Routines, Plots & Collaboration - Same shit, different medium.

Posted: 1st Dec 2013

No right or wrong - Guardian Screenwriting Masterclass.

Last weekend I spent my Sunday with some pretty amazing writers. The Guardian hosted a screenwriting masterclass and I was lucky enough to attend. I went expecting to find out about the industry, the craft and the realities of the business. I've been a screenwriter for many years now but am always more curious about finding out about how some of Britain's best writers work on a daily basis than how to 'break into the industry'.

Every writer has a unique way of working. Each of the 5 speakers had a totally different approach and relationship with the film industry.

Joanna Hogg

I found Joanna to be the most influential of the speakers. She came from a TV directing background but is now a renowned film writer/director. She mastered social realism, each of her films centred on family relationships and unique locations.

I loved the way she wrote. Often structure, especially the strict format of a script, can limit your scope and be a real burden. Joanna combated this by writing her scripts as a prose of sorts, she ditched the typical dialogue and action format and opted for a focus on feelings and visuals. Her scripts were full of photos and off-screen references, I loved it.

Hanif Kureishi

Famed for films such as 'My beautiful Laundrette' and 'My son, the Fanatic', Hanif was one of the writers I couldn't wait to meet. He was a character with a harsh, realistic opinion of his craft. He is fearless and unromantic in his writing process, he writes for directors and is a chronic over-writer.

He discussed his influences and relationship with the film-makers who adopt his scripts. He was happy to pass over his work and move onto the next project, he wasn't at all precious over his scripts. He also advocated criticism and believed one of the greatest things a writer needs is honest feedback from people who know what they are talking about.

Christopher Hampton

Chris was perhaps the most prestigious and credited writer at the event. As a director as well, he had a unique perspective on the role of the writer. He knew that no two scripts are the same and worked on each new project with a new perspective and routine. Freedom and narrative were heavily discussed, Chris believed that screenwriting was in fact a very limiting medium to work in.

He was highly concerned with structure and story. Discovering what makes a story a 'screen story' was integral when it came to creating the characters and narratives. As a writer who adapted novels and theatre plays, he referred to a script as simply a 'blueprint'.

I was impressed at how honest the speakers were. Each writer was open about their occasional lack of confidence in their work. How they wrote and collaborated with directors was truly insightful, their success was attributed to the fact that each writer simply wrote for themselves.

Beat the copywriting blues

Posted: 4th Nov 2013

Get yourself out your copy funk.

We have all been there. You can have a packed schedule of interesting, well paid jobs but when you get yourself into that copy lull it can be deadly. Self-discipline is an art form. It's something I have developed over years as a writer but no one is perfect. Keeping yourself motivated, on the ball and focused is tough.

So, you're having one of those flimsy, meh weeks but the clients are calling, what can you do to get back on track?

Sometimes it's just a case of boredom.

It's not a bad thing to be bored out your nut with the projects you have on. The moment your week becomes uniform and repetitive you naturally lose interest. There are some weeks where the bread and butter jobs will be anything but creative opportunities but this is the nature of being a freelancer. I find it comforting to look over my to-do lists of previous weeks, no two weeks tend to be the same. Take time to enjoy your research stages, approach topics with a new angle and use this time to perfect what you do best - write.

Get organised.

If you are living from hour to hour without a schedule or plan, you can't see the end and beginnings of each project. I'm the type of person who revels in a system of organisation. Give your projects time frames, maybe even challenge yourself to beat the clock. It may seem silly but self-imposed deadlines are the best way to get to grips with your ability.

Get away from your machine.

Sometimes there is nothing worse than a screen. Get off your arse and do the dishes, hoover, anything that allows your brain to process your day and thoughts itself. You'll be amazed at how easy solutions and ideas come to you. I write most of my copy by hand first, and this really helps me chart my thought process.

At the end of the day, you can't be in awe of your job everyday. Some projects are amazing, others mundane. Any opportunity to hone your craft is a gift, and it may say cheesy but it's true.

Collaboration & Copywriting

Posted: 3rd Oct 2013

The Value of a Copywriter.

Collaboration is one of the hottest buzzwords out there. Usually more of a selling point than actual ethos, it is one of those terms that evokes pure creativity. Aye, creativity is a huge part of collaboration but there is so much more to this than concepts and end results.

Generally speaking, collaboration and copywriting are not overly familiar bedfellows. I'm not really talking about the classic art director / copywriter pairing, but more the client / copywriter relationship. Obviously all projects and clients differ. Some are more savvy and understand the value that a copywriter can bring to a project, while other simply expect the brief to draft to invoice treatment.

You don't know it all.

Not all projects require collaboration or new ideas, personally I believe the second you bring on a professional you should be open to a re-education and discussion, but for many it's a 'me client, you worker' type of affair.

Whether a blog post, website copy or marketing materials, there are so many common factors that have the ability to redefine the initial brief. Elements such as tone, language and SEO are but the tip of the iceberg.

Copy needs to perform. It has to tick the emotional and functional boxes, all the while being as appealing, on-tone and effective as possible. The best thing a copywriter can do to enhance or introduce an aspect of collaboration is to make this clear to a client. Yes you can do wonderful things with the right words but there is a limit. Expectations are key for both parties so set them early on.

Love feedback & criticism.

Factoring multiple drafts and feedback sessions into your copy schedule is a must. Copy is only as good as the feedback that gets it there so there needs to be back and forth to get the job done. Positive and negative feedback is integral to the process, creating a dialogue of criticism and mutual understanding will work wonders.

Clients that work this way are gifted with a new perspective and wider scope for possibility. Copywriters are strategists, writers and curators as much as creatives. It isn't a case of being an idea factory, it is about knowing how to develop relevant, functional ones that please both client and audience.

Collaboration is as much about sharing expertise as generation and development. With every new project I learn more about a specific industry or sector while building a long term relationship. I'd like to hope that with my help my clients prioritise a Content First ethos, an approach that demands they understand the role of tone, structure and language.

Better feedback = Better copy.

Posted: 26th Sep 2013

How to give a copywriter feedback.

I like criticism, I love collaboration, I need feedback. No first draft is perfect, every copywriter needs the client’s input to get the best results possible. Copywriters can have a pretty hefty To Do list when it comes to getting down to a project. Research, tone, style, messaging, appeal and pleasing the client are only a few of my boxes to tick.

As far as I’m concerned, the more feedback the better. Some clients worry about commenting too much others not enough, but here is a few pointers to help give your copywriter the best feedback you can.

Be detailed, be specific.

I need to know what’s good and what’s bad. ‘Reword’ does not help me improve my copy so be sure to highlight words or phrases, explaining what works about them or what really doesn’t. Ideally I would favour the humble phone call. By all means add notes galore to my doc but if there’s a tricky comment to get across then get verbal, it’s so much easier to rectify.

Share ideas or suggestions.

Have you seen an example of the type of copy you’d like? Why do you like this particular piece? It’s important that both parties keep an open mind. Trust in each other’s vision, expertise and ability.

No drip feeding.

Feedback needs to be delivered in one batch. Dribbles of comments here and there is not acceptable. Good copy has a flow to it, a flow that can be disrupted by the slightest change. I like to read all the changes in their entirety and ask questions before starting a redraft.

One person only.

Select one person to communicate your feedback. Going through a list of comments all from different people is a sure fire way to make your copy worse, not better. If more than one person does comment, make sure they review the existing comments as they review the draft. Repetition is likely to confuse, not emphasise.

Ultimately every project and every client is different. Kick things off with a phone call and a brief, be detailed and precise in what you want to achieve and what you can deliver. Feedback is beneficial to the client and the copywriter so anything you can do to keep things clear, swift and easy will result in a better experience for all.

The pre-writing process.

Posted: 10th Sep 2013

Before you put pen to paper....

With every new project comes a whole new attitude. Some projects make you want to jump right in and get busy, while others take a little longer to get flowing. Regardless of your enthusiasm, I would rarely recommend getting stuck in straight off the bat. We all know the importance of research and planning but there's always more you can do to make sure that your scheduled writing slot goes swimmingly.

Demand a brief.

Yep, it seems like an obvious thing to say but I've lost count of the amount of times I have had to tell clients that I need one, as well as the designer. A brief isn't just an outline of what is needed or expected, it can be a real indicator of the scope and planning your client has done. For copy to be as effective and engaging as possible it has to be relevant, don't start creating copy for an audience that you presume your client has established already.

Do your own research.

Don't take anyone else's word for it, always conduct your own research. A bit of background is a good starting point but research performs more than one function. Yes you will come across ideas as you go, but hints at tone, keywords and existing thoughts are far more useful to me at this stage. Everyone interacts with information differently so undertake your own research your own way.

Create a schedule.

Again, it may seem a tad obvious but scheduling is about more than deadlines and drafts. Figure out how you are going to create and work with your copy. There's no point spending days on research only to be left with a day to draft. Limiting yourself can be effective in focusing your energy towards ideas that aren't fleeting. Round up each section of your schedule with key points or milestones so you can easily get yourself on the right track if you wobble.

A proposal for your eyes only.

Some may see it as a waste of time but I always create a proposal of sorts, whether for me, the client or both. It's pretty much a summary of the money makers. It consists of a project overview, tone of voice run down, key themes / ethos as well as a proposed structure. Not only does it set my mind straight but it makes sure all parties are on the same page.

Drafting is a whole other kettle of fish but if you put in the man hours at these stages, your copy will take shape quicker and be of a better quality. Actual copywriting can takes up but a fraction of your time so get the pre-writing practices down before embarking on the content climb.

My favourite writing & creative blogs

Posted: 28th Jul 2013

The resourceful and the inspirational

I should blog more. I know I should be more motivated but work piles up, tea awaits etc etc. Resourceful, insightful or fun, it goes without saying that the more you read, the more you write. Yep, I'm guilty of neglecting my blog from time to time but I check in with my favourites on a weekly basis. Maybe I should just make mine my favourite...

Anyway, here is a collection of my weekly blog haunts. From copywriting and content to the creative, these blogs and writers well and truly tick the boxes.


Probably the best copywriting blog out there, Copyblogger is the place to check in for content marketing, SEO copwriting and much more. Packed with experienced advice and sound insight, it's the first place I visit when I have a spare 5 mins.

Writer, Reader, Rascal

Written by copywriter Andrew Boulton, The Drum's 'Writer, Reader, Rascal' blog is up there for me. Humorous and genuine, Andrew handles each content subject with a highly unique perspective. His insight is as valuable as fun and personable.

Valuable Content

Sonja Jefferson knows content. Valuable Content handles the role of content in marketing and strategy. She offers advice and tips in the form of breakdowns and case studies, while observing the ever-changing role of content in the marketing industry.

Unashamedly Creative

Rebakah Lambert is one of my favourites. Every Unashamedly Creative post is packed with insight and character. This is a no nonsense observational blog that tackles the discrepancies of marketing content and copywriting. Resourceful and spot on.

Creative Bloc

Writing opportunities, advice and freelancing tools is what Creative Bloc is all about. An unparalleled resource, Creative Bloc keenly observes freelancing and the creative industries with personality and an acute awareness. Writers such as Rachael Oku and Mark James make the blog the great resource it is.

There's a heap of others out there, such as Gather Content and ABC copywriting, that offer inspiration and guidance for writers of any level.

What's happening.

Posted: 15th Jul 2013

Mixed bag.

All is busy on the Distil front. The last few months have been a whirlwind of projects big and small. Before the Distil Series kicks off, soon to be announced, here's a run down of what's been keeping me busy.

First things first, Mr UX has launched. This NYC-based user experience and product design agency are some the nicest chaps I've had the privilege of working with. I created their site copy, and it was a truly collaborative process.

They were refreshingly open to new ideas and suggestions, making copy creation a total pleasure. Paired with their unique style and awesome illustrations, my copy has found a most worthy home.

Along similar lines, I recently worked with Timothy Washington of Interrupt Software. Tim was looking to create copy for his site. Authoritative yet personable was the aim and I think we hit it bang on.

I recently worked with international fashion designer, Neri Karra, on the copy for her Neri Karra Talks site. Neri is a renowned fashion entrepreneur and is famed for her business prowess and creativity. Her NK Talks site, offers a power of programmes and seminars on achieving all you wish to in the world of fashion and business.

That's just a wee look at what's been happening. This month will see the launch of even more new projects, as well as the launch of the first ever Distil Series.

Keep 'em peeled.

The Masters of Advertising Copywriting

Posted: 20th Jun 2013

Each to their own.

If you haven't got Taschen's 'The Copy Book - How some of the best advertising writers in the world write their advertising', then get it. Now.

I don't own an extensive range of copywriting books. I think I've always looked to gain more from a piece of writing than the factual, the resourceful. I love insight, a real study of how people work, especially writers. 'The Copy Book' ticks that box. On top of thumbing through some of the most infamous long and short copy ads of all time, you gain a self-penned insight into the writer's routine and attitudes to their profession.

Every writer is different. One of the things I love about my job is the fact that I see a brief completely different to another copywriter. It's the personal idiosyncrasies and routines that make the writer.

'The Copy Book' delves into these, and I was surprised by the passionate obsessiveness of some and the robotic nature of others. When it comes to my own attitude and habits to my copywriting, there will always be areas that I ponder over and try to customise, so it's good to see the masters struggle with the same.

The 'Process'

When it comes to the kick off I need two things; to be in the mood and a pen. I write everything by hand. Time consuming and not exactly tree friendly, but I like the look of words and my own handwriting. The act of handwriting is a real pleasure, probably why I love the research stage of projects so much.

The likes of David Abbott adopt a similar love for pen and paper. Abbott rarely shapes a piece of copy prior to creating the copy itself, it is 'somehow in his brain', something I believe the noble pen and paper is responsible for.

Ideas & Words

Advertising copy is definitely less a case of knowing what to write, but when to. Thinking visually and forging the idea into communication is a delicate process. I love bad ideas, they are just as valuable as the good, so as delicate as this process is, it can be about bold decisions and taking risks. I stumble across my best ideas often by accident, but no idea is perfect. Test it's stealth and if it remains as pliable and punchy as it did at first thinking, then you're onto a winner. John Bevins believes you don't "have" good ideas, you find them.

Work how you work

Some writers need noise to work, others a quiet office. For me, my writing space is often dictated by the project at hand. I love collaboration, I enjoy thrashing out ideas and test driving copy but I have to admit that the traditional notions of brainstorming and 'workshopping' make me cringe slightly. I re-write continuously. A trait I developed as a screenwriter I'm sure, as some copywriters limit their copy to a 3 draft routine. Neil French rarely re-writes as it kills the flow once he starts to tinker.

Develop your own style and use it well. If there's one thing this book taught me it's that industries and projects change but habits and routines rarely do. The best writers are the ones that know what works for them and can apply it accordingly.

Death of the 9-5

Posted: 6th Jun 2013

Freelance working hours.

When you decide to go freelance you accept that your working life will be in a state of flux. Some see this as a good thing, others struggle. I went from being in a structured 9-5 to working as and when I please. It wasn't the concept of freedom or motivation I struggled with, it was the pressure I put on myself. Over the years I learnt to embrace the madness and my own personal ways of working, whether they be good or bad.

Quality isn't dictated by Time spent.

I've always believed this but when you are freelance this becomes more prevalent. The hours you work, the total figure, becomes less important, it's what you actually achieve that matters. That may not be a finalised body of copy, it may be a successful or unsuccessful brainstorm.

Freelancers find it hard to turn off, this can be due to the unconventional hours obviously. The closer you work to your bedtime, the more your head will be swimming, but there is a happy medium. I work with clients in this country and overseas, time difference plays a big part in my working routine, but I also find I work better at night. I need to be available during the day for my UK clients, and I can work fine and dandy during the day, but maybe it's the fact there is less distractions at 1am that drives me on.

Define distraction & embrace procrastination.

You will get distracted and you will procrastinate. It's a fact. If you're getting bored and drifting away at the office, leave the office. Work at home, in a coffee shop or simply go for a walk. If you aren't getting work done then make the most productive decision and stop. When I get distracted my mind takes care of things itself. It mulls away, quietly considering while you scout Reddit or Facebook. These are often the moments I get the 'Eureka' moment. Give yourself time to procrastinate, do the dishes, read a magazine, I promise the answer will come when you least expect it.

Productivity isn't measure by results.

Like I said before, the hours totalled is no indication of quality. Being productive is as much about the process as the end result. If you have an afternoon of shit ideas you've still had ideas, and you've got all the crap out of your system. This isn't wasted time, it's ridiculously valuable to your problem solving process. Don't be harsh on yourself.


You have to sleep. There's nothing worse than going back to a project or page you feel you've stared at for 2 days straight. I'm not opposed to good nap, the best kind of procrastination. Some people see the joy in seeing the end of day in sight, I don't so much. I like what I do and I like being good at it, I can't be on the ball and hit deadlines if I'm never away from my machine. Perspective does wonders.

Being a good freelancer means embracing the working life you choose for yourself. Motivation is half the battle. If you know yourself and what works for you, you're laughing.

The Distil series

Posted: 15th May 2013

My 5 day tutorial series

As you know, I've been guest blogging for the the ingenious folks at Gather Content. My recent post was on 'Content Strategy - Theory vs. Practice'.

My recent guest blogging endeavours have encouraged me to view my own expertise and knowledge differently. Constructing my experience into actionable, implementable chunks is a challenge in itself. It's no secret that I've had a pretty unique transition into copywriting, this often means I've developed my own way of doing things.

As projects go I get a pretty mixed bag. Along the way I've learnt, adapted and transformed my skills to reflect my own thinking and clients. This has finally spurred me to begin my series of copywriting tutorials. It has been on the back burner for a while now but as of next week I will post a 'How to' guide, spliced with my personal approach, every day.

I'll post a full 5 day timetable later on in the week so keep your eyes peeled. I hope to make my mini-series a monthly occurrence, showcasing a week long Distil Series centred around different topics or industry frameworks.

If you have any areas, skills or expertise you'd like to see featured, please do let me know. I want these mini-tutorials to be genuinely useful resources for freelancers, beginners and experts.

« Newer Older »