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Copywriting 101: How it Can Help You Write Fiction 

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When people ask me how I pay the rent and I tell them I’m a copywriter, I’m often met with bewildered stares. For some reason, the word “copy” before “writer” confuses people. So here’s a simple definition:

a copywriter is someone who provides the words used to sell or promote different products, services, ideas, and even people.

You encounter copywriting every day of your life: The ads you hear on the radio as you’re getting dressed in the morning. The back of the cereal box you read while having breakfast. The commercials you see on TV. The billboards you pass on your commute into work. The cute little description of the flirty dress you want to buy from your favorite online store. Even the fun names of the drinks you peruse on the after-hours menu.

Someone had to write those words, right? And that someone was likely a professional copywriter.

I turned to copywriting after I left a seven-year career in radio broadcasting. In my radio life, I wrote quite a bit of copy for spots (commercials), and I figured I could do more of that work on my own. I started my business in 2002 and learned as I went, devouring copywriting bibles, such as The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly.

In the beginning, I worked part-time jobs to help supplement my meagre earnings. I wrote everything from blog posts to white papers, radio spots to print ads, newsletters to lead nurturing campaigns, marketing plans to social media posts. Topics ran the gamut: Quartz countertops. Concierge medicine. LED lights. Industrial generators. Banana leaf journals. Cowgirl shirts. The list goes on and on.

By 2007, I was able to shed the part-time jobs for good and make my living solely from my copywriting gigs. And while I never dreamed of becoming a copywriter—my big dream, as some of the regular Mash readers know, is to write fiction full time—copywriting is not a bad way to earn a buck.

But the biggest surprise? Copywriting has helped me with my fiction endeavours. Let me explain…

Copywriting doesn’t wait for the muse. When I’m in copywriting mode, I certainly welcome the muse, but I don’t have the luxury of waiting for her to whisper in my ear. My copywriting life is driven by deadlines, so I write even when I don’t feel it. This has served me well in my fiction life, and it’s probably the main reason I don’t believe in writer’s block.

Copywriting embraces word economy. The main goal with most copy is to clearly explain something in as few words as possible. This has influenced my fiction writing style—and for the better. I carefully consider every word I choose and constantly ask myself if the writing is as tight and clear as it could be. (And no, I haven’t mastered word economy, but I’ve gotten much better at employing it, thanks to my copywriting work.)

Copywriting forces me to keep up with marketing trends. If I were to give people my full job title, I’d say I was a freelance marketing copywriter, but that’s a mouthful. And it would likely only confuse people further. But being a marketing copywriter means I need to keep up with marketing trends in everything from social media to search engine optimization to everything in between. This has helped me develop my marketing chops in general, something that serves me well when promoting my novels.

Copywriting keeps me sharp. It’s fair to say I write every day, and that I have been doing so for years. Sometimes I’m writing marketing copy. Sometimes I’m writing fiction. Often, I’m writing both. Any time I put fingers to keyboard, I’m honing this crazy writing craft. And that’s a good thing.

So what should you do if you’d like to learn more about copywriting and possibly make a living from the words you write? Here’s some good news: there’s a TON of copywriting work out there. And there are plenty of online resources to help you get started. Here are two I recommend:

1.   Copyblogger. Follow this blog and consider taking Copyblogger’s FREE course: Copywriting 101 – How to Craft Compelling Copy.

2.   HubSpot. If you want to keep up with the world of inbound marketing, HubSpot is the place to start. Content marketing (which involves content creation—i.e. copywriting) is a sub-set of inbound marketing, and HubSpot’s blog will quickly get you up to speed. And it, too, offers a free certification course.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them (or direct you to an online resource).

 

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Robyn Bradley is a copy bitch by day and novelist ninja by night. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, and she won a short story award in 2007 for “A Touch of Charlotte.”

Her work has appeared in FictionWeekly.comThe Breakwater Review, and Writer’s Digest (under her pen name E.T. Robbins), among other places. When she’s not writing or sleeping, Robyn enjoys watching Law & Order marathons, drinking margaritas, and determining how many degrees really separate her from George Clooney. Robyn is currently working on her third novel. Visit www.robynbradley.com to learn more.

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