Go to Work on an Oeuvre: thoughts on copywriting Vs. novel writing – (chapter three)

‘We told the world how to tick… we informed you in six seconds that you needed something you didn’t know you lacked.’ 

Many people think copywriting is in some way immoral – that we’re all just cold-hearted hidden persuaders cruelly manipulating the world. Indeed, most copywriters talk ashamedly about what they do – like they’re not ‘proper writers’. I don’t know how many people have read it, but this is definitely the impression we get from Joshua Ferris’ novel (Then we came to the end).

I think this is a little unfair (especially of Ferris, himself a jaded ex-copywriter). I think copywriting could be seen as a way of sharpening your tools before you go out into the ‘real world’ of writing – whether it’s for novels, screenplays or the theatre. But I also think it deserves to be seen as a worthwhile activity in its own right (one that we ought not to be ashamed of at parties, which some people seem to be).

Humour me here. Four years ago I went to a D & AD workout class called ‘Writing for Advertising,’. I remember the day vividly. It was run by Will Awdry, who also happens to be a descendent of the great Rev. W. Awdry, (famed for creating an endearingly anthropomorphic chain of railway trains.)  Half way through the class, Awdry drew two chalk circles on the blackboard. One very large one, and one much smaller one inside it. The small circle, he said, is the copywriter in you. The large one is the writer. Every copywriter, he claimed, has both – and in an ideal world both circles should feed off one another.

That day, (at the very real risk of sounding utterly pretentious) I remember suddenly feeling guilty, that I’d been neglecting my ‘outer circle’ for too long; that the (alleged) novelist in me was now badly under-nourished. That was probably the moment I decided to give my novel a proper go. But in doing so, my copywriting career also shifted into second gear. Maybe I’m alone in this, but for me the circles thing really makes sense. This is already too long though so I’ll have to continue trying to explain why in another chapter. TBC…


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