldn't write. But when I see the lightweights even attempting to verbally describe my visions, that's when the Leonardo in me suddenly turns into Dante.

    By the way, did you know that Michelangelo was a poet, too?

    Guest (Chris Morris)

  6. I told a friend of mine that I was making a career change and I would be freelance writing as a career change. They were in shock. They actually said: "Writing, I didn't know you did that". I felt like they were thinking having a writing career would be so far fetched. They asked me what do I know about writing. I explained to them, writing is something I always wanted to do and really never had a chance to do until now! Writing is hard work. Not to be taken lightly.


  7. Hi Mindy, only yesterday I was trying to explain to my son in law just what it is a copywriter does, thank you Dave E.

    Guest (Dave E)

  8. I went to school for marketing, and they didn't teach us the word copywriting.

    I came across this word on my own. I went through 75% of business school thinking that Copywriting was creating legal documents protecting IP.

    That experience reminds me that you can't rely on others for your education.

    You must constantly learn, seek new info, talk to others, as questions, and most of all embody an attitude of grateful curiosity which will fuel a thriving life.

    Dmitri L

  9. Hi Mindy,

    You will think it very bad, but I have had to explain to my Writer's Group more than once what a copywriter is. I believe they think I am going to HELL!

    Nora King

  10. Hi Mindy,

    I love the story about your friend's dad. People's responses can be interesting.

    I've experienced, "Oh, that's nice..." to "That's so cool!" Oh, and "How's your blog going?"

    I find my enthusiasm for what I do, though, has a lot to do with their response :)

    And regarding "Creative geniuses who adapt differently to the working world," I like Brian Clark's take, too: "I'm unemployable. I can get a job. I'm just not inclined to take one."

    Cheers to freelance copywriting!

    Guest (Sharyn Inzunza)

  11. Yes, Mindy, I've had a similar experience only just recently! Friends I haven't seen in a few years were at a conference with me in Idaho.
    They knew through my emails that I completed my Master of Science in Management, and wanted to know how my new job was going.
    I told him that things were tough and I was studying to be a copywriter. He gave me a blank look, then asked, "So do you have something to do with copyrights?"
    "Uh, no, I write content for clients so that they can sell products or services" Still the blank look, so I simply said, "I want to write for a living."
    "Oh, okay..." Then he changed the subject.


  12. December 1998. I was broke, nearly busted! New "Business Journal" soon to be launched. Ass't editor called and said; I've heard you like to write? Write me a column. If it's good--I'll print it---if NOT, "get lost!" I wrote on the "eroding courtesy and professionalism" often found among those who answer company telephones. I was told companies only care about increasing shareholder equity. Yet, I had almost a dozen CEO's who called or dropped a note in agreement with the written words.

    Guest (Marine 1)

  13. "What is copy writing";,is that sort of copying some texts from one book to a notepad? This is the question everyone is asking ( ok, whoever I care to tell what i am doing right now),whenever i tell some of my close friends and relatives. No one really knows what is copy writing is about. i am beginner and i am undergoing the copy writing accelerated course now. so some times i tell them i am doing travel writing course instead of copy writing and am already making good money now though i am not


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