When someone asks me what I do, I say I’m a copywriter. Or business writer. As a rule, we copywriters don’t like to upgrade ourselves to the pure and lofty heights of ‘writer’. Henry James we ain’t.
But, having been paid to write for the best part of 30 years, I reckon I’ve earned the title. Being a commercial writer doesn’t mean you write banal tosh. Quite the opposite. If I can put myself into the mind of a person in charge of dangerous machinery or a massive budget or a newborn baby, and convey information and messages in a way that not only chimes with their experience of life, but catches their attention – using a language and logic that’s as natural as breathing – that’s being a writer.
Which brings me, belatedly, to my theme: [copy]writers need to remind themselves who they are. You came into it because you love writing. And, just as the true singer doesn’t really mind what song they sing, you find as much satisfaction in crafting a boiler ad as you would a fine arts catalogue.
Still, it’s good to give yourself a creative break every so often. And if you don’t spend every spare minute working on a novel or screenplay or poem cycle, a writers’ organisation like 26 can be the answer.
A bit about 26
This not-for-profit, run by and for writers, aims to ‘raise the profile and value of words not only in business, but in everyday life.’ They’re best known for their projects: creative collaborations with ridiculously high-profile partners, which lead to exhibitions, books and other gloriousness. If you’re a writer, be in 26.
The latest project
It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that a particularly resonant anniversary occurs this year. At eleven in the morning on the eleventh of the eleventh, 1918, the Armistice was signed. The unending horror really had ended.
So it was fitting that 26 chose the Great War for its most ambitious project to date. In the 100 days leading up to 11 November 2018, 100 writers each wrote a poem of 100 words (a form invented by 26, called a centena), on a person alive at the time.
The project was a collaboration with the Imperial War Museum, and a poem was published every day on IWM’s commemorative website, 1914.org. My contribution, Old English Women to Shoot, about Nurse Edith Cavell, appeared on 12 October – the anniversary of her execution.
I’m grateful to 26 for the opportunity to remember an ordinary, extraordinarily brave woman, who saved so many lives. And for helping me remember who I am as a writer.