Do you need to be creative to be a good copywriter?

Are traditional concepts about creativity holding you back?

“Wow, you must be so creative.”

That’s the reaction I commonly get when I tell someone that I’m a copywriter.

But the truth is, I don’t see myself as a creative person. At least not in the way that is typically meant.

Do you see yourself as creative?

You see, I don’t do creative writing. I’m not working on my novel, I don’t write poems for fun, I don’t paint or make music or do any of the things that the general public will typically think of when you hear the word “creative.” And neither do many of my copywriting mates.

Here’s what just a few of them said when I posed the question “Do you need to be creative to be a copywriter?” in The Clever Copywriting Community Facebook group. (Not a member? If you’re a freelance copywriter, I strongly recommend joining. It’s an awesome and supportive space for copywriters at all stages of their journey, to ease the loneliness, answer your questions and brainstorm ideas.)

“One of the reasons I loved Belinda Weaver’s sales pitch for her copywriting course was she said copywriting was 90% process and only 10% talent (or something along those lines.) It took away all the pressure of feeling ‘what if I’m actually a crap writer.’” Kylie Singh, Magnetism Copywriting

Does process trump creativity in copywriting?

“After copywriting for some years I’ve understood how formulaic it is. The real skill is in writing simple and clear messages not how creative one is with the words.” Rashida Tayabali

“I haven’t got a creative bone in my body, nor ever had a creative idea for writing. [Editor’s note: Estelle is actually the bomb when it comes to witty one-liners etc, so I fully dispute her claim of not having a creative bone in her body.]  What I can do is take other people’s ideas and make them sound good.” Estelle Fallon, Words That Fit

“I’ve never considered myself a creative person as all the artistic subjects at school were wasted on me. However, the skills needed to create engaging content have always come naturally, and I simply love the process. To me, copywriting is like making a jigsaw puzzle and you just have to figure out how to put the pieces together.” Claudia Bouma

“I think curiosity and logic are more important to a copywriter than creativity.” Sandy Taylor

Curiosity is essential for great copywriting

“It’s empathy that really underpins my copywriting work. I spend a lot of time in research, getting under the skin of my target audience and working out their buying psychology before I get to play around with the words.” Lisa Cropman, The Word Nest

I’d say that’s a fairly resounding consensus that it’s not about being clever with words, wouldn’t you?

But that doesn’t mean that creativity isn’t involved

A lot of copywriting is actually very logical and an analytical process. Before I write a single word, there’s a lot of time put into researching my client’s point of difference, analysing customer needs, reading reviews to understand customer pain points and the language that they use.

Like Claudia said above, it’s often more about putting the pieces of the jigsaw together than writing. This quote by Eugene Schwartz sums it up perfectly:

“If anyone tells you ‘you write copy’, sneer at them. Copy is not written. Copy is assembled. You do not write copy, you assemble it. You are working with a series of building blocks, you are putting the building blocks together, and then you are putting them in certain structures, you are building a little city of desire for your person to come and live in.”

But you can’t assemble your copy if you can’t find the right building blocks. Could knowing how to find the right information and the different places to look can be considered a form of creativity?

“What I love about copywriting is that I get to play detective at my desk. I dig up information, assemble it so that everyone can understand it and then release my ‘findings.’ It’s the perfect job for a generalist who loves to learn and the writer who loves to communicate. It’s blood, sweat and tears with the satisfaction of having created something special at the end of it all.” Lyndall Talbot, ltdconsult

Does the premise that copy is assembled, not written, mean we aren’t creative though? No, absolutely not. We’re taking ideas, mixing them together, and making something that wasn’t there before. In other words, creating.

“I never saw myself as a creative person because I can’t paint or draw or do other traditionally creative or artistic things. And writing is logical, strategic and planned. But the act of copywriting has helped me see myself differently. When I write, I create something (words) and in my book that makes it a creative endeavour.” Anna Rogan

If we shift the concept of creativity from arts and crafts, it’s easier to see that even the dullest businesses that we might write for still need creative thinking. As the copywriting hive mind say:

“I do think creativity is essential. Creativity in a problem-solving sense, with stamina, as opposed to splashing paint around artistically.” Kylie Singh, Magnetism Copywriting

Creativity isn’t just about splashing paint around

“The creativity is coming up with an angle that will be relatable to your audience. Sparked by research, listening to customer conversations and being aware of what’s happening around it. Once you have the bones, it’s following a process to tie it all together.” Beck Cofrancesco, Marketing Goodness

“A lot of copy, particularly health and medical is very formulaic and there are only so many ways to describe disease symptoms and treatment, for example. However, I add a bit of creativity by including elements such as interesting research studies or case studies. The words themselves might not be creative, but I’d argue that to make your writing stand out from the other boring, bland copy, you need to do something different and that’s where the creativity comes in for me.” Nerissa Bentley, The Melbourne Health Writer

Does creativity need a rebrand?

Maybe the point isn’t that you don’t need to be creative to be a copywriter (and that’s not to say that some copywriting, like TV ads for example, isn’t actually highly creative), but that we need to shift our perception of what it means to be creative.

As another example, my husband is a software architect. Not traditionally seen as a creative job. But he’s looking at problems, thinking of how to solve them, and using that to write programs that didn’t previously exist to meet that need. If that’s not creative, I don’t know what is.

Tell me your thoughts

Is the common perception of creativity holding people back? When you hear the word creative, what comes to mind? How are you being creative in day to day life? I’d love to hear what you think.