How to treat your craft with R-E-S-P-E-C-T
A favorite New Yorker cartoon shows two social climbers in a bar: A junior adman is trying to impress a Manolo-heeled society girl:
“Copywriting is too writing,” he says.
The cartoon makes me laugh. But the thing is, I believe it. Copywriting is writing.
Good copywriting is solid craft. Like Aretha Franklin and her powerful command of song styling, quality copywriting demands respect.
Benefits of writing sock-it-to-me copy
If you have talent, work hard at copywriting, give it time, effort and, yes, respect, your craft pays back.
Write solid copy and your clients will soul-sing your praises. They’ll eagerly give you all their money—and all they’ll ask in return, honey, is for your copy to hit home.
So how can you show respect for your writing—and assure it hits home regularly?
Accept that copywriting is craft—not art.
While the New Yorker cartoon girl annoys me, I agree with her. Copywriting isn’t creative writing. It’s not art, it’s craft.
Several distinctions separate craft from art. I like the explanation given by philosopher Denis Dutton:
Craft involves an element of “dependability which comes from the application of a learned technique,” notes Dutton. Craftsmanship uses “…predictable, learned (and, incidentally, teachable) skill capable of producing a preconceived result…” Think Aretha warming up her voice with scales.
Art is hallmarked by unpredictability. The “creation of the work of art is as much an exploration and a struggle and a discovery for the artist as for the audience,” writes Dutton. Think Aretha at a live concert.
While the Queen of Soul is both an artist and a craftsman, a copywriter is not.
We’re craftsmen to the core: We manipulate words to achieve a specific result. And when we are most successful, our words do exactly what we plan for them to do.
Why is the art/craft distinction relevant to you?
If you want to reap copywriting’s rewards, you have to act like a disciplined craftsman—not a when-the-muse-moves-me artiste.
3 time-tested tips to help you approach your craft with R-E-S-P-E-C-T
- Write. Craftsmen practice their trade. Carpenters saw wood. Silversmiths shape sterling. Singers practice vocal exercises. And writers write. While it has stresses, I find a consistent flow of client work—and juggling several projects at the same time—helps me hone craft and maintain discipline. I’m embarrassed to admit how motivated I am by the carrot—yeah, money—and the stick—deadlines. Blogging also encourages a regular, disciplined writing schedule—provided you take posting as seriously as a client deadline.
- Apprentice yourself to masters of the craft. In addition to just doing it—writing every single day whether you feel like it or not—study expert writers. You probably have your own favorite fiction writers. For a list of copywriters and creative writers who inspire me, see my blogroll, right, and some of my most trusted copywriting resources.
- Care for your tools. Mind, body and spirit are the copywriter’s tools. Don’t let your tools get rusty. Don’t allow them to stiffen from lack of use. Keep your mind humming by fueling it with good literature, poetry, philosophy, current events and other mental stimulants. Nourish your body and brain with healthy food: For fast, scratch-cooking recipes, visit Copywriters’ Kitchen, my cooking blog for busy writers. And don’t forget exercise—I’m reminding myself, as well: Sitting hunched over a keyboard for hours blocks creative juices and blood flow to the brain. Your spirit also needs exercise: If you’re inclined, try daily meditation, prayer, yoga, deep breathing. Or art: When I’m burned out, I refuel with a trip to the museum, theater, a poetry reading or by dipping into a few chapters of brilliant fiction.
How do you show respect for your craft?
If you’ve been copywriting for some time, chances are you’ve discovered your own ways to cultivate writerly discipline—and show respect for your craft. Do tell.
Or after my persuasive argument, perhaps you still hold that copywriting is more an art than a craft? So how do you court your muse?
Aretha photo courtesy of bixentro