This week we talk to Iain Houten about his journey from nursing to copywriting, and why there is no place for writer’s block in the modern agency.
Q) Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into copywriting?
A) I trained as a nurse (badly) before realising it wasn’t for me a decade ago. After managing betting offices for four years, I then went back to university to undertake an English Literature degree. I’ve been working as a writer in London during the 18 months since graduating.
Q) What does a typical day look like for you?
A) At the moment I don’t have typical days, which will be explained in the next question.
Q) Do you have a full-time job, or are you freelance?
A) After working as a freelancer during my first 11 months in London, generally as an untrained stenographer – or ‘logger’ – in medical fitness to practice hearings, I got a job as a full-time staff writer with a creative web agency, writing about sports betting for most of the big bookmakers’ news sites.
Unfortunately, due to some of the company’s contracts coming back and forth, I was taken off staff and brought back as a four-day freelancer after six months. I fill any free days with logger shifts and/or copywriting.
Q) How do you get over writer’s block?
A) At the creative web agency, there’s no such thing as writer’s block – you get through your work or you’re out. It wouldn’t even occur to me to stop writing, because I have to pay my rent.
When it comes to personal projects – such as my blog, the book I’m working on and Copify – escaping writer’s block is somewhat more difficult. The best way I’ve found of counteracting is to write down big questions and try to answer them, such as ‘Why is the Scottish Independence campaign in such chaos?’ or ‘What is going on at Liverpool football club?’ I find this helps.
Q) What do you like about copywriting?
A) I did some copywriting work for a communications agency in Kentish Town last year and found it was a useful way to supplement my income, as well as good practice. Now, after producing five/six 350-word articles per day for six months, turning around content is relatively straightforward.
Q) What frustrates you about copywriting?
A) The money’s poor, but that’s a given and I signed up to Copify with my eyes wide open. However, I do get frustrated when I log in and there’s nothing but assignments on ecommerce etc. That’s not really my bag, to be honest.
Q) What tools do you use every day to get the job done?
A) For travel articles in particular, Wikipedia is a great starting point. The BBC website is a fantastic, authoritative source of information. When writing about sport in my ‘day job’, I use sites such as Racing Post (and their Soccerbase), Planet Rugby, WhoScored? and Newsnow.
Q) Content mills – necessary evil or just plain evil?!
A) Well, they work for me. As I’ve already stated, the money is poor but I signed up to Copify with my eyes wide open and not at gunpoint.
You get through your work or you’re out. It wouldn’t even occur to me to stop writing, because I have to pay my rent.
Q) How much do you know about SEO? How does it impact on how you write?
A) From writing with a creative web agency, I know plenty about search engine optimisation and what the likes of Google picks up and passes by. I can’t say I give SEO as much attention regarding Copify pieces, as many of the searchable terms in the content are provided by the client. I just make sure they are in there.
Q) Who would be your dream client to write copy for?
A) It is a dream and you’ve got to have them. The Economist.
Q) Who are your copywriting role models?
A) Ian Write, the Write brothers and Write Said Fred.