Interviewed by the Professional Copywriters' Network

The lovely folks over at the Professional Copywriters' Network have just published an interview I did with them about my copywriting career. Thanks, guys!

Find out more about how I got into copywriting and check out some copywriting that inspires me here.

Adventures in Edinburgh - Part one

Today's a day in London unlike any other. That's because last Thursday I climbed aboard the Caledonian express sleeper train to Edinburgh and a whole new life! I must admit I was a bit skeptical about how comfortable the sleeper train journey would be - or even whether I would actually get any sleep - but I was pleasantly surprised. 

Comfy bunk  

Comfy bunk  

Bedding down in the bottom bunk, I was pleased to find out I wasn't sharing the cabin with anyone else - which seemed like a luxury given the price I paid for the tickets! I actually slept pretty well and was woken at 7am by the steward with steaming hot tea and Scottish shortbread. I could get used to that! The highlight of the journey was definitely rolling up the shutters as the sun come up, shortly after 5am, and seeing nothing but fields of greenery and sheep. A far cry from the urban surroundings of London that I've called home for the last 4 years!

 Moving North

 This wasn't just any trip north of the border though - I'd come with a purpose other than to eat copious amounts of haggis and drink obscene amounts of whisky (Scottish stereotypes anyone?) In fact, I was in the city to pick up keys to my new flat - a flat I hadn't even set eyes on yet as I trusted a friend to view it for me. The 3 hour wait for my estate agency appointment felt like it was taking forever. Even breakfast and another cup of tea at the lovely Tani Modi on Hanover Street didn't do much to speed things up! 

I found myself sitting in Princes Street Gardens at 9am, watching the world go by, with views of the Castle. 

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 I realised how eclectic the population of Edinburgh is, especially at 9am on a Friday morning. Everyone from homeless Big Issue sellers to Japanese tourists and suited and booted city workers walked past- I'd found a prime people-watching spot.

It's only taken me 17 months to get my s*** together and make the move north - I talked about it in my blog post back In January 2014, but never actually thought it would happen.

The weekend in Edinburgh - well, the Friday and a surprisingly hot and sunny Saturday morning - passed all too fast and I'm happy to say I'm now the owner of a set of keys to a lovely new pad in the North of the city, just a short stroll from the city centre.

 I realised how beautiful Edinburgh is compared to South-East London, and how much slower the pace of life is up here. Did you know that Edinburgh has more listed buildings than any city in the world? The things you learn...

Now I'm back in London and the hard work begins - packing for my move in under 3 weeks time. I've seen the new pad and am really excited for what lies ahead, and for the new experiences that are waiting! Most of all, I feel really lucky that I can do my job from anywhere - and that I enjoy it so much. 

If you're looking for a copywriter in Edinburgh - I am around! 

 

          My new pad!! 

          My new pad!! 

Placing a price on content writing

Up until now, I've noticed that many companies don't place as much value on the content of their site as they do on its design. “Why should I spend as much money on content as on how my site looks?” has been heard often when I've quoted my rates for a project.

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5 Top SE London Cafes for Freelancers

SE London gets a bad rep sometimes; I've lived here since moving to London in 2011 and I have to say, it's definitely up and coming (well, parts of it anyway!) For many freelancers, a fixed office space doesn't really exist. Ok, so you might use a room or an area at home as a designated 'work space', or even head to your local coffee shop, but few writers or other freelancers have a fixed office space to work from.

Until recently, I rented a studio space in an artist's block in SE London, which I shared with a (very talented) textile designer. In theory, this was a great idea. Working and socialising with others, not too far from home and a productive space outside my own four walls to help me focus on work. I quickly realised that I was spending money I could be saving and getting less done due to the time spent commuting each day. So it was that I reluctantly handed in my keys and started discovering the delights of some of the best cafes in my area - any excuse for a cup of tea and a slice of cake!

There are some real hidden gems when it comes to cafes in SE London, so I thought I would share with you my top 5, in case you're ever in my neck of the woods.

With Jam and Bread, Lewisham

Set on Lee High Road, closer to Lee Green than Lewisham, this cafe's cute, unassuming exterior hides a cavernous interior with comfy seating, free Wifi and an art gallery tucked away at the back! Weekday mornings are usually fairly quiet, and for inspiration, a window seat is a great choice to watch the world go by.

With a range of reasonably priced breakfast/lunch options I nearly always find myself choosing a toastie or beans on toast - although home baked goodies such as lemon and poppyseed loaf go down a treat! This cafe has quickly become a favourite haunt, although if you're using your laptop, be aware that power sockets are fairly limited and competition for seats may occur at lunchtimes!

 

The Kitchen, SE12

Once a rather old-fashioned bakers, this modern deli/cafe is just a few steps from my house and I feel lucky to have it so close at hand! I almost always order one of their fruit smoothies (strawberry and banana - mmm!) and they serve an extensive selection of sandwiches, salads and cakes. Whilst there's no Wifi, the tables are roomy enough to spread out your work, and with my iPhone hotspot set up, this is a great lunch destination or place to spend a few hours.

 

The Lord Northbrook, Lee

Technically not a cafe, this cosy pub is one of my favourite locals and the perfect place to spend an evening. However, it's also great for working! I often pop in for a weekday lunch with friends and discovered that the quiet environment during the day (and free Wifi) makes this the perfect place to get some serious work done. The fish finger sandwich and chips (Lord Northbrook style) is divine and I think the chips here may just be the best I've ever eaten! The pub hosts regular live music nights as well as steak and burger nights, plus their Sunday Roasts are somewhat legendary. I'll be hanging out in the beer garden this summer on my days off, that's a certainty!

Boulangerie Jade

This tiny French bakery and cafe is my favourite place for hot chocolate. What it lacks in table size (and Wifi), it more than makes up for in ambience, with cosy, chic surroundings that wouldn't be out of place in Paris itself. An afternoon working here is the perfect excuse to indulge in Macarons or take home some fresh, crusty French bread for later!

Brodie's Cafe, Bromley

Bromley is where I first lived upon moving to London, and I still head there on sunny weekends for shopping, and of course, lunch at Brodie's. It's also become of my favourite haunts for a weekday working session. Whilst it doesn't have Wifi, it does have outdoor seating and an upstairs with great views over the High Street. The couches in the window offer a particularly comfortable retreat from the bustling High Street, and despite its small size, the menu is extensive! With sandwiches, jackets, paninis and salads, there's plenty to tempt you, although I usually opt for my tried-and-tested parma ham and halloumi panini with a nice cup of tea. Coming up with ideas for my blog or researching articles online here is one of my favourite ways to spend a Monday afternoon!

 

5 Must-read Blog Posts

I love reading, and if I have a quiet work afternoon then there's nothing I love more than reading blogs on copywriting, marketing or anything else relevant to my work. I also read far too many blogs which include cute animal videos...but that's a whole other blog post.

I've been noticing some inspiring blog posts popping up on Twitter recently so I thought I would share with you 5 must-read blog posts - most published this month - that anyone working as a copywriter or in the digital industry will appreciate. Here we go!

1. Why a Copywriting Brief Should Be Anything But by Brand New Copy

I love following Jamie's posts as there's always an insightful piece of information or something I didn't know to keep me interested. His post of 12th March looked at the importance of a tight brief for copywriters - something anyone who works as a writer has moaned about in the past. A good brief can mean the difference between a job that's relatively easy to start and one which takes hours of extra research and countless questions to the client - not ideal for either party. Jamie has even included a copywriting brief template that he uses with his clients - I'll definitely be using this for future projects!

You can follow Brand New Copy on Twitter @BrandNewCopy

2. 9 Simple Ways to Write Product Descriptions that Sell by Shopify

Ok, so this was actually published back in June 2013, but whilst hunting for some assistance and inspiration for a product descriptions brief I was working on, I stumbled across it and it's since been added to my (ever-growing) bookmarks folder. There's a lot of obvious advice, but also some really helpful tips such as 'justify using superlatives' - don't say something is the best without providing proof.

3. 6 Fixes for Repetitive Writing by the Huffington Post (via Content Simply)

This is an article rather than a blog post but it was shared by Content Simply, who I follow on Twitter. Tips for more concise writing are always helpful when working to a tight word count - avoiding endless paragraphs is probably my favourite section of this article. Paragraphs that run on and on with no end in site often leave me feeling lost as a reader.

4. How to Create Exquisite Subheads by Jerod Morris - Copyblogger

This is an MP3 download rather than a blog post but it's well worth downloading and listening to in quieter moments. Subheadings are something I always find a challenge; it can be hard to craft compelling subheadings whilst focusing on the main body of the copy. As this podcast points out, it's all about recapturing the reader's attention as they scroll down; subheadings are what will catch their eye and could ultimately mean the difference between an engaged reader or one who gets bored and goes elsewhere.

5. How to Write a Magnetic Headline (in under 15 minutes) by Jerod Morris - Copyblogger

This is the first in the Lede Podcast series and looks at best practice for writing headlines and how to incorporate the 4 U's:  that's be USEFUL, provide a sense of URGENCY, convey the benefit as UNIQUE and be ULTRA-SPECIFIC (in case you didn't know). This is another great podcast that's ideal for listening to on your lunchbreak or whilst sorting out your invoices.

Copyblogger in particular have had some really interesting posts this month, and I'm continuing to follow all the above writers to see what's next on their blog agendas. If you come across any blog posts that you've enjoyed as a writer, or that you think would be relevant to writers everywhere, why not share them with me - I'm always on the lookout for new reading material.

Limiting negativity to boost your mood

I'm a firm believer that the people around you have even more of an impact on your day to day mood than your own thoughts. Unless you're a hermit or live on a desert island, of course.

But surrounding yourself with positive people isn't just good for your mind, it's also good for your health. Did you know that laughing and smiling is one of the greatest natural ways to relieve stress? Think about how much better you feel when you're with friends that make you laugh - for me nothing even comes close!

The same can be said for negative people too; anyone who is unsupportive of your dreams and ambitions or rains on your parade with constant tales of gloom and doom can leach your energy and leave you feeling blue. That's not to say you're not allowed to be negative - you wouldn't be human if you didn't have spells of negativity. But surrounding yourself with those who have your best interests at heart and can appreciate the lighter side of life definitely makes for a more easy-going time.

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Having said that, some of the people who make me laugh more than anyone on the planet are those who are suffering from or have experienced depression. Whether it's that darkly scathing wit or occasional cynicism I find so appealing, who's to say! All I know is that a healthy dose of sarcasm is amusing at the right time.

This blog post was supposed to share some helpful tips on limiting negativity in your life, but as usual I have gone off on a tangent. So here are a few tips which work for me - I hope they work for you too!

Don't rise to the bait

People with negative views on the world or who are jealous of your achievements love nothing more than to bait you for a reaction, and you'll find this is true in all walks of life; think of the way the school playground bully taunts his victims. By refusing to give them a reaction, you're not only taking the higher ground, you're showing that you are successful and happy regardless of what they think. It might feel tough to do at the time, but it's better for your health and peace of mind, trust me!

Make time for what you love

This is a huge tip - I know we're all guilty of being bogged down by work sometimes and it can be hard to say no when there's money to be made or personal goals to meet. But it's important to think about what makes you happy and to make time for it. If it's the cinema you love, a weekly trip to see a film should be on your schedule. If coffee and cake with friends leaves you smiling, make the time to catch up regularly over a cuppa at your favourite cafe. Even during the busiest times, you should give yourself something to look forward to. For me it's all about spending time with the people closest to me, regardless of what we actually end up doing, but for you it could be something more specific!

Meditate

Meditation isn't just for buddhists you know. You might think if you're lacking time in life to get even the most important things done that meditation should be the last thing on your list, but just think of the benefits it brings! Meditation has been shown to have a significant effect on your mental health when practiced daily. Not only does it increase relaxation and reduce the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline, it also boosts creativity and imagination; as a writer that's something I need in spades!  I have friends who attend weekly meditation classes, but I use Head Space to practice between 10-20 minutes of meditation every day. It's a great way to clear your mind and feel happier about life.

Limiting negative thoughts, perceptions and opinions can help you to gain perspective on your life and the choices you make, and I for one am a huge fan of perspective. Stepping back and looking at things in a logical way (Spock would be proud) is always a great way to do things.

 

The 'which city?' dilemma

For months now I've been pondering the dilemma of where to put down roots. London has been 'home' for the last three years, but has never really felt like home to me. I moved here in February 2011 and always said I would stay in the city for 18 months before deciding where I wanted to live.

How time flies; suddenly it's three years later and around about the same time of year it was when I arrived in the city. Friends are telling me they're moving away to other parts of the country - one has already gone to Berlin, another due to leave for Oxford soon - and my dilemma is compounded by my job. Now that I'm not tied to one location by my work - one of the positives of freelancing is that I can (theoretically) work from anywhere with an internet connection - I should be able to choose where I want to live.

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I lived in Edinburgh for four years before moving south and on a recent trip back to Auld Reekie to visit friends, I found myself falling in love with the city once again. Streets seemed all at once strange and familiar. There's none of the smog and ugly high-rise industrial buildings you'll find in crowded, congested central London. Gothic skyscrapers from bygone eras mingle with Georgian architecture and quaint cobbled wynds and closes create a magical atmosphere. Strolling down the Royal Mile was what really made me feel at home - a soundtrack of bagpipes, cosy pubs and tea rooms and of course the inevitable (once annoying) throngs of tourists in their brightly coloured macs.

When I arrived back in London, I was instantly struck by the grey dreariness of the city, of the expressions (or should that be lack of expression) on people's faces as they rushed to their destinations, paying no heed to their surroundings or other people. Sometimes it feels like the city is soulless and the sheer size of it is a bit much to comprehend. But I wondered at the time if maybe this was one of those moments where the grass is always greener?

Yet several months on, and I'm still daydreaming of Edinburgh; of Mimi's Bakehouse on the Shore, Mum's Comfort Food (it will always be Monster Mash to me), the Gothic spaceship and the hustle and bustle of Princes Street, with Edinburgh Castle looking down over the city. I feel at home there as much as I have ever felt at home anywhere, and sometimes being in London leaves me feeling like a foreigner - totally out of kilter with my surroundings and the people around me.

I've set myself a deadline for making a decision, but this could prove to be the kind of deadline that is flexible, as I'm known to procrastinate over any major decisions. It feels as if this is the year for making big decisions though, and I'm determined to make the most of the first few months of the year to push forward towards new horizons!

5 ways to find a work-life balance

Working for yourself can be incredibly rewarding - even if everybody else seems to think you sit around in your PJ's drinking tea and watching daytime TV. In fact, fellow freelance copywriters will know that you're more likely to put in extra hours if you work for yourself, particularly if your office is at home. Finding the right work-life balance can be difficult; sometimes I'll be working late into the night and other times I'll have a lazy morning. Today I started thinking about ways to find the right balance and came up with a few ideas that will hopefully help other writers and freelancers (or anyone considering working for themselves) to balance their work and social life more easily.

1. Organise your schedule

Every Sunday afternoon I take half an hour out to look at my work for the coming week. I usually make a list of any projects due and their deadlines, then figure out how I'm going to schedule my hours. This isn't set in stone and normally changes as the week goes on, but it helps me to see where I have space to take on more work and where I'm likely to be able to organise time off. It also helps to do this so that if I'm contacted by a client during the week I can see at a glance where my free time is. Whether you use a spreadsheet, notepad or Filofax to organise your working week, it definitely helps to take some time out and make sure you know what you need to achieve.

2. Set yourself goals

Balancing can be tricky!

Balancing can be tricky!

I'm sure its not just me who's guilty of sitting down at the PC to work and becoming distracted by a million and one different things. Facebook, Twitter and my website are the usual suspects, but sometimes I'll find myself wasting time looking at invoices and accounts too. I try to set myself a goal every morning; work out which projects I would like to complete by lunchtime and how I will spend my afternoon. This helps me to stay focused, and whilst I don't always get through as much work as I aim to, I know I'm on track towards meeting my goal. I use the 30/30 app on iPhone (it's free!) to schedule work into 1 hour segments, which helps to give me something to work towards.

3. Schedule time off

Everyone needs time off and you shouldn't really be working 7 days a week unless you have a major deadline to meet. Communicating your plans with clients works well, particularly if you're working with another copywriting agency. This means they're not likely to send a large brief your way on the morning you'd planned to have a lie in! I usually try to take the weekend off,  as I find that's when things are most quiet. Sometimes though, Sunday will inevitably be spent planning and invoicing or working on my website and that's fine by me, it gives me an excuse to laze around the house and relax. Make sure you plan your days off - if it makes it easier you can schedule half days to fit around your work commitments.

4. Put down your smartphone

I'm guilty of constantly checking my email - if an email comes in from a client late at night, I've usually read it within half an hour of it arriving. Sometimes I think my iPhone should be surgically attached to my hand. This can make life a bit stressful as I often find myself responding to important emails in the evening and on my days off. Whilst there's nothing wrong with maintaining communication with your clients (in fact, this is essential!), you do need to know when to step away from the computer and put your phone down in order to relax. As a general rule I try to stop checking work email after 7pm and anything that comes in after this usually gets a response the next morning.

5. Let friends and family know your schedule

If you live alone, you're pretty much the boss of your own schedule, which makes life a bit easier. If you have kids or a partner living with you, it's a good idea to keep them aware of your schedule. I have freelance writer friends who are always complaining their husband disturbs them when they're working on an important project, or has organised a social event in the evening without checking what their work plans are. It's a good idea to print off or type up your work schedule and give a copy to family members - or pin it on the fridge. This way they know when you're working and when you're free to go out and have some fun! It's also important to communicate with friends about your working day. I'm lucky enough to have a few friends in London who don't work or work flexible hours, so a midday coffee or afternoon shopping trip isn't always out of the question. Sometimes it's easier for me to take a break like this one afternoon than taking a full day off.

Maintaining a work-life balance is all about being organised and not letting your workload take over your life! I find working for myself a challenge and at times it's hard knowing when to switch off my work brain and focus on other areas of life, but it's something that I'm passionate about and love doing. With a bit of organisation and planning (as well as a lot of communication), anyone can strike the right balance between growing your copywriting business and having enough free time to do the things you love.

Do creative pursuits inspire creativity when it comes to copywriting?

Lately I've been suffering a bit from the one thing all writers know and fear; the dreaded writer's block. In my case it's not that I can't get words down onto paper (or onto the screen), it's just that they're jumbled and make no sense. A combination of sleepless nights and stress left me struggling for the right words for the first time in a while and I decided last week that a day or two away from the computer would do the trick; recharge my batteries.

I made plans to see a show at the theatre with a friend I haven't caught up with in far too long, and spent an hour choosing and downloading new books for my Kindle. Sometimes I worry I spend more time browsing for and downloading books than actually reading them, but that's a whole other blog post.

The show we went to see was Bloodshot at the St James Theatre - my friend's company were sponsoring the production. I have to say it was spectacular. I started the night skeptical as to how one man could pull off a convincing cast of characters on his own, but actor Simon Slater did an awe-inspiring job. We watched as an English photographer, Russian magician, Irish comedian and American jazz musician paraded before our very eyes, each character as convincing and complex as if a totally new actor had wandered onto the stage. This was juxtaposed perfectly against a backdrop of black and white photographs which drew us even further into this 1950's crime thriller. I'd initially been unsure about the tiny interior of the St James Studio, but the intimate cabaret style setting worked perfectly for this performance.

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The evening left me feeling energised and more creative than I have been in a while, and I started thinking - do creative pursuits help to inspire creativity when it comes to copywriting, or any kind of writing, for that matter?

I know myself that an hour spent reading rather than slumped in front of the telly will lead to a more productive hour of writing later that night - perhaps my brain is already engaged in creating and imagining the scenes set out before me in a novel, so I'm already 50% of the way towards getting my own words down on paper (or laptop).

Other creative pursuits such as visiting a gallery or museum could also help when it comes to writers block then, I figured. I'll be using this as an excuse to test the theory this week (the hardship!) when I visit the Harry Callahan exhibition at the Tate Modern. Who knows, I may even check out one of the lunchtime performances of An Ideal Husband at the St James Theatre next week, work dependent.

I'm liking this new theory......