Five things not to do in your first draft


Ernest Hemingway said “all first drafts are shit,” and he’s right. Your first draft is far from good, but it’s the difference between having something written on paper and nothing at all.

There’s no point getting upset over a terrible first draft. It’s not what your client will be judging your skills on. There’s also no point spending hours on getting it perfect. What you should be spending hours on is research and editing.

Your first draft is about getting something done quickly, which you can make better later. But there are some things you shouldn’t do when writing it.

  1. Don’t be afraid of going off-topic

Before you write anything, know what you’re writing about. A plan doesn’t have to be much, and it can show you what you should be writing and where you should be writing it. For my blog posts, my plans are usually just a list of things I want to cover, and I write this in the order I want to cover them.

A plan can stop you from going off-topic, but don’t worry about this yet. Just write. Anything that doesn’t fit can be taken out at the editing stage.

  1. Don’t fix your spelling and grammar

If you stop writing your first draft every time you misuse a comma, you’ll spend a long time getting it done. Bad spelling and grammar can be made good during editing.

  1. Don’t worry about your TOV

Your message is what you say, and your tone of voice is how you say it. For your first draft, focus on doing the former as best as you can. Your TOV can be sharpened up later.

  1. Don’t follow any other rules

Remember George Orwell’s rules on good writing? Don’t worry about those in your first draft. Use cliché. Use long words instead of short ones. Use six words where you could use five. All of this can be fixed another time.

  1. Don’t love your writing

Once your first draft is done, walk away. Leave it for at least 24 hours. When you come back, you’ll see what a shit job you’ve done. This will make it easier to improve.

Don’t fall in love with your first draft. You won’t want to change it, and your reader will suffer.

Your thoughts

What else shouldn’t you do when writing a first draft? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

10 years of the iPhone: how it changed copywriting


I read an article on the BBC website about the iPhone turning 10 this year. The author talked about how the device popularised certain actions. This blog post will look at the ways the iPhone, and smart phones in general, have affected copywriting.

Browsing the web got easier

It was possible to browse the Internet on a mobile phone before smart phones got so popular. But with their small, low quality screens, it was difficult. The iPhone changed that. Now most phones are hand-held computers first and telephones second.

Brands know this, and many build their websites to work on phone screens as well as computer monitors. You can tell when they haven’t, as their pages will appear cramped and probably make you want to leave their site.

More emails got opened

Again, it was possible to open emails on a mobile, but old interfaces made it a hassle. Since we now carry mini computers with much nicer-looking interfaces in our pockets all the time, we’re checking our emails a lot more than before. And brands are sending out more email campaigns than before.

Email campaign websites like Mailchimp let copywriters see what their emails will look like on smart phone screens, so they can adjust their copy to fit these.

Image sourcing got simpler

Many companies ask their marketing staff to be multi-disciplined. When you write a news story or blog post for their website, or content for their social media pages, you’ll often be expected to find the image for this too.

Your image may be determined by your copy, but for things like exhibition or conference attendances, smart phone cameras have made it easier to get these images yourself, and at a decent quality. All you have to do is go to your phone’s camera app, and take the picture.

Your thoughts

What other ways has the iPhone and smart phones changed copywriting? Share your answers in the comments section below.

Can anyone be just a copywriter?


When I studied a copywriting module at university, my teacher, who was a wise and experienced copywriter, taught me how to write for print and the web. They made it sound like I could earn a living from just this.

Accurately enough, I became a junior copywriter after leaving university, where I wrote copy for print and the web. My creative director, who was also a wise and experienced copywriter, made it sound like I could earn a living from just this. And there are loads of books that have told me how to be a good copywriter.

But my teacher, creative director and books didn’t tell me how to be an events organiser. Or an analytics reporter. Or a design expert or an SEO guru. And I’ve read lots of job descriptions that ask me to be all of this.

A small part

Search any recruitment website, and there are tonnes of job adverts for marketing assistants or campaigns executives. These adverts usually say copywriting only makes up a small part of your role.

The rest of your time is spent reading and reporting on the analytics of your company’s website, helping them set up with promotional events, improving their SEO (something which divides copywriters) and using design software (which regular readers will know I think is an entirely different discipline).

I searched a recruitment site for copywriter jobs, and found loads of job descriptions for marketing assistants and communications assistants. Here’s an example of the duties involved in these:

“Maintaining and updating the company website and marketing materials (experience using WordPress would be hugely beneficial); writing and updating marketing materials using InDesign and/or Illustrator; developing and managing marketing image library; monitoring social media accounts; monitoring and tracking marketing activity – e.g. competitor analysis; working alongside the Marketing Manager to plan and analyse current and future marketing campaigns; keeping company documents and sales presentations up to date; creating and monitoring email marketing campaigns to support our sales teams.”

Writing website copy gets a small, somewhat clouded mention at the beginning. Here’s another example:

“Creating and scheduling HTML marketing emails and managing mailboxes; database and website updates; management of social media pages; organising and processing book reviews; marketing direct mail, catalogues and flyers; producing a monthly marketing report; customer relations, including answering publishing related enquiries by email and telephone; creating promotional book displays for conferences and attending coffee breaks; research and contact conference organisers to promote publishing services; creating and editing promotional material, including use of Photoshop and InDesign.”

‘Pure’ copywriter jobs

Adverts for ‘pure’ copywriter jobs do exist, but personal experience suggests they don’t appear as often as marketing assistant ones. I did find one during my search, and the description was a lot shorter than the other examples:

“If you’re a super talented writer who is passionate about content, obsessive about words and is looking for the next career step – then you may have found your calling.”

And of course, many freelance copywriters advertise themselves as just that. Copywriting is their speciality, maybe because they’ve earned the right to sell a high-quality service after decades of hard work.

A dilemma 

There’s lots of great advice on copywriting out there. But with so many jobs asking for more than this, I have a dilemma.

Should copywriters be multi-disciplined to find work, or should recruiters respect copywriting as something that can’t be put under an umbrella with other things?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments section below.

How alcohol can improve your creativity


A few weeks ago, I published a blog post about what brands can learn from Weatherspoons. In that post, I apologised to anyone taking part in Dry January, who may have felt envious from the talk of alcohol. I also said I’d make it up them.

Since Dry January ends tomorrow, I decided to do that now. So read on to learn about a study from issue 3102 of New Scientist, written by Helen Thomson, about how alcohol can improve your creativity.

Also, please drink responsibly.

Creative solutions

According to an experiment carried out by Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University, Starkville, and several of his colleagues, a small tipple of alcohol “makes it easier to solve problems that require creative solutions.”

They had 40 men complete a series of memory tests. The men were then put into pairs with similar working memory capacities. One of each pair drank a vodka and cranberry. Both of them were then asked to solve a series of word problems.

Those who drank “were better at solving problems that required thinking outside of the box.”

Why was this? Well, the theory is alcohol reduces our working memory capacity, or our “ability to focus on one thing rather than blocking out peripheral information.”

When we lower these walls, “your mind can wander, making novel connections that can otherwise be overlooked.”

Get out of your head

You hear a lot about how spending time away from your desk or computer screen is essential for creativity. And about how the idea process mostly happens away from your place of work, when you’re not trying to focus so hard on one task.

This gets a mention in copywriter Andy Maslen’s Write to Sell, and advertiser James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas.

We won’t think of a miracle by staying inside our own heads. If we want to be more creative, we need to let our minds wander, so they can make “novel connections” between the things we usually overlook.

Other good things

A small amount of alcohol may be good for our creativity, but what else is? If you know of anything, please share it in the comments section below.

What I read in January

Welcome to the first ‘what I read’ of 2017. The month’s books explore happiness, death and change.

hygge-coverThe Little Book of Hygge

Meik Wiking, Penguin Life 2016

The concept of being happier with our immediate surroundings is a warm one, and the inclusion of food recipes is a nice touch. The early chapters, however, seem a little jumbled, and affordability of the recommended activities is open to question. At these points, the tone of the book risks coming off as smug. But it all comes from good intentions.



In the Midst of Life

Jennifer Worth, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2011

The fourth book in the Call the Midwife series invites you to take part in a moral debate: should death always be prevented? The author’s opinion seems clear until the climax, where things become a little shaky. The appendix is so expansive it requires its own sitting, but it’s a relevant and generous offering from Jennifer Worth. Life, on the whole, is a welcome edition to the series, which introduces new themes and asks the reader to understand the ethics behind some difficult medical choices.

 the-tipping-point-coverThe Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell, Abacus 2001

From increasing shoe sales to decreasing crime rates, there’s a lone factor – a ‘tipping point’ – that decides if something is going to be successful, apparently. It’s nice hearing about the success stories behind brands, like Airwalk and Sesame Street. But the so-called ‘tipping points’ can happen so fast they sometimes get stepped over, which can leave you wandering how a thing goes from struggling point A to star-studded point B.

What can brands learn from Wetherspoons?

Photo by Calflier001. Used under a Creative Commons License. 

I recently saw an article on The Economist website about the success of JD Wetherspoon, or Wetherspoons, as these chain pubs are commonly known.

It talked about how the owner, Tim Martin, was attracting a bigger, more diverse audience – which includes ‘teenagers, old codgers and young mothers’ – than smaller, non-chain competitors. He thinks there are three reasons for this success, and I want to share them here.

If you’re reading this and currently taking part in Dry January, I’m sorry if the talk of pubs makes you crazy for alcohol. I’ll make it up to you next month. You’ll see.

Anyway, Tim believes the following has helped his brand be successful.

Giving people what they want

Tim spends a lot of time visiting his pubs and listening to his customers. Two days a week, in fact. ‘He interrogates landlords and mingles with punters, doing so alone to ensure he is “exposed to what people really think.”’

From these conversations, he’s learned customers want mellow lighting, early opening hours and cooked breakfasts, and the latter is the best-selling dish on his menus. “When things go wrong at big retailers it’s usually because they’ve lost that connection [with customers],” says Tim. Does this mean some brands have collapsed through not paying attention to theirs?

Not having a target audience

Years ago, Tim was mocked for ignoring studies on appealing to specific crowds. He decided not to aim his pubs at men over 50 or women under 30, for example. He believes “a pub is best when it’s a melting pot,” and clearly he’s on to something. Today, ‘pubs aimed specifically at women, old people and other groups are failing.’

Everyone wants to feel welcome at a pub, and quirky ideas don’t always appeal to the masses. ‘Dishes served on bricks, in jam-jars and the like,’ may look lovely to some niche audiences, but they look silly to everyone else. Plates and cutlery may be boring, but they’re easy for everyone to use.

Keeping prices low

A simple way of appealing to the masses, however, is to not crush their bank balances. Many small businesses fail ‘because they charge too much in the country’s wage-stagnant economy.’ But Tim’s business is thriving thanks to the relatively low costs of food and drink at his pubs.

 A successful brand

 Listening to customers, lowering prices and appealing to everyone has made Wetherspoons a successful brand. The first two may be obvious, but the latter may puzzle marketers who believe appealing to an average reader is essential.

What other brands are doing well? Why do you think this is? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

How do strikes affect brands?


One of the biggest new stories in the UK throughout 2016 was the disruption to Southern Rail services, caused by strike action. Many customers voiced their frustration, and this made me wonder how strikes affect our perception of brands.

I’m going to look at the responses to the strikes, from customers and competitors. This is just one example from one industry, which many people rely on daily. Other brands in other industries may not get the reactions Southern gets.

Drops in satisfaction

The National Rail Passenger Survey measures what customers think of train brands, and the latest edition was publish in Spring 2016.

Overall satisfaction for Southern stood at 69%. This is an eight-point drop from the last Report, published in Autumn 2015. Value for money also took a six-point dip, down to 35%, and reliability dropped by 12 points to 53%.

This shows customers don’t think kindly of Southern, but these figures aren’t that much lower from what they were before. The strikes have only annoyed customers a little more than usual.


As I said at the start of this post, many Southern customers have shared their anger with social media and news outlets.

One customer, a software developer named Bradley Rees, designed an app called Southern Fail. This lets customers produce Southern-style posters, but rather than advertising the company’s services, the app lets them write their complaints here.

Competitors in the transport industry have used Southern’s problems in their marketing materials. National Express, a coach operator, used the hashtag #RailFail in one of their email campaigns which acknowledges the strike action. A page on their website does the same, and promotes their services as being comfier and better value for money.


Just one example

While strike action has clearly had an impact on how customers think about Southern, this hasn’t massively changed how they thought of the brand before. But customers and competitors have responded to the brand’s problems creatively and commercially.