Hi Alex! Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Alex Carnegie, a writer at Fifty Five and Five. I come up with ideas and write copy for our clients’ content and campaigns. That can include website copy, articles, eBooks and whitepapers, as well as ad copy, social media and really anything else that pops up.
Who do you report to?
I report to our Head of Content Stephen Reilly, who oversees anything we do with words in it. Of all my colleagues, I’d say I work most closely with other writers, but my job takes me all around the agency. Most days I’m collaborating with designers, SEO specialists and the accounts team.
Describe a typical working day
It all starts with a coffee and checking my to do list. The longer the list, the stronger the coffee, generally. The main chunk of most of my day is sat at a computer, creating content and working on campaign concepts. This ranges across many different clients, which is great because it provides a lot of variety. Alongside that, I’ll also edit and proof-read other writers’ work, using the full Microsoft Word comment functionality. Some would perhaps say too much use…
Sometimes, an entire day of time can be reserved to one client, for instance working on a big website project. For work like this, simply getting a hold on all the moving parts is a task in itself, there’s a lot of collaboration with our web design and development team. We spend a lot of time keeping complex projects like this moving, avoiding bottlenecks in communication or one person waiting for something from someone else before they can get their work done. I’ve no idea how project managers are able to keep all these plates spinning at once.
What skills do you think are needed to be good in your role as a writer?
The obvious one here is attention to detail in writing and a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of language. Spelling, grammar and generally knowing how to construct an effective sentence. But really, that’s the bare minimum. To write copy that’s engaging, persuasive and achieves what it sets out to, you have to really enjoy writing – even if the subject matter is challenging. This comes across in the final piece and helps you to find creative ways to say things, creative concepts, and make the work stand out. It’s more of a mindset than a skillset.
In terms of writing skills, you need to be able to express your message, without leaving anything out, and still make an impact – often within a fairly tight structure. Writing banner ads and social copy is good training for this; it teaches you to write good copy and clear meaning within rigid character limits. Website copy is similar – another format that has to be very immediate punchy and attention grabbing.
What do you love about your job?
Writing, as obvious as that sounds. There’s a sheer joy in finding the best way to say something, which gets the message across and does so smoothly, vividly, sometimes funnily, sometimes seriously and hopefully enjoyably. There are few things more satisfying than hitting the ‘Enter’ key after you’ve just written something really good. That’s why I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.
What’s the hardest part?
Writing. When the right word or phrase has eluded you for an hour and is still nowhere to be found… it can be tough. A lot of writing is just staring at a blank page, and the gears are turning but no words are appearing. And then suddenly everything will come together at once and you’re left thinking ‘wow, it really took me half an hour to write that paragraph?’ But, as they say, the only way out is through – so you just have to keep trying ‘till you get there.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a writer?
Make your peace with criticism; you’re going to get a lot of it as a writer. Some will be constructive, some less so, some will be more pointed than it needs to be, some will be genuinely frustrating and some of it will be just plain wrong. Many new writers get into a trap of seeing criticism as something they have to defend against, getting stuck in an endless cycle of taking criticism to heart and arguing with it. It’s much easier for everyone if you get used to the fact that you’ll get a lot of criticism – and try and take it in a constructive spirit.
A comment or question might seem quite cutting in the black and white comment box – but at the end of the day we’re all trying to do good work. Don’t lose sight of that.