Copywriting Is by Andrew Boulton (Gasp! Books)

You’ll feel like you’ve been given an awful lot of words in order to write just a few.

You’ll feel like a lot of people (who aren’t copywriters) think they can do what you do.

You’ll feel like you’re breaking loads of writing rules. (When really, there are none important enough to remain unbroken.)

You’ll feel like other writers do your job way better than you. (The people you admire feel the same about the people they admire and so on and so on.)

You’ll feel like your pencil is too heavy.

You’ll feel like your fingers never hit the…

I read an interview once with the novelist Nelson Algren where he said this:

“The writer who knows what he’s doing isn’t doing very much.”

The knowing, or not knowing, of stuff has preoccupied me one way or another for the entirety of my creative life.

The early expression of this fixation with knowledge was in direct opposition to Mr Algren. On the contrary I, who knew so very little, felt that ‘knowing’ was surely connected to ‘doing’ by one long and immaculately paved highway.

And so, when I was asked or expected to know this or that, I would do anything other than concede I did not. And know this…

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At this point, I find the most useful copywriting advice I give is to simply share the dependable counsel offered by other writers.

But while all the most useful instructions for writing better copy have been shared and shared again, ours is a profession that — like a child on an icy path — skids determinedly ahead every time we try to stop.

There are techniques I used as a young writer that I left behind with my dreams of growing a proper beard — and that would catastrophically derail my process were I to dust them off now.


Illustration by John Clemmit

I couldn’t explain why exactly, but creative people seem, in my experience, more dependent on heroic figures than most.

Perhaps it’s to do with the nakedness of the creative life — where you expose your most personal efforts to the world again and again. If that’s the case, a hero on your shoulder — the more adamant and unyielding the better — is the only real source of reassurance we’re able to insist upon.

And yet, certainly in a creative field like advertising, we too often choose the wrong sort of hero for the job.

I would expect some —…

Photo credit: David Orban

My A-level choices were made thusly: Geography (because we got a week’s trip to Poole). Psychology (because I had/have a debilitating Agent Mulder Complex) and English (because I liked books).

In many ways, all three have benefited me as a copywriter (who now also teaches other people to be copywriters). Copywriting is, after all, a combination of all three. Psychology gives us insights, English gives us expression, Geography allows us to choose a place of work safe from the unrelenting threat of coastal erosion.

But, while my English A-level probably did more than any other class to push me towards…

The downside to teaching on a Creative Advertising course is, quite simply, the envy.

How can these students know so much? How can they be so endlessly curious? How can they be not only creatively adventurous but strategically perceptive. How can they be all of these things, and so much more, and yet not be old enough to remember Byker Grove?

I envy their brilliance so much that I’m determined to send them out into the creative world, where their winning personalities and many triumphs will no longer be rubbed in my sad, old face on a daily basis.


Photo credit: Kiran Jonnalagadda

Chasing perfection is like digging a hole. It has no point, it has no end and it only serves to take you further away from the world.

There is no honour or glory in perfectionism — it’s no more heroic than any other task that diverts you from a truly worthwhile goal: improvement.

But creatives in every field — from the commercial to the purely artistic — are, at some point in their careers, made to fear the mistake.

And yet there’s no binary notion of ‘right and wrong’ in creative work. The ‘right’ idea can be a cul-de-sac of…

Credit: Scott Lamoreaux —

George Clooney is a likeable man. He is handsome and well-dressed. He is charismatic and self-effacing. He uses his privilege to do good in the world. He was decent enough to force Hollywood into dramatically rethinking the sort of Batman films that should be made.

And yet, his Nespresso adverts are awful. Alternating between desperately overwritten and almost catatonically underwritten, they are bad ideas made into bad adverts and are about as welcome in our finite stores of attention as a pirate’s toe in your Frosties.

I say ‘his’ adverts but George does nothing more than say what he is…

Photo credit: Amazing creative team (available for hire!) Brad & Josh

Copywriting is knowing who to ignore.

It’s never letting any word seduce you.

It’s the fear of the predictable.

It’s the physics of desire.

Copywriting rarely begins at the beginning.

And ends somewhere you don’t see.

Copywriting is rifling pockets.

It is snuffling for treasure.

Copywriting is a microscope strapped to a telescope.

It’s getting lost on purpose.

It’s curiosity, weaponised.

(Copywriting is a bad way to get rich.)

(And copywriting for awards is like joining the fire brigade for the poles.)

Copywriting is a clock’s tick in an expensive car.

It’s a gorilla with drumsticks.

Copywriting is learning before…

Photo credit: Pat Joyce, Flickr

Typically, I would feel like a hideous fraud offering advice to anyone about anything.

But, with these five terrible copywriting habits, the fact that I have/do/will always suffer from them, makes it all a little less awkward.

Copywriting, in my experience, is a series of brutal humiliations punctuated by punctuation.

It is, fortunately, a profession in which wild and frequent failure is not merely excused, but expected — at least for any writer who realises that risk and triumph tend to share the same square on the board.

But even if we are taught to embrace our mistakes, that doesn’t…

Andrew Boulton

Senior Lecturer in Creative Advertising at the University of Lincoln & Copywriter

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