Copywriters have varying levels of experience and skill. But every one of us has one thing in common: We have all gotten feedback that rocked us to our core, triggered a full-blown identity crisis, and made us wonder if we’re in the wrong profession.
I do good work because I’m a professional, because I want to support my family, and because it feels good to conjure words out of thin air that actually get the job done.
But if I’m being honest? The biggest motivator I have for being a good copywriter is that I NEVER want to experience the feeling that I’m a fraud ever again. Every day, I think back to one moment in particular. My identity crisis. It fuels me as I knock out my daily tasks.
If this is the job you want, I applaud your bravery, creativity, and stupidity. Every day is a fresh battle against procrastination, the blinking cursor, and that voice in your head that says you don’t actually know what you’re doing. Best career ever.
Welcome to A Day in the Life of an Agency Copywriter
1. Drink coffee.
Not a coffee person? Me neither. It’s just what we do. Before you open up your laptop, head to the coffee machine and pour yourself a cup. If you want people to notice how cool you are, drink it black. If you want to actually enjoy the taste, put cream and sugar in it.
Coffee is the worst and I can’t stop drinking it.
It’s 2013. I’m a couple months into my first real copywriting job. I’m one of nine full-time writers and my key client is Allstate.
Today, a bunch of us are presenting initial creative concepts for a massive new project. Allstate is not involved yet; only colleagues will be in the room.
Still, I’m nervous. I like what I wrote and the designer did an incredible job, but I’ve never done this before. I’m the low man on the totem pole. Everyone else is an expert and I feel like I’m faking it.
My turn to talk. Here we go.
2. Prioritize your task list.
It’s a good idea to talk briefly with your creative director about how the day is shaping up. They’ll help you prioritize if you need it and often give you projects that weren’t even on your radar.
3. Have your daily sit-down with the blinking cursor.
There it is. Another blank document. You could have sworn you killed it yesterday, but it’s back again. Who’s the boss? You’re the boss. Who’s its daddy? You’re its daddy. Who is only slightly scared of it? You’re only slightly scared of it.
This is the battle we wage every day. Be a pro and defeat the blinking cursor with violent keystrokes.
I did it! I didn’t throw up and I defended my work well. I sit back down.
Our executive creative director stands up. She is a brilliant woman and a legendary designer. There are perhaps one handful of people on the planet who know the Allstate brand better than she does.
She’s looking at my work. She’s going to say something…
“I just don’t get this.”
4. Start with a quick and easy task to build momentum.
If I have an email that just needs a subject line, I’m moving that bad boy to the top of my list.
5. Identify the fires and put them out next.
There might be a project the client has to have RIGHT NOW. Do those projects as soon as you can, then watch the client take two weeks to give you feedback because they’re friggin adorable. Also, if there’s a project that will need a significant amount of design time, feel free to get your copy to the designer early in the day. They like to go home on time, too.
I don’t remember what I said in response. All I remember is one of our senior copywriters, the class clown who’s now a great friend of mine, literally turning his chair so he could see my face. He had a grin a mile wide. He’s gotten this feedback before. But today, it’s not him. It’s the new guy.
Immediately after the meeting adjourns, he grabs the office’s first aid kit and hands it to me. It’s a great joke and I laugh with everyone else. But I’m dying inside. An internal voice drowns out all the chatter around me.
I can’t do this.
I shouldn’t be here.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
6. Shoot for 80% or more billable work.
If you have a 7.5 hour work day, you should target at least 6 billable hours per day. Billable work, by the way, is simply the work your clients pay your agency for. Billing more work means more revenue for the agency, which means increasingly lucrative salary and bonuses for you.
7. Enter your time the moment you complete a project.
Creatives are naturally gifted procrastinators, so you’ll be tempted to not enter any time until the end of the work week.
Don’t be an idiot.
Entering time immediately ensures its accuracy and saves you a bunch of time you would have spent trying to remember what you worked on.
My fingers fly across the keyboard. It turns out nothing fuels creativity like a Sink or Swim moment. I’m cranking out new option after new option. They’re not all winners. But some are good enough to make me nod as I type.
I can do this.
I belong here.
I know what I’m doing.
8. Take a break every hour.
Doesn’t have to be for long, but do something other than sitting at your desk. Stretch your legs. Go for a quick walk if it’s nice out. Do some push-ups. If you get far away from writing for a moment, you’ll return to your desk rejuvenated and ready to get back to work.
9. If today was a good day, take a moment to be thankful.
They won’t all be like this. Some days you won’t have the motivation or the creativity. But on days like today, you know you did good work and you earned your paycheck. It’s a satisfying feeling that deserves to have your full attention, if only for a moment.
Go home, have some fun, and get some sleep. The blinking cursor will be ready for you tomorrow morning.
Luke Trayser is a full-time copywriter at Ivor Andrew, a B2B agency in Chicago’s west suburbs. He is also a freelance mercenary for hire for anyone who needs compelling and conversational copy. When he isn’t writing, he’s either keeping two boys alive or sleeping while his PS4 collects dust. Find him on Medium and Twitter.