Ahh, paid to sit on my sofa and write.
And it is. And it isn’t.
Copywriting (and I’m including content writing in this term), has been my freelance job since 2013.
Even throughout travelling, journalism, writing my book and ghostwriting other people’s, copywriting has been there. It’s the bread and butter work, my dad would say.
Here’s why I love it so much. And why it sometimes makes me want to quit altogether.
An existential rollercoaster
When I started writing for a copywriting agency, I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was, getting sent briefs from major international brands and writing…for money.
I would sit at the kitchen table and churn out huge amounts of work each week, taking on as much as possible. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to ‘go’ to work.
I didn’t have to show up at 9am and stay until 5:30pm. I didn’t have to wait for my fifteen minute break. Didn’t have to sit around for an hour at lunch feeling unproductive.
It was incredible.
And I was learning. Every brief was wildly different. I could be writing a destination guide one hour and talking about forklift truck certification another (true story).
I read about every subject imaginable, learnt the basics and created articles on my newfound knowledge. I realised that focused, intense learning could produce understanding in a short amount of time.
Some projects were a drag but some gave me insight into industries I never would’ve learnt about before. My understanding of how different businesses operated grew.
And then the slump
As content marketing grew into the latest buzzword, I started getting briefs for blog posts. I read about highly successful content and copywriters who were killing it.
I want to be like them. I thought.
But then I’d read their work. Blogs that had been published on huge websites. I scoured their portfolios.
And so often I found the same thing. They shaded their lack of understanding in nicely constructed sentences. I got to the end of articles no wiser about the subject. They made statements that sounded great but had no foundation.
References were articles that referenced another article that maybe, possibly, referenced the actual research. Like a game of Chinese whispers.
Was this what ‘good’ content writing was? A regurgitation of poorly researched pieces with a good SEO strategy?
So many of the briefs I got were for blog posts that were simply the same old topic repeated across the web. Like a hall of mirrors.
What did these clients want? Did they really want informative, original and purposeful content? Or did they just want text that helped them been seen in Google?
If that was the case, I was writing for Google’s algorithm, not human beings.
What is the point in that?
The mistaken belief that All Content is Good Content
Many companies seem to believe that if they have a huge bulk of content, they’ll show up well in search engines and their business will grow.
It’s true that they might rank higher. But will that translate into more customers? Maybe, a little.
But it’s not a sustainable strategy.
The point of content marketing, and good copywriting, is to give the reader something useful. Churning out another same-same blog post isn’t useful. It’s trying to game the system.
When you write for algorithms and not people, the people will notice. And it’s the people who have the money you want, not the algorithm.
How this affects the copywriter
Why not just take the money? Who cares that no one reads it if you get paid?
Well, I care. It’s not that I need the validation of knowing my work is read. Most of my copywriting is ghostwritten and I don’t have access to the stats. So I wouldn’t know anyway.
But I know that what I’m being asked to write is not particularly useful. And because I cannot bear to churn out mindless choss, I spend far too much time making it high quality and in-depth. For a payment that does not reflect that work.
The solution is, of course, to get clients who understand this. Who only want genuinely useful content and are willing to pay for what that entails.
But that doesn’t remove the fact that vast swathes of copy and content writing are just baseless crap. This is the world we live in. Where it’s easier to make money creating mediocre work than it is to create something worthwhile.
And it sucks the joy out of this type of writing.
So what’s the answer?
It feels like a rollercoaster, because one minute I’m thrilled to get a bulk of work and the next I’m down because it feels meaningless.
The only solution I can see is to keep producing the best work I can and keep fighting for clients who will appreciate that and value it.
I don’t know what the future of content is. Perhaps it will follow the path of the lowest common denominator like so many other industries. Where we’d rather pay a pittance for a t-shirt even though it’s poorly made, than pay more for clothing that fits and lasts.
I don’t want to produce work that lacks substance. So I won’t. And one day I hope that this won’t be a naive choice.
I love copywriting. There is so much possibility for creativity and purpose. There’s so much scope to truly transform the path of a business. And I love to learn about the subjects I work in. The more I learn, the better a writer I am.
But I hate it sometimes too. Because often I feel like I care more about the reader than the client does.
Kitiara Pascoe is a freelance writer, content marketer and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon, UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her work at KitiaraPascoe.com