Creative writing vs. copywriting

When I got my first copywriting job, I quickly realised the skills I gained at university weren’t enough for me to be good at it.

Oh sure, you can do it

I did a creative writing degree, which mostly focused on writing prose, poetry and scripts. Narrative stuff. But in my third year, I had the opportunity to study a unit about copywriting.

This unit was great for giving me an overview of where to find copywriting, and for letting me try some of it out myself. But it was a tiny add-on to a degree with an entirely different focus.

Whilst my teacher for this unit was a professional copywriter, the senior staff running my degree had a more casual attitude towards copywriting. Their sentiments were along the lines of ‘Oh, as creative writers you can totally be copywriters. Businesses need your skills.’

I was a bit guilty of taking this attitude to my first copywriting job. I knew there would be challenges, but I approached these like a, well, creative writing graduate. Bad idea.

Not the same thing

Creative writing and copywriting are separate disciplines. I went into my job thinking I could just do it, because I had the creative writing skills that businesses needed.

There was an awful lot I wasn’t trained for. I didn’t know I’d sometimes have to come up with my own briefs, or realise some words can be too academic for certain audiences.

I think universities who run creative writing degrees like mine need to be careful about how they treat copywriting. It’s great to introduce students to it, and I don’t think I would have gotten into it without the unit I studied.

But it’s important to tell students it’s not the same as creative writing, and perhaps suggest how they can get a deeper insight into copywriting for a living and the challenges they may face.

My creative writing degree may have been the reason I got into copywriting, but it only offered me a glimpse of what it’s like. Universities need to be careful with how they portray it to creative writing students, and express that it’s not just something creative writers can do with their existing skills.

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