COPYWRITING TRAINING: Men frozen in steel sperm tanks, two dollar dinners, and stains that we just can’t find

Or how Henry finally discovered that he didn’t need to learn how to write (by reading Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition)

As part of my ongoing struggle to become the greatest copywriter EVER, today I picked up a copy of William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White’s, The Elements of Style from Homerton library.

Why?

The reasons were twofold:

  1. There isn’t a great selection of instructional books about writing in Hackney, and
  2. My sister, an English grad, keeps telling me that my blog posts are complete hokum (she uses big words because she’s super smart).

At 85 pages, the book’s small, but appearances are deceiving as it’s jammed with loads of life lessons that are meant to make you better at writing.

The edition I borrowed was really old, published in 1979, but the English language is ancient and definitely hasn’t changed since then, so it probably didn’t matter.

Having now finished the book, I can confirm six things:

  • My writing will forever be hokum (whatever that means).
  • I was always right to tell everyone that they should never use exclamation marks!!!! (thanks Fitzgerald).
  • Business words are been purposefully designed to help people feel better about their life choices.
  • Some of the most common words in advertising are portentous and should never be used.
  • SEO, search engine optimisation, is ruining the written word for everyone.
  • Copywriters are the lowest, seediest, and most despicable people in the world.

All six of those lessons came as a bit of shock.

I’ll explain exactly why they are definitely true below.

Epiphanies happen in the garden. Especially when you’re a twat with an instagram account.

1. Why my writing will always suck

The book’s first four chapters are dedicated to lessons about proper grammar and punctuation.

After reading them, I decided to ignore them. That’s because:

  • I didn’t really understand any of concepts (what the hell is present participle?)
  • None of the lessons seem to apply to writing on the internet.

The book also emphasised that Copywriting, apparently, is about writing improperly; aka, in a way that the plebs understand, which I understood as an instruction to ignore everything it said.

If you, the reader, don’t think I made the right decision, get ready to be surprised.

You’d think I was an idiot if I started doing anything of these things (adhering to proper grammar):

  • Omit the s after apostrophes that follow conscience. The correct vernacular being, “for conscience’ sake
  • You can’t use a colon to sunder a sentence in two like a garden worm, instead that a full sentence must proceed it, for instance “A shrink needs: a degree, psychotic patients and a lot of patience.” is incorrect. It should instead be, “A shrink needs three things: a degree, psychotic patients and parents to blame.

2. No one should ever use exclamation marks, ever! (except sometimes)

The book agreed with me and said no one should ever use exclamation marks.

Between the lines it also said we should murder anyone who does, unless they’re being dramatic!

I’ve adapted this lesson for 2019 and now confirm that you can also use them when you’re being ironic too.

But that’s it.

You can only ever use an exclamation mark if you’re being dramatic or ironic!

Have you guessed what I’m being?

3. Corporate language is designed to make business sound like it’s about slaying dragons rather than counting paper clips

Here’s what the book said about business chat:

Portentous nouns and verbs [like deprioritise, action those reports, relations with the secretary] invest ordinary events with high adventure; executives walk among toner cartridges, caparisoned like knights.”

p.82, The Elements of Style

The book goes to length about how these words are about expressing the user’s dreams, rather than the explicit meaning of what they’re doing.

So, I learned that when writing for business people, you need to make the banality of their lives seem more like jumping the shark; full of exciting cliches that they think are new, definitely not overused, and completely non-applicable to their lives.

4. Words that I now know you should never use

There are a load of words you should never use. Here’s a few of them and why:

  • Meaningful is a bankrupt adjective. In place of meaningful you should shoot yourself.
  • Chaired is not a verb (or even a word). You should instead write, “the iguana acted as chair of the meeting.”
  • Personalise,“A pretentious word, often carrying bad advice.” Which means it’s still applicable for your mobile data plan.
  • Pistons thrust, restructuring programmes do not. (You’re not allowed to use the word thrust in business, even when you’re, you know, talking about sex)
  • Unique means ‘without like or equal’, so you can’t have a unique coffee machine. Looks like William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White’s were the forerunners of introducing the modern term, snowflake generation. So, um, Chuck Palahniuk, maybe you should publicly admit that coining the term wasn’t that special an achievement?

5. SEO is ruining writing for everyone

Ok, so the book didn’t come up with this one, I figured it out by reading it instead.

We all know what SEO is, right?

It means optimising your written, online content so that search engine algorithms will list it higher on their results pages.

It’s pretty simple. Here’s how to do it:

  • Consider what you’re writing about and how you can make it relevant to what people search for on the internet.
  • While thinking, write down a list of keywords (both long and short) that are related to your content and people are likely to type into google (sexy, porn, why my mother won’t stop crying every time I call her).
  • Delete your previous article or other written content and write some monstrosity indiscriminately littered with your new keywords.

In doing this, I’m confident that everyone is probably just inserting phrases that do not belong in the articles they’re writing. Which, I learned from The Elements of Style, is how you write badly.

Great one Google. You made writing shit for everyone.

6. Copywriters are soulless

Deep down, I knew this one already.

I can’t express why Copywriters are the scum of the earth without it sounding really pretentious though, so I just copied the quote below:

“Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself. The true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.” (p. 84)

p. 84, The Elements of Style

Evidently, proper writers hate copywriters.

Damn.

Conclusion

So, now I’d finally read something about writing, I’d learned that what I was trying to do by becoming the greatest copywriter EVER, was completely selling myself out.

I also noticed that nice living was pretty much guaranteed.

Well, at least it was a better choice than working in a corporate environment.

If you think I’ve completely misinterpreted the lessons of the book, please let me know.

Then I can tell you exactly why you’re wrong (now I know that I don’t need to write adequately to communicate).

Yeah, paid work’s definitely for losers

or how Henry got a job in a burger joint

Hey, I wanna ask you a question.

Imagine I’m pointing my finger at you (the right one).

Yeah, you.

Now you’re looking back at me.

Savings are great, aren’t they?

Now, imagine you’re looking perplexed.

Seriously, are they?

Wait, don’t say anything, I’ve already had this conversation with you in my head. It went like this:

You: “Why are you asking?

Me: “Oh, I don’t know. Do they make you feel warm at night? Could you paint me a picture with a background of green and blue, just like that of the glorious five pound note? Something to help me relax before exiting the cornershop with cans of special hidden under my hoodie?

Me: “Why are you looking at me so strangely?

Me: “Ok, fine. I admit it. I just wanted to talk about money. Or lack of it.

I don’t know why it took so long to get here, but it’s finally happened. The ATM will no longer give me money.

On a positive note, my bank balance now has two letters after it, DR. I’m not entirely sure what it means though. Maybe damn radical? Sure.

At least there’s some solace in Lloyds, Barclays, or whoever, finally realising it’s cool that I can’t pay my overdraft fees. After all that pain in 2008, the banking sector must no longer be full of losers (I’m joking, of course it still is).

I don’t really want to link the two (and I’m not sure if I should), but I keep feeling like I should.

I have no money and I quit my job a month ago. Surely there’s no correlation?

I mean, work just brings pain right?

Let’s move to a commune and reek of patchouli

Initially, no money wasn’t an issue.

It was like I was living in a commune with my flatmates. I, the entertainer, was rewarded with stolen tobacco, half finished beers, and tea spoons of hummus clinging to the pot’s lid.

But then they noticed I was licking the lids of their pots of hummus and stopped letting me use their washing liquid.

Not washing was fine though.

I mean, bin liners are perfect for hiding guts developed in servitude.

What fits better than a bin liner when pretending you can play electric piano?

However, some people didn’t get it, and despite being breezy, it wasn’t helping me find a way to get money.

Finally though, they got sick of the bin liner and the landlord started asking for the rent.

No longer young enough to attract richer older women, I had to find myself a job.

Who’d have thought it? I mean, it was going to totally ruin my quest to become the greatest copywriter ever.

It also seemed ridiculous.

What was the point of quitting my previous job if I had to getting another fucking one?!

Turns out I’ll never know.

A month of failure

I wasn’t worried. Henry’s are grafting men; take Henry the Hoover, and um, King Henry VIII. The latter was so busy he only managed to have one son!

No one else seemed to realise this though.

Despite spending the end of May applying for the lowest paid, hardest, least office type jobs I could find (within walking distance), I didn’t get a single call back.

No, not from Oslo, a bar in Hackney, where I applied to assist k-holing patrons from south London home, or even at Hackney Council as a groundsman, despite how I had two arms and wore a bin bag (so like, my clothes wouldn’t get dirty when I was digging stuff).

It was a real shame. A real shame indeed.

The biggest shame of all though was that as an aspiring and talented writer (yeah, I’ve been unemployed for a month so I can now legitimately call myself a writer), people were definitely not set alight by my CV.

And I didn’t immediately understand why.

It was full of great short and long keywords, like:

‘the hunkiest bar man you’ll ever need’

‘bricks and mortar baby – aka, I’ll stand the test of time’, and

‘I definitely didn’t just walk out of my previous job without giving any notice and they definitely didn’t fire me. It was a mutual thing. They knew that I was definitely not the right fit. The right fit? Oh, you know, I just liked working too hard and taking orders so much and excelling at my work so much. Oh yeah, I mean we agreed I’d leave because I was making everyone else look so bad.’

Henry’s CV, May 2019

And I’d even lied about last job, stating that I was definitely less important than I actually was so people wouldn’t be as intimidated by me.

Clerk of the Stationary Cupboard formerly known as King. The Department for Digital, Media, Culture & Sport (haha, get it?!)
June 2017 – May 2019

Henry

So what the hell was going wrong?

How to get a job that pays £8.21 an hour

Then I realised, I was being way too smart for my own good. The people reading my CV didn’t know anything about long keywords. They probably weren’t very good at reading either! (actually. they were, they just didn’t spend all day sitting around reading things and talking to other people about them at the tea point, so had less opportunity to scrutinise)

The best action I could possibly take was to copy and paste all of the key phrases from the job description onto my CV and title them as previous roles responsibilities.

It was so simple!

Clerk of the Stationary Cupboard formerly known as King
June 2017 to May 2019
Responsibilities: To be proud of Bromley Court Hotel’s rich 200 year history and years of experience offering comfortable surroundings, superb food and personal service to all of their guests.

Henry’s CV, June 2019

So I did. I also moved down all of my recent experience and listed some bars that I definitely used to work at.

It was funny because it actually worked.

And now I have a job, waiting tables for 40 hours a week at a burger joint.

And it’s great.

Where else is a successful Hollywood director going to meet a dashing and incredibly handsome waiter that looks like he should definitely be the next Spider Man (four’s the charm, isn’t it?)

And when he does, I’ll make sure I get his order wrong so he has a reason to give me his business card.

Paid work’s for losers

Or how Henry started volunteering, again.

Three weeks ago, I decided to become the greatest copywriter EVER.

To realise my dreams of getting paid £700 a day to write nonsense, I needed to complete my seven point plan.

I’d already ticked off #7: become the coolest kid in Hackney.

How? By going to eight free gigs and writing awful reviews about them. It was irrefutably confirmed when L.A. Peach responded to me positively on Twitter, just after I’d demolished his band.

Clearly I was very, very cool. But that was only one-seventh of the plan.

Two kisses. Seems like L.A. Peach might want to cut me a slice!

Then I remembered that I’d done some research (went to the library and borrowed some books that I definitely didn’t read – reading isn’t cool).

So there were only five points left to complete!

Where next? #2 and #3 of course: develop a kickass portfolio and get some experience.

Surely that’d be achievable in a week.

But who could I trick into letting me work for them when I had absolutely no experience?

I settled on asking my sister’s fiancé if he’d pretend that he was the author of a pre-written reference in exchange for a hand in not failing his medical degree. It was genius, I’d get a reference to put in my portfolio that he could also send to prospective employers! (Like they were going to read a portfolio and a reference)

To minimise the prospect of him saying no, I cooked up an offer that no medical student could refuse.

It was easy. Everyone knows it but, the hardest thing about med school is remembering all the body parts. So to help him not fail his degree, I was prepared to revolutionise his studies with a new take on Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

And it wasn’t even very much work! I was just going to replace some of the classic body parts with more complicated ones, like femur and collar bone!

Femur, collar bone, knees and toes, knees and toes.

Those body parts were SO complicated, the idiot would probably never realise that the song wasn’t that different.

Then I went over and saw that he was already watching this video of the exact same song. Damn, I couldn’t compete with something that good. (The link’s a really shoddy YouTube video. It’s got over 400 million views, but it looks like it was made by a predator. Maybe success in the future is going to be all about making creepy videos for neglectful parents).

Unable to think of anything else that I could help him with, I returned to the drawing board.

The Hackney Gazette Fiasco

Like all those who run out of ideas, I started thinking about how I could reuse my existing content.

It wasn’t long before a great rehashing project came to mind.

Last week I’d written a review about a local eatery, Homerton’s Kingfisher. Maybe to build up a portfolio I could get my review into one of the local papers. It’d be just like getting published (kind of)!

So I rewrote my review for the local press.

If you want to give it a go, the process is simple:

  • Add a dash of amateurism (make it less professional)
  • A touch of character (make it more effusive)
  • A sprinkle of authenticity (added some typos), and
  • Make sure it’s totally PG (remove the expletives)

However, despite sending my revised copy to Time Out, the Londonist, Hackney Citizen, Hackney Today and Hackney Gazette with one extremely persuasive email about how they would be totally unauthentic if they didn’t carry it, only Hackney Gazette got back to me:

Hackney Gazette clearly not stating that they were about to misrepresent me in print (the bastards)

Still, one out of five wasn’t bad.

I was pleased. In the email Hackney Gazette all but confirmed that they were going to publish my review. I couldn’t wait to find out how much money they were going to pay me.

But then they just went silent.

A couple of days later, the paper published an interview with the owner of the Kingfisher.

Upon reading it, I was shocked.

The Hackney Gazette were running a quote from me?! They hadn’t even got in touch to ask me for one. Instead, they had the nerve to make one up out of my revised article, as if I was some sort of dick.

The worst thing was that the quote was completely unrepresentative (I’d rewritten these lines for Hackney Gazette because it was in line with their style guide):

Delighted customer Henry told the Gazette: “While there are already a great range of vegan eateries in Hackney, from the Black Cat Cafe to the Temple of Seitan, what’s different about the Kingfisher is that it’s somewhere you wouldn’t expect to find a vegan menu.

“As an independent, family-owned business, it’s exciting to see them trying out new things.”

Hackney Gazette, I didn’t realise there were so many vegans, says Homerton chip shop owner

Damn. When everyone saw the article they were going to think I was a lot less cool.

By trying to complete #2 and #3 of my plan, I’d jeopardised becoming the coolest kid in Hackney.

I’m never delighted. Fuck being delighted.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

The article didn’t carry my name as author, I received no cheque, and pretty much all of the story (except the interview with the owner) was word-for-word what I’d written in my write-up.

I’d learned the hard way that you can’t trust a journo, even if they only work for Archant.

I also learned that if someone sends you an email, you’re definitely okay to use bits of it as a quote that you can publish online.

But I wasn’t that bitter. At least I’d got the Fish & Chip shop in the paper – they’d probably now give me free fries.

I also had a second reason to live. In addition to becoming the greatest copywriter EVER, I was also now going to have to destroy the Hackney Gazette.

Realistically, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to burn the Hackney Gazette down until I had the resources of a world-class copywriter available to me.

Volunteering means working for free

Great.

Having exhausted all other options, I had to do something that I really didn’t want to.

I needed to start volunteering again.

So I made an account on do-it.org, the peer-to-peer volunteering website and started searching for the perfect opportunity.

While looking it appeared that a lot of old people are lonely. It made me wonder why they don’t make them make friends with each other, or are old people too good for that?

Finally, I found an opportunity for a lead copywriter at a local, Hackney based plc. The organisation will remain anonymous (in case they read my blog), but it was perfect, as it said no experience necessary.

Surprisingly, the offer of a native-English speaking copywriter really interested them. And I was definitely English.

I just hoped that this wasn’t going to turn out like the last time I volunteered:

  • Branded as unemployed in the local press (despite the fact that I had an enviable post in Jobcentre Plus)
  • Aligned with the Conservative Party (shock horror)
  • Having to hang out with other unemployed people (gross), and
  • Eventually securing a job that I, oh so adored in central Government.

I mean, that definitely couldn’t happen again, right?

Heat up the branding iron

or how Henry misinterpreted lukewarm as cool

A crucial step in my seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER involved making sure that everyone in London knew I was the coolest kid in Hackney.

Out of 32 London boroughs, Hackney was definitely the coolest (how isn’t being 98% over the European legal limit for nitrogen dioxide emissions a middle finger straight up at the man?) and if I managed to become the coolest kid in Hackney, I’d probably be the coolest kid in London.

Easy.

Actually, it wasn’t.

I didn’t appreciate the challenge I’d set myself until I took a long look in the mirror.

Standing in my mirror staring spot I said, “mirror mirror, oh what do I see?

Knowing the answer, I gave it, “a 28 year old with great hair.

Suddenly an evil voice emanated from the frame, “look closer. What do you see?

A little confused, I replied, “unwavering determination?

The same voice hissed, “look closer and up a bit.

Then I saw it. I must have missed it because it wasn’t there – a hairline about to sink from mild recession into a deep and tragic depression. And this time the economy definitely wasn’t going to pick up – I didn’t have a job.

The priorities had changed. I needed a Turkish hair transplant stat. But before I could do that, I needed money.

Ah, money. For money I needed a job.

Damn.

Ok, the plan was back on. The parameters had just changed a bit.

I was going to have to become cool but without any hair.

Was that even possible?

Who’s the coolest bald guy?

I racked my brains.

Stumped, I put my favourite thinking record on, Sonic Youth’s Kill Yr Idols.

The title track roared:

I don’t know why,

You want to impress Christgau,

Ah let that shit die,

And find out a new goal.

Then it hit me.

The coolest guy in the world without any hair was Robert Christgau. You know, that guy who wrote all of those mean album reviews for Village Voice and publicly admitted that he knew nothing about music.

I didn’t know anything about music either! I was already qualified. PERFECT!

Robert Christgau almost bald
The self-ordained ‘Dean of American Rock Critics’ – ok, he’s got more hair than I let on. Maybe I wasn’t balding that much. (Photo by Joe Mabel – I found it on wikipedia)

And if I’d interpreted Sonic Youth’s lyrics correctly, he was so cool that even they hadn’t been able to impress him. I mean, he gave Confusion is Sex a C+ and that album’s radical.

I was going to emulate Robert Christgau. But how?

Becoming the dunce of British rock critics

To become the British Robert Christgau, I’d have to write music reviews.

But I didn’t know who any of the cool new bands were and had no desire to spend weekends scrolling through SoundCloud

Then it hit me.

I lived in London and there were loads of free gigs that only friends of the bands and weird groupies went to.

I could write reviews for those gigs!

It was a brilliant plan:

  1. Assuming I didn’t drink anything, it wouldn’t cost any money.
  2. It’d provide a ton of content for my great blog that’d make me look very, very cool.
  3. I’d be able to take pictures of grimy venues and put them on my Instagram account.
  4. Rolling Stone would probably give me a job and I’d be like that kid in the movie about the band who were in that aeroplane that falls out of the sky then the drummer tells everyone he’s gay (you guessed it, Almost Famous).

So I found three free gigs on Dice and went to them.

I then wrote about it here: Gig on Tuesday, Gig on Wednesday and Gig on Thursday.

I was becoming so cool already.

Then my father called.

Parents are made to inspire doubt

RING RING.

After picking up, my father just shouted at me.

Father Henry, “You need to stop doing those bloody music reviews Henry. They’re shit. It’s like you’re writing for Melody Maker.

I didn’t know what the Melody Maker was, but when he said that it was worse than NME I felt awful.

Why? Because NME’s a pile of shit and definitely not cool. I was worse than NME?! Surely not.

I took a look at NME’s best article ever, you know the one, their list of best 90’s EMO songs.

Jimmy Eat World before Jawbreaker?

I was reassured. Whoever wrote for NME was clearly an imbecile and I definitely wasn’t.

I still didn’t know what Melody Maker was though so I googled it.

Yes, Melody Maker was the Daily Telegraph of the music rags. I’m not even making this up, the editor actually wanted it to emulate the Daily Telegraph.

But, I mean, my music reviews weren’t overly long or complicated. I had an inkling that my father was acting out.

I was about to challenge him on it when my sister and mother said exactly the same thing: “Henry, you need to stop writing those music reviews. They’re just not very good.

Damn, all three of my readers had told me that half the content on my site wasn’t any good.

I took a moment to reflect. Looking over the reviews I just didn’t get what was wrong with them.

The exercise had even shown me how to publish threads on my new Twitter account.

What was going on?

Then I thought back to my copywriter training.

What did my readers have in common?

Understanding (and disregarding) your audience

Ohhh, yes! My father, my mother and my sister had never, ever been to a gig EVER and their favourite musicians were QT and Billy Bragg.

It was confirmed: their opinions didn’t matter!

I’d be damned if I was going to stop going to free gigs, drinking too much beer on a daily basis and writing bad music reviews about the bands I saw. 

Redemption sometimes comes in SMS (the joke doesn’t work if you don’t pronounce SMS as smeees. Get it? It sounds like threes)

And just as I realised that I was well on my way to becoming even cooler, I received a text from Dice.

I’d won tickets to All Points East.

Dice Tickets
I was sad. I really wanted to see the Courtneys.

The gods had spoken and they clearly wanted to read my review of everything that happened at All Points East.

I mean, it was clearly a sign and I couldn’t disappoint the gods now, could I?

Copywriting research starts at Homerton Library

or how Henry uncovered the Homerton Library conspiracy

I’d developed a foolproof seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER. Now I just had to execute it.

Where to start?

I rolled a one. Yes, I was going to Do Way More Research.

Where does research start? AT THE LIBRARY!

1. Getting to Homerton Library

I showered, squeezed into a button shirt and made my way to the library.

While walking I hummed everyone’s favourite song about libraries. Yeah, that one from Arthur.

Having fun isn’t hard,

When you’ve got a library card.

(That’s right!)

Having fun isn’t hard,

When you’ve got a library card.

Remembering the nation’s best-loved aardvark was a reassurance and useful for my future career (aardvark is a good copywriting word because it starts with two a’s). Surely the library wouldn’t be a bore at all!

Then I remembered that I didn’t have a library card.

Did that mean I couldn’t have any fun and more importantly couldn’t do any work?

Probably.

But I was almost halfway there. I couldn’t turn back. Valiantly, I strode on.

2. Enter the library

The foyer smelled like bleach and primary school lunches. It was only 10:00am but already uniformed children were stalking the corridors (probably hiding from bullies).

This all brought back painful childhood memories so I hastily passed through the metal detectors and entered the book room.

I was almost knocked out by the heat. It was tropical.

Now between the bookcases I pulled out my imaginary binoculars and took a moment to admire the wildlife:

  • A suit perched on a low padded chair. No book just a phone. He was definitely pretending to be there for a business meeting.
  • A hippy reading a vegan cookbook. He must be trying to figure out how to make his tinned spaghetti & sausages more palatable.
  • Three evenly spaced shadows hunched over keyboards all scrolling through Facebook. It must be that time of the week when people need to update their universal credit claimant commitments with job search activity.

I carefully placed my imaginary binoculars back. As the world spins it’s heartening to know that some things will never change.

I made my way to Librarian Island. 

I’ve lost my library card. I need a new one.

The only librarian sitting in front of a computer gave me a disgusted look, “I don’t know how to use the new system.” She turned to her coworker, “Darnell, can you help him?

And for once Darnell’s shaking head was a resounding yes! Of course he could!

Darnell sat me down and went through the secure library card recovery procedure, “What’s your first and last name?” – Yeah, that was it. He didn’t even ask for my address.

Library card fraud is an opportunity

Hell, if the whole copywriting thing didn’t work library card fraud might.

THE PLAN: Get someone’s first and last name, take out smutty books (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight), scrawl dreams of kidnapping onto the blank pages at the back, date them and proceed to blackmail whichever irresponsible person didn’t shred their junk mail.

Darnell found my account and promptly demanded £12. Apparently I’d never returned a book on the Rolling Stones. That didn’t sound like me. I way prefer the Stooges.

It was a difficult decision. I didn’t want to give Homerton Library £12. I was unemployed. But eventually I complied. I needed access to free books.

He then handed me my magnificent new key to knowledge. It had pictures of cyclists in London Fields. GREAT!

But where to start? I knew the Dewey Decimal System by heart, but where do copywriting and technology fit into its ten categories? Was it general works, philosophy and psychology, religion, social sciences, language or history, biography, and geography?

Where would writing to trick people and make money fit into that list? Probably religion.

Luckily I didn’t have to ponder for too long, there were signs for those less gifted than I.

3. Who buys books for libraries?

I was directed to the technology section.

Pursuing the books was a disaster. They were dreadful.

Quick Steps Microsoft Word 2003, Step by Step Microsoft Word 2016, My Facebook for Seniors, DK’s Effective Marketing and Successful Marketing Plans in a Week. HG Wells’ War of the Worlds was there too.

Damn.

Once again Arthur had wasted my time. There definitely weren’t any decent books at the library and I wasn’t having any fun at all.

Maybe I was looking in the wrong section.

I accessed the online catalogue. I knew the title of one book that I wanted to borrow, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Apparently there were only two copies in London and they’d been missing in action since 2011 and March 2019 respectively.

PhotoEditor_20190522_140650658

4. Settle with what’s there

I knew then that going to the library was just like dating.

I was going to have to follow my parents example and settle with ripping trodden chewing gum from the pavement and making the best of it.

So here’s to making the best of it!

I borrowed:

  1. Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen
  2. Writing Great Copy, Sallyann Sheridan
  3. The Golden Rules of Blogging, Robin Houghton
  4. Creative Advertising: An Introduction, Miriam Sorrentino (this one looked good, it had pictures)
  5. How to Write a Marketing Plan, John Westwood
  6. SEO for Dummies, Peter Kent

All six looked shit but they were going to have to do.

Who knew? They’d probably be the backbone of a later extremely well received post on my blog entitled Top Six Books Copywriters should Totally NOT Bother Reading. I was at an advantage. Unlike the other lists of top books copywriters should read (here, here and here) at least I’d actually read the books in mine.

Homerton Library had given me until 11th June to make this list. I was going to need to move faster than that though. I set a timer and said to myself softly, “Henry, you’ve got until Sunday. Go.

5. What I learned about the library

I had the books, but while at the library I think I may have uncovered something much more sinister.

Face it. Here’s what sinister looks like spelled out in black and white:

  • £12 library fines.
  • Unemployed patrons.
  • A selection of books that actually reduce your chances of finding work.
  • An extortionate staffing and heating budget.

You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you?

Yes, Homerton Library was in cahoots with all the self help publishers. It was delivering an effective plan to make sure people stayed unemployed and kept getting fined (I wasn’t sure how, but they must have been). It was like the Department for Work and Pensions but more creative.

It was my civic duty to expose them and uncover this conspiracy.

But first, I had to read all these books.

Seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER

It was settled. I was going to become the greatest copywriter EVER.

How it started

Easy. I needed to lay some sturdy foundations and figure out exactly what copywriting was.

To the foundations!

And where do you learn about laying foundations? Wikipedia!

I looked up the definition of copywriting:

Copywriting is the act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing. The product, called copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action.

Copywriters help create billboards, brochures, catalogs, jingle lyrics, magazine and newspaper advertisements, sales letters and other direct mail, scripts for television or radio commercials, taglines, white papers, social media posts, and other marketing communications.

That was definitely manageable.

With an in depth understanding of copywriting I started looking for a new job.

Looking for that first copywriting job

I went straight onto LinkedIn (actually my girlfriend sent me some links. Impressed aren’t you? I’m getting pretty good at twisting the truth, aka advertising).

One position came out with a swift kick to the teeth: Junior Copywriter at Dr Martens.

Before I’d even read the ad I knew getting the job must be a piece of cake. Why?

  • People call those boots Doc Martens not Doctor Martens, hence it’s safe to assume that their head of advertising department can’t read and is highly incompetent.
  • They are probably desperate for a cool new, left-leaning junior with a lot of hair (yours truly) to help them shake off the image of skinheads and neo-nazis.

As my first potential position I knew I’d be more than happy to put in some extra work and help Dr Martens completely reinvent their brand for 2019.

Feeling confident, I looked at the job spec.

It was the first time I realised that copywriters are a pretentious as hell.

Getting my first ‘gig’ might prove difficult than I’d initially thought.

Take a look for yourself:

Doc Martens, Junior Copywriter

To be our Junior Copywriter, you will also possess the following:

  • Experience in a full-time copywriting role. Preferably in the retail, fashion or music industry
  • A love of music, DM’s, fashion and footwear
  • A track record of managing tight deadlines and multiple projects simultaneously
  • A passion for language and a flair for writing original, unexpected copy
  • Strong commercial awareness and knowledge of key copy KPIs
  • Enthusiasm and an inexhaustible supply of ideas
  • The confidence to tackle all forms of copywriting: from click-worthy captions to scroll-enticing articles
  • A degree-level qualification in a relevant subject such as English or Creative Writing

Damn the requirements were high and this was only for a junior role!

It presented a real problem.

I had no experience in a full-time copywriting role, I thought DMs (dungeon masters) were totally uncool, I was bemused by how words could have key performance indicators (‘boot’ needs to get at least 4,000 views today) and definitely did not have a degree in creative writing. Who does have a degree in creative writing anyway?

How the hell was I going to get a job like that?

I needed to tear down my soft, non-copywriting self and to begin rebuilding immediately. It was daunting but exciting – I was about to become the slickest creative machine in Hackney and I knew it would probably involve stickers.

So I decided to systematically strip myself down. The best way to do this: a foolproof seven point plan (to do list):

Henry’s seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER

1. Do way more research

I needed to become fluent in the language of copy. Yes, I had to develop an understanding of advertising, marketing and all of the associated acronyms (CPM, CTA, IAB, SOV, SEO and more). I also needed to know something about psychology. Why? How else was I going to trick someone into giving me a job?

2. Get good at writing

I wasn’t immediately convinced that this was necessary but I knew that I needed to sell myself as more qualified to write than anyone else. To do that, I had to at least trick myself into believing that I’d got super good at writing. The first step was probably to write and read more. Decent outcome.

3. Develop a kickass portfolio

For a profession that spends all day playing with words it’s surprising that it can’t just take me on mine, but life’s confusing. I needed to develop a killer portfolio with a shed load of original and creative copy. It had to have the best adverts selling bubble mixture, jingles explaining the dangers of not eating enough carrots, all potentially topped off with a radio advert for the mayor on today’s most biting issue: public urination.

4. Get some experience (and references)

Just a portfolio wouldn’t cut it. I had to get some real experience so I had references. References would mean that other people would suddenly become accountable for my eventual employment. The easiest way to do that would probably be to do some writing for free. I needed to do some copywriting volunteering.

5. Find a special subject and stick to it

All the advice that I’ve read online says that generalist copywriters fail and copywriters with a special subject succeed. The problem was I didn’t know or really care about anything. The options were limited too. What subject can you specialise in as a copywriter? Trains, video games, legal regulations and hatred of men? I didn’t want to write about any of that. Then it struck me. I could write about technology or digital or ‘the internet‘. It seemed like a safe bet, as it could cover anything from sex dolls to how to talk to your toaster! Perfect.

6. Build a professional network

To secure work employers need to think you’re the real deal. Humans are social creatures so association with other humans is important. I was going to have to meet other copywriters and make friends with them. Maybe I could meet them at Westfield Shopping Centre? There are lots of things that need copy there.

7. Rebrand myself as the coolest kid in Hackney

The Doc Marten advert said it all: creatives need to be cool. I was already super cool, but deep down I knew that not everyone knew this. I was going to sacrifice some of my current cool to make sure that everyone found out (unfortunately self-promotion is not cool). I’d begin by developing a social media presence (here’s my instagram), take pictures of myself doing cool things and buy more thrash metal t-shirts.

It was settled. I should probably start.

What better place than Homerton Library?

I had a shower and set off.

How I decided to become the greatest copywriter EVER

It’s Sunday and the clock’s ticking. Tomorrow and it’ll have been a week since I quit my job and no, I still don’t have anything to show for it.

So today, out of necessity, I decided to figure out exactly what I’m going to do with my life.

I’m glad to report that I figured it out (and it only took the afternoon).

Hello world, can you hear me? I am going to become the greatest copywriter EVER.

I don’t know how or why or what a copywriter even is, but I really need some direction so my mind’s made up. I mean, I can always figure out the details next week. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, I’ll figure it out on Monday.

Honestly, does anyone actually know what they want to do with their life? Probably not.

It hit me that I could help people figure it out!

That’s why I’ve taken the time to write down how I came to my own magnificent conclusion today.

If you’re as confused as I was this morning then I strongly recommend you read on.

1. How it started

Earlier today I didn’t know what I should do with my life, so I asked google.

Google, oh great oracle, what should I do with my life?

Google directed me to this page on the The Muse, 7 Ways to Answer “What Should I Do With My Life?”

The article recommends seven actions you can take to figure out what to do with your life.

I don’t recommend reading it because it’s crap.

But I do recommend that you read my responses to the seven recommended actions. It’s a much better way to gauge whether you’re doing everything you can to figure out what to do with your life.

2. Seven ways I’m already working towards finding the answer of what to do with my life

While reading The Muse’s article it struck me that I was definitely already doing everything that I possibly could to find direction in my life.

Take a look for yourself:

  1. Talk to people – yesterday I spoke to some weird Australian outside Dalston’s Loading Bar about how ridiculous it is that teachers are expected to be social workers. I agreed with him because it is. Then I spoke to someone else.
  2. Get started – I woke up this morning, didn’t I?
  3. Gather inspiration from others – I’ve read John McAfee’s wikipedia page twice and feel inspired to become a door-to-door seller of snake oil.
  4. Prepare for a long journey – I washed my clothes on Friday. They’re now strewn across my bedroom floor. Very easy to pack quickly ahead of setting out on a long journey.
  5. Leave your comfort zone – I quit my job last Monday (I’ve said this one already).
  6. Be ok with failing – I am. I’m the best at failing.
  7. Enjoy not knowing – I stopped using visual stimuli for arousal and now just use my imagination. Yep, no more Tate Modern for Henry.

Realising that I was already doing everything that the internet could suggest I had an epiphany.

Yes, I was going to have to figure this out myself.

3. Understanding why my life needs direction

To find some direction, I first had to understand exactly why my life needs direction.

I got out my very shiny bic biro and listed every reason I could think of:

  1. To pay for stuff (rent, organic wine, scratch cards, to give to charity to look like I have a heart, etc.)

I tried to think of other things that direction would enable me to achieve but came up with nothing. So it was settled, the only reason my life needed direction was so I could have money to pay for stuff.

But I knew there must be a better way of articulating it.

After some intense thinking (thank you Jeremy Bentham) I figured it out:

I need a long term means of securing more money than I can realistically spend in the manner that is least painful to me.

It was settled.

I had to find the least painful way to get the most money.

4. Turns out direction is a job

How do you get money? I wasn’t sure, but I knew that I really didn’t want to get a new job.

To try and avoid getting a new one, I assessed some of the most realistic alternatives:

  1. Marry an old rich person – I didn’t want to admit it straight away but I’m too old to marry an old rich person.
  2. Inherit some money – I called my mother and then my grandfather. Both hung up as soon as I started asking for money (it’s a good thing that greed isn’t genetic).
  3. Win some money – I bought scratch cards. I always buy scratch cards. I didn’t win anything.

I knew then that I was going to have to get another job. Damn.

5. Which job do you do?

How do you figure out which job is right for you?

I was going to ask Google but I’d got this far on my own so I kept using my own initiative.

I made a list of all the jobs that a man of my vast talent could do and then noted down the positives and negatives of each one. (You can already tell that I’m a master of analysis can’t you?)

Here are the five jobs I could probably do (be bothered to do):

Cosmonaut

An astronaut employed by the Russian Federal Space Agency. The train driver of the universe.

Positives:

  • It’s probably an easy gig to get (apparently 25% of Russian men die before they’re 55 or is that just propaganda?)
  • There’s no rent to pay on the international space station.
  • You can legitimately change your ringtone to the original Star Trek theme (or whatever the theme tune to Kosmicheskaya Militsiya was)

Negatives:

  • Space probably sucks.
  • Potential to get embroiled in disputes between super powers.
  • It would make my mother very proud and she’d only just refused to give me money for absolutely no reason.

Your shirt

The sum of two sleeves, a popped collar and a long hem. A noble but often overlooked occupation.

Positives:

  • I could hug you while you work and hug you while you don’t work.
  • Risk of being donated to a charity shop (good start to a new career as a charity shop robber).
  • Good holiday perks and minimal washing required (imagine going from showering daily to a weekly or even fortnightly spin).

Negatives:

  • Limited earning potential (shirts don’t earn money).
  • Risk of being donated to a charity shop (may be purchased by an eco-warrior who doesn’t wear deodorant and has dreadlocks).
  • Long days.

Bank robber

One of the oldest alternatives to a weekly or monthly paycheck and attractive given that a lifetime serving one machine is [apparently] ten times worse than prison (or so I hear).

Positives:

  • Opportunity to become a foot soldier in the fight against capitalism.
  • Good excuse to avoid social commitments.
  • Great excuse to change your hair colour.

Negatives:

Indiana Jones II

A globetrotting professor with a doctorate in grave robbing and Nazi slaying.

Positives:

Negatives:

Copywriter

Home-working, word-spinning, confidence [man, woman, other] with a reputation for being a creative even though they don’t paint or play an instrument.

Positives:

  • Freelancing potential (possibility to work in boxers).
  • Could get paid to twist the truth or even lie (that’s totally in now, isn’t it?).
  • Peers more likely to think it’s cool compared to public service.

Negatives:

  • Work might include writing product descriptions on Amazon (yes, the top earning UK copywriter on upwork appears to focus on writing Amazon product descriptions – the glamour).
  • Networking requirements (bore).
  • Limited desire to be promoted to ‘Spin Doctor’.

I tallied up the scores and it was immediately clear:

I should become a copywriter!

And explaining my decision to myself and others would be easy.

6. Why I concluded that it’s a good idea for me to try and be a copywriter

If I was a copywriter I’d get paid (unlike Your shirt), I wouldn’t make my parents too proud, I probably wouldn’t have to go to jail (maybe I could be a Bank robber if this didn’t work out) and even though I’d probably end up metaphorically grave robbing someone, it wouldn’t amount to actual grave robbing.

Perfect!

So it was settled. From Monday, I, Henry, would start working towards becoming the greatest copywriter EVER.

But where should I start?

I don’t immediately know. But I do know that this has surely been enough work for today.

I unscrew a bottle of organic wine.

Yes, I’ll work out the details tomorrow.