dinner party small talk

Pen for hire

Although I've been writing since childhood and throughout my working life, going it alone is a whole new world. It's not just the realm of self-employment and all that brings. One of the biggest challenges, I have discovered, is explaining what I do to people. Not as easy as it sounds.

I've had some practice. When employed as an internal communicator, for example, my response to "What do you do?" was met with faces equally as blank as they are now that my reply has become, "I'm a freelance copywriter." But somehow explaining my role as a writer of government communications aimed to motivate staff was easier to understand.

These days people tend to respond to my new job title with questions like, "What sort of writing do you copy?" or "Oh, you mean legal stuff? Like patents?" or simply "What's copywriting?" I say this with no judgement; why should they know? I mention it merely because as I find my freelancing feet, as I establish myself and refine what I have to offer, it seems that defining myself to others is an integral part of that process.

At the moment I work with a Holistic Massage Therapist writing copy for a blog that is at once personal, unflinchingly honest and a marketing channel with several business objectives to meet. I've just taken on a new project for Creative Director of an independent record label that aims to get more women into music, an industry that is (like so many) dominated by men. I do ad hoc work for a Bristol DJ who often needs a few words of summary for his website or various bar and club listings. I edit student essays. I blog about a documentary I'm making. I write press releases for my own and other projects. The varied list goes on.

But when people ask me to expand on what I do I generally draw for something which, although true, is fairly bland like, "Copy is writing that informs people of or persuades them to do something. It's everywhere [cue vague gesture to the nearest packaging / billboard / website] and can be anything, really. Brochures, leaflets, adverts..." By this point the person I'm talking to tends to glaze over and nod, a gesture that is less, 'I see what you mean' and more, 'I still don't get it but please stop now.'

So, what's the problem? Why this difficulty? Well, for one thing the world of copywriting is vast. If you'll excuse the hyperbole, there are almost as many different areas of work as there are copywriters. For the average dinner party conversationalist this isn't such a big deal, they're just making small talk after all. For the fresher freelancer though, it's a little more problematic because defining yourself and what you have to offer, finding your niche in an ocean of varied expertise, can be overwhelming.

But I have come to the conclusion that what I have to offer is as simple as it is effective. Me. And my pen.

I am a writer. I put words, sentences, paragraphs together. I am intuitive. I understand what makes my clients and their customers tick. I help businesses and the people they're made up of find the words they need to say what they want to say. This makes me a pen for hire. And the next time someone asks, that's what I'm going to tell them.