I’ve spoken before about how I broke into the job market as a copywriter. Long story short, I wrote an article for the Irish Times that was passed around Madrid and increased my visibility. What I didn’t mention was how I felt when I found out the article was actually going to be published. I had written it during a moment of deep frustration and the whole piece had poured out of me—and been sent off—within an hour and a half. When I got the email from the newspaper, I couldn’t bring myself to read it again.

This sense of discomfort is something I’ve come to associate with quality personal writing. Writing as yourself invites more criticism to be directed at you—but it’s also more engaging. Whether they agree with you or not, people are drawn to writing that is real, which will bring more attention to your work.

Maintaining the balance

Why feeling uncomfortable can make you a better writer

I’m talking from my personal experience as a copywriter but I want to make sure the advice I’m giving about becoming a better writer aligns with best marketing practices. After all, your own reputation in this industry goes hand in hand with your clients’.

To provide insight from an expert, I reached out to successful storyteller Kay Fabella. In her guise as the Story Finder, Kay has helped businesses around the world connect with their audiences with simple, authentic messaging—and has recently published a book on the subject. 

In many ways, copywriting is about conformity. You have to meet the expectations and adhere to the brand voice of whoever you’re writing for. But that doesn’t mean you should write run-of-the-mill, impersonal copy. As Kay says:

“With the proliferation of cookie-cutter templates and a copy-and-paste approach to marketing, it’s more important than ever to infuse your message with a dose of humanity.”

Standing out while fitting in

Often this “dose of humanity” should be taken in more general terms, especially when you are writing for a client that doesn’t align with your personal story. There are many ways you can use universal truths to connect with people on a human level, but you will generally have to keep yourself as a person out of it. For example, if you’re writing copy for a bank or a legal firm, they care about clarity, not flair.

Professionalism and reliability

In a case like this, producing clean copy within the deadline, accompanied by professional and timely emails, will make you a dream to work with. This kind of reputation is as important as your writing skills. 

Creativity within boundaries

But not all projects are created equal, and creativity is highly in demand. The trick is to accurately gauge the amount of yourself you can put into the copy without turning it into the “me” show. Companies do want to be noticed among the noise, and writing unique and compelling content will help them do that.

Using vulnerability appropriately 

When you do get the opportunity to put yourself on the page, something fantastic happens—people notice. I learned this from personal experience and the results were great. But I was interested to find out what Kay thought about it as a marketing professional. Her answer was remarkably insightful:

“There’s a fine line between being vulnerable and ‘pimping your pain for profit. The main frustration I’ve had when working with clients is that they come to me saying, ‘I want to connect with my audience, but I don’t have a sob story to share.

“You don’t need a cancer scare or an untimely death in your family to be vulnerable. It can be anything from calling out industry practices out of integrity, sharing your mission to promote gender equality, or simply your occasional bout with writer’s block (we’ve all had it!). 

“To me, vulnerability is about owning a less-than-perfect part of your identity or life experience, and sharing the relevant lesson to get your audience to relate to you as a human as well as a professional.”

I think this goes back to the idea of authenticity in your writing or other professional interactions. Never forget that you are your own brand. If you share your story with the goal of trying to “hack” human emotions, it’s going to show. 

How do I put myself out there?

Why feeling uncomfortable can make you a better writer

Sometimes, you might find the right moment appears. But you shouldn’t rely on that. In the meantime, the best ways to get out there are:

Create your own platform

Creating your own personal blog is ant effective way to become a better writer and make a name for yourself. Take my colleague, Daphne Binioris, for example. In her post about going freelance to pursue your creative aspirations, she talks about the doors that were opened to her because she started the popular lifestyle blog Naked Madrid.

Attend networking events

As writers, we can get used to life behind a screen, tucked away in our home office or familiar co-working space. But being a freelance copywriter is about being part of a community of professionals. Attending networking events is a huge part of getting established in this business. And it can really pay off—just look at the world of good it did for freelance writer slash surfer girl, Melissa Haun.

The reward of personal writing

Going back to my article in the Irish Times; Shaheen didn’t contact me just because she’d read it. I’d touched upon a topic that is ever-present within the TEFL-teaching world. While teaching is an inherently vocational profession, many people get into teaching English as a way to travel. This creates an ever-simmering rift between those who are passionate about their work and those who aren’t.

In my experience, this is openly discussed among teachers when socializing, quickly followed by an irritated request by someone to talk about something else besides work. The difference was the first-person perspective of the article. I wasn’t as polite or reserved in my criticism of the industry as I would normally be in person—I was overtly honest.

The effect was two-fold. The readers who felt as I did were able to identify, and were quite sympathetic as a result. However, I also touched a nerve with others who thought (with good reason) that I was being too pessimistic. This minor polemic is what caught Shaheen’s eye, and not long after I got a LinkedIn message saying: “If you’re looking to get into writing as a profession, we should chat!”

A good practice

While this is my own personal story, Kay agrees that authenticity is key to making it as a writer. She says:

“If you’re in the business of writing, you are selling yourself as a person and as a professional to your colleagues and clients. Sharing openly is relevant in the communications world. 

“When I’ve shared openly about my stances on mental health for creatives and the importance of stories for representation, I’m able to have deeper conversations and connections with the person who’s in front of me while maintaining my credibility as a professional. And they’re more likely to work with me or support me in my work in the long run.”

I really like what Kay said here. Whenever you are your brand, the temptation is to try to appear like an all-knowing, infallibile professional. But as writers we are in the business of connection, and true connection is tied to authenticity. 

It may feel uncomfortable, but putting yourself into your work can have a lasting positive effect, making you a better writer and singling you out in a competitive industry.