Published date: 01 Mar 2019
I've been writing for as long as I can remember.
It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true: from the handwritten, twenty-page story about my Polly Pockets going on holiday, penned age seven, to my first full-length (and terrible) novel aged fifteen, I’ve always had the urge to put pen to paper.
Later on, I got more serious, starting to write books I wouldn’t be embarrassed to see out in the world one day. By the time I finished university, I’d finished several – and it was also time to get my first proper job.
My role of choice: copywriter.
I’ve got experience writing fiction, I thought. How different can it be?
One steep learning curve later, and as it turns out… very.
As a copywriter, I’m suddenly defined by a brief. Universes of endless possibility become carefully signposted paths (which, admittedly, sometimes make life a little easier). It’s no longer what I say goes; there’s someone else allowed to change things. It’s not about character development and world building; it’s key messages and calls to action.
Plus, I can’t think of any client who’d be happy if 90,000 words of copy landed on their desk.
A lot of the time, it can feel like copywriting and fiction are polar opposites – but in some ways, they’re not so different.
In fact, the more I do both, the more obvious the similarities are becoming.
The best pieces of copy tell a story. At their most basic, they have a beginning, middle and end. Compared to fiction, they’re likely to be weighted more towards the solution than any conflict, but the elements are still there. And without one of them, it can feel like something’s missing.
Secondly, every part of your work should have a purpose. Whether it’s making sure a line of copy is aligned to a key message, or ensuring every scene in the story serves to develop or advance the plot, the editing process should be ruthless. Cut the waffle – or else your client/editor will do it for you.
But most importantly, whatever you’re writing, your words are trying to make someone feel something – and feel it strongly enough to react. That’s the ultimate goal. Whether that reaction is to go out and buy what you’re advertising, or stay up all night because they can’t bear to put the book down, it’s all the same. When that happens, your words have done their job.
After eighteen months of full-time copywriting, part-time authoring, it’s getting easier to balance the two. At times, it does feel like I’m switching between two separate parts of my brain – but there is some overlap.
And while the two can often feel like wildly different skills, maybe they’re not worlds apart after all.
Leigh Ansell is a medical writer at Purple and also a prolific writer of young adult fiction, with over thirty million readers online. You can read Leigh's novels by clicking here.