Fate? Good luck? Providence? You decide …

Will Newman

Will Newman here. If we haven’t met yet, I'm a working copywriter. I’m also a Circle of Success Master Instructor and I contribute to The Golden Thread and COS Blog e-letters.

When Katie asked me to start contributing more regularly to The Writer's Life, I couldn’t believe my luck!

Talking to you through The Writer's Life combines my two top passions: writing and teaching.

Funny, though, how I found these passions … or, rather, how they found me.

Round-about journey to copywriting

My backstory: I started at UC Berkeley 50 years ago with my sights set on becoming a biochemist. I loved the study and worked in a research lab as an undergraduate. The studies and lab work swept me into a graduate program.

I had no idea I’d ever stray from my direction … until I met Linda, the woman who became my wife and mother of our son. Meeting her pricked a hidden discontent I had working in the lab.

I loved the research I pursued, but I sensed something missing.

Linda opened my heart to the reality of people and life beyond the lab. I won’t go into the reflection that led me to change careers. But three years later, I was teaching severely disabled children.

Teaching these children is the highlight of my professional life. It was the best, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

Good things don’t always last forever

However, the work took a physical toll on me. After 25 years, my back shouted that the time to move on had arrived.

Linda fully supported me in changing careers. But what could I do? I was too far removed from biochemistry to even think about going back. I was set in my teaching ways, so educating “regular-ed kids” didn’t appeal to me.

Linda knew I’d had a dream of writing fiction, so she asked, “Why not?” Why not? Because financial success eludes most fiction writers.

But Linda, bless her heart, persisted in encouraging my dream. I remember going to Borders Books. The books on becoming a writer filled one entire wall. My sarcastic side made me comment that the money in writing lay in writing a book about writing.

Fate? Good luck? Providence?

On the verge of abandoning my crazy idea, I spotted a book on the bottom shelf. The book?

Secrets of a Freelance Writer.

Almost 20 years later, I look back on that afternoon at Borders Book almost reverently. Bob Bly and his $10 book changed my life by introducing me to copywriting … the career that’s brought me where I am today.

Your take away

Now don’t worry. I’m not going to turn The Writer's Life into a memoir. But I wanted to give you a picture of how someone ill-suited to becoming a successful writer – me – started on a career that’s provided many rewards … financial and personal.

And if me, why not you?

On Wednesday, I’m going to tell you a bit more about my early years as a copywriter. And the secret that made me a successful one.

One last thing. Over the weeks ahead, I hope to give you insight into essential secrets and strategies for successful writing.

So I have a favor to ask. I want you to tell me what you want us to talk about. You do it by leaving a comment below.

As Katie mentioned, Mindy McHorse, executive editor for Barefoot Writer, will join me in sharing the many ways you can live and enjoy the writer's life. Tomorrow, she reveals a writing secret that’s going to improve your writing and impress potential clients.

You'll want to make sure you read her article.

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: February 1, 2016

46 Responses to “Fate? Good luck? Providence? You decide…”

  1. I'm interested in how you prioritized work at the outset so you were maximizing exposure and learning, yet still getting paid. Any bright lines or litmus tests?


  2. In finding current DR sales letters to copy, how do I know what's a successful one quickly? I assume that there are such letters on line that are not successful.


  3. Hi Will, Like you, I came to copywriting after many years of working in another profession. It is time to move on.
    As for additional topics, I would like to know how you manage all the various tasks' associated with this profession that it takes to be successful. Examples are staying current in one's chosen niche, networking, marketing, financial management, time management. Regardless of one's writing skill, deficiencies in any of these areas can hinder success.

    Nora King

  4. What I'd love for you to cover is how you develop your weekly plan once you've picked your niche.

    Guest (Kim Smyth)

  5. How do you best market your services so that you still have time to work?

    Guest (Freelance Editor)

  6. Will, I am a little overwhelmed concerning how to find where I fit in. I am considered a good communicator with years of public speaking and dealing with people, but, finding a starting place is somewhat difficult. I would appreciate any advice you might have for me.

    Lynn Turnbow

  7. I liked the memoir part as I have followed a similar path. Now at near retirement age I yearn for something more. Got going in AWAI in the late summer, but CAN'T decide on a niche. Look forward to some particulars. Nolan


  8. I am almost at a tipping point but haven't the courage to proceed with the mechanics of the best way to begin. What articles should I read? (I can't read every one!) How do I get started? I saw an ad for a "Jr. Copywriter" and I thought 'I could do that!" but when I read the full job description I realized that I lack several of the requisite skills, the biggest one being Xcel. Do I ignore that requirement and try to write a letter that will immediately prompt the advertiser to hire me? If 'yes', at what point do I tell the prospective em- ployer that I don't do Xcel? Right away or after (s)he has expressed interest? Or after I'm hired?

    Guest (Robbo)

  9. Thank you for a wonderful article about how you became a copywriter. From your letter I would say you had an interesting career. One big difference between you and I is writing for you is an "end" and for me it is a "means" to an end. I want to tell a story and the words and numbers I use in my book accomplish that. I am very satisfied that biochemistry and mathematics are the main ingredients for me and writing is the instrument to convey the beauty the subjects offer.


    Guest (Ends versus Means)

  10. I am brand new at this and still much bewildered. Like you I have been in a helping profession for many years - Social Work - and I need someway of knowing when I am a Copy-writer. Will there be an "aha" moment that will convince me to keep trying?


  11. I would like a print out of the conversation, please, as I am not able to hear the live one. Thank you. Blessings

    Guest (MARY CAROL)

  12. Will, Enjoyed hearing from you. I too was a chemistry teacher and involved in Starting Christian Schools. If you visit my WEbsite - DpWoodspublishing dot com you will see that my passion is Christian Education and working with young people. I BELIEVE that every church in America should have a Private Christian School and my goal is to help set them up as well as do some copywriting to support that passion. Pray for me. thank Dan

    Guest (Daniel LHarwood)

  13. Please give examples of sentences that contain customer pain, results wanted, and benefits of the results.
    These sentences replace the offensive "close".

    Guest (grant hudlow)

  14. I just wrote you a great story. a story of part of my life but the editor cut me. Asked me to keep it under 500 words. Some day I ,might get a chance to tell let you rear it.you in person or on the ,or maybe write it and let you read it.

    I can not believe the similarities in our lives. Chemist, switch careers,I am not going to add writer because I have not made it........yet. But I will!!

    Guest (Bob)

  15. Was it difficult for you to find a niche when starting out as a copywriter? For a beginner which program would you suggest? Is there a step by step process when starting out?


  16. I want to start out with this, as a secondary income, because I,too, work full-time with special needs kids :) I love to write (it's my dream to get a book published) but I've never had anything published. Where do I start?...

    Guest (MissJ)

  17. Does it make sense to become a writer when I can't type? Only a little pick typing and my wrists would not tolerate it if I tried to learn. I am wondering if any writers are successful, audio transribed into writng

    Guest (Zil616)

  18. I think I am about to get my first client. I thought I would ask for $2,500.00 / month, but I'm not sure how much I should offer. She has a 'company' website so we need to get people to the site. So maybe you tube videos? I also thought of offering to write auto responder e-mail but I don't know if she has a capture page for to collect e-mail addresses. Should I offer to build her site?

    Guest (Larry)

  19. Hi Will,

    I would like to know the pains of being a professional freelance copywriter.

    Guest (Ralph)

  20. Inspiring story indeed, thanks for sharing. I have loved writing all my life, but never really written any article that has been published. How do I get my work before clients that will be willing to pay?, and how do I choose what to write that will catch their attention.

    Guest (Hannah Obaro)

  21. I live in Puerto Rico. The predominant language is Spanish (I don't speak a lick of Spanish).How to proceed in this environment and make a living would be an invaluable topic.

    Guest (Kat)

  22. When I got this post in my mail and read it. I was excited even more when you asked for my contribution. I am a freelancer aswell. I used to work as a network systems administrator until I decided to change career because the IT world didn't offer me the lifestyle I want.
    I like to know more about the "WHY" clients want copywriters.


    Guest (Peter)

  23. It's always an inspiration to read what copywriting masters like Will have to say and this article was no exception. However, with all the resources at AWAI a newbie is usually overwhelmed to a point whereby finding a starting point is a problem.

    Is it possible to have a structured way of starting from the basics of copywriting to more advanced levels and finally specializing in the various niches?


  24. Hi Will. I have learned a lot from you, thanks But still there id so much to read, so much to absorb, so much to think, and so much to do. Where should I start walking smoothly in the right direction to be called a successful copywriter?


  25. I'm finding what you have to say very interesting. Can't wait to see more from your aspect of things.

    C E Hatfield

  26. Please include more on getting unstuck. I feel in a rut and I write little things that make no sense.


  27. Intriguing ideas with rhythm and Grace Take your heart to another place

    Warmth and understanding bring you to my head

    Explore with me expressions That cannot but be, expressed

    Words that stir something in your heart to explore Come to the fountain that is bubbling and pure

    Oh delve in my hunt for that which is Grand Read and come to my vault Whose "weiters to understand".

    Guest (leslie)

  28. Over the past year I've written a lot of verse (about 440 poems) and repeatedly get favorable comments from people who urge me to "publish,"
    "keep writing," etc..

    Locally, I had a poem and letter published for a $50 gift card and a second is being used by a Ronald McDonald-type housing organization to market their charity (for free with rights reserved)

    Much as I would LOVE to market my own work...for pay...I feel like the creative faucet is flowing and the spigot will turn off if i start publishing or marketing.

    Any ideas, both as to marketing verse and keeping the creative juices flowing?

    I have a variety of subject matters...health, travel, human relations, children's themes, death, nature, etc....

    Thank you for your insights!

    E Jacoby

  29. Will: Thank you for your back story. It is remarkably similar to mine in that we both ended up starting somewhere completely different, then teaching for 20 some years, and then landed HERE (for me, it remains to be seen if HERE is actually going to net me any work as a copy writer). I began in advertising/marketing working on the client side for a regional ad agency. I always loved Darin's job on Bewitched when I was a kid.

    I love the idea of a Writer's Life and have written throughout my life. I just don't know how to find clients that will pay me. I need a mentor who is overloaded with work and will assign things to me and share a slice of the wealth. Then maybe I can springboard from there.

    Thank you for sharing your story,


    Guest (Judith Ann)

  30. Everything sounds interesting enough but I too am wondering how to start looking for clients when this is something I have never done before.

    Guest (CFair)

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