Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Writer Wednesday — Elspeth Taylor — "it’s not enough to think that you have a way with words"

Each Wednesday I feature a fellow writer, and not just ad folks. I’m interested in anyone who makes a living stringing together words. Their answers are unfiltered, so I may not always agree with every last bit of advice. After all, what works for one writer may not work for another. But we all need fresh ideas and perspectives to keep growing. Interested? Please email

Writer Wednesday has featured a lot of freelancers, but most of them have been at it for a while. London copywriter Elspeth Taylor offers a different perspective as she's just made the transition to being her own boss.


What’s your writing focus or specialty?

Well, I’m really just starting out at the whole freelance writing thing so I’m keen to not pigeonhole myself just yet. Not to mention the fact that a good copywriter needs to have plenty of strings to their bow to be a success. My background is in fashion and retail, so I guess these would be my specialist areas. I can make the ugliest of outfits sound like your wardrobe will shrivel up and die without it! I also have SEO experience, so writing for the web is another key area for me. But I’m trying to keep my hand in at all sorts of writing—to keep my brain active and to give myself the best possible chance of making enough money to be able to eat! I report for a local niche-interest paper, write articles for their website, help people with their blogs and submit speculative features to magazines and weekend papers. Plus, I do article rewriting and proof-reading for various private and corporate clients.

Writers often take winding career paths. What led you here?

All my jobs have been in publishing/media type companies and all my roles have been to do with writing and editing. My last job was as a copywriter for a big UK department store and after about 18 months of working there I realised I wanted more variety in my working day. I enjoyed getting into the mind of the customer, really working out what makes them tick, what specific words and language will really engage them and so on... but I wanted more! I decided to branch out on my own to see if I could gain a more varied client base that would allow me to get involved in other areas of copywriting and to take on more challenging projects. And of course, I like the freedom of deciding the times of my working day! What other job allows you to work around walking the dog, popping to the shops or meeting friends for brunch?!

Tell us a little about your creative process.

I wouldn’t say that I have a set ‘creative process’, not as such. It’s more about doing solid ground work — I do plenty of research into the brief I’ve been given, who I need to target and how best to reach out and speak to that type of person, how to make them sit up and take notice. I also make sure I talk to the client about what they are trying to achieve, what main points they are trying to put across and then use all of that info to bat around a few ideas. I try to get a few sentences and key words down on screen (or paper!), even if they are incomplete; just so I don’t have a big, blank expanse of white in front of me, and then I see what I can put together from there.

What do you do when you’re stuck? Any tricks for getting unstuck?

I find that the best thing to do if you’re stuck is to (deadline allowing!) go away and try not to think about the piece of work for a while, possibly even leave it over night. Then come back to it fresh and read through what you have. You will often have a fresh perspective. Sometimes I come back to pieces of work and delete whole sections in a frenzy of “what on earth was I thinking”. On the other hand, sometimes I find that bits that I have agonised over just fall into place.

Any side projects? If so, how do you make time for them?

As I mentioned, I do some editing, feature writing and reporting on the side. I also have a little dog that’s a bit of a handful! Training her is almost a whole project in itself! Making time for everything isn’t really an issue at the moment, because I‘m so new to freelancing. I have plenty of time for my small client base as well as the bits and bobs I do alongside. Hopefully, once I’m more established, setting myself timelines and prioritising workloads will become more imperative!

I’m also studying a course with the London School of Journalism, which is great for days when I don’t have any paid work on. It helps keep my writing flowing and stops me watching too much Diagnosis Murder!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve been given?

That it’s not enough to think that you have ‘a way with words’, a good copywriter needs plenty of commercial awareness and a good listening ear to really be a success.

What’s one thing you know now that you’d wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

A small, boisterous dog is not the best companion to have around in a quiet home office!

Seriously though, I would say it’s that setting up on your own, taking on clients and building up relationships etc... it all takes far, FAR longer than you think it will. Even though I felt I’d prepared myself for how long it might take to make this work, it still seems painfully slow! I guess I’m a bit of a workaholic, I like having something to do every hour of every day and when this doesn’t happen it can be tough to feel like I’m getting somewhere. Still, I’ve learnt to cut myself some slack. I’ve achieved some good things so far and I have plenty of time to achieve plenty more! (So long as the food rations don’t run out!)

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