How to put writing talent to work in the “real world”

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 Nobody writes their first novel and suddenly hits it big. Well, almost nobody. Most of us need some way to pay for peanut butter and Spaghetti-O’s while we’re shopping for literary agents. 

The good news? All this novel-writing experience can be used towards something other than novel-writing.

“What?!?” Shout all the responsible parents. “You mean all my child’s tottering about on the computer making up stories about non-existent people might actually help him earn a living?”

Why yes, yes it can.

I managed to land a full-time copywriting job with very little college (and no college English), mostly on the strength of my writing experience—and more specifically, I’d venture to say, of my ability to write voice.

Which came from “tottering about” in notebooks and on the computer.

What is copywriting?

Copywriting is ad-writing. This can mean anything from a billboard by the highway, to those sponsored ads you see on Google. I’ve written radio commercials, magazine ads, brochures, and more. I work closely with a public relations department, so I’ve also written press releases and opinion editorials.

(Sidenote: if you’re apprehensive about “spin-doctoring,” let me reassure you: the client’s legal department will send back even the most innocently-worded ad if a claim can’t be backed up by clinical data.)

Why is voice important?

Because you’re going to have more than one client. Even dozens of clients. Each one is targeting a different audience and needs a voice that audience can relate to. Preserving clarity and the brand.

Today alone, I worked on projects for an ostomy supplies manufacturer, a Catholic church, a pet wellness company, and a jewelry store. This required me to switch between voices that are professional yet caring, traditional yet warm, fun yet scientific, and helpful yet authoritative.

Will I like copywriting?

It’s not for everyone (no job is), but I enjoy it. I get to write something different every day (practice!), and the research is usually really interesting (learning!)—in fact, I spent part of today researching Halloween costumes (fun!). Yes, it can be stressful and draining, but such is the nature of work.

But what if I’m no good at copywriting?

Well, you won’t know until you try. And you probably won’t be very good at first, anyway. I knew next to nothing about marketing when I started out as an intern. Fortunately, my bosses were willing to teach me.

If you’re in college, I suggest you add a minor in marketing. If you’re no longer in college, I suggest walking into your nearest ad agency and begging for an internship (by “begging” I mean, bring in your best writing samples—hopefully some spec ads—and offer to start at the bottom).

But if you dig into the free links below, you’ll be way more prepared than I was starting out:

You used the phrase “real world” in the title. Does this mean I should give up my literary dreams?

Heavens no! I used scare quotes for a reason. The “real world” is what you make of it. If you start copywriting and discover you love it more than fiction, more power to you. But if your passion for fiction writing remains as strong as ever, don’t let it go to waste. I order you to never give up.

…Never to give up?

See, even I’m still learning.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. I work for a small charity and I write for their blog, press releases, newsletters and other literature. It is good to get paid to write, even if it is not for writing what I love to write.

  2. I love this advice, and the resources. Thanks!

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