How I became a freelance copywriter

When I was small and adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I didn't hesitate.  "A writer," I said.  (Occasionally, I might say "taller" or "older" and risk getting told off for being cheeky.)  But the answer in my head was always the same.  I wanted to be a writer.

About the age of six, I knew we were struggling for money so I decided to write poems and stories, just like the mother did in The Railway Children.  I reasoned she had been able to earn enough to support herself and three children (with a little help from that kindly old gentleman on the train) so I figured I could support myself and my mum with little to no trouble.  After all, I never had any shortage of ideas for poems and stories.  Regretfully, nobody told me that, in order to make money, somebody actually had to want to buy your poems and stories.  

I was probably about eight when I bought my typewriter from a jumble sale and began making my own "newspapers".  I would type until my fingertips were sore - and then type some more.  I created all kinds of newspapers, featuring myself as Editor, Chief Correspondent, Agony Aunt, Comic Strip Artist...  Eventually, I upgraded to an electric typewriter as a treat to my fingers.

When I was nine, my mother decided to enroll me in a university course, alongside my schoolwork and I began to study writing properly.  

About the age of eleven, we got our first computer.  I discovered Pinball, Hearts, Minesweeper and, more importantly, Word.  I would spend hours writing novels and I was absolutely certain I would be either a famous novelist or a journalist.  

I was passing every module in my university course and submitting my fiction work to publishers (who would always send very kind rejections.)  This didn't worry me too much - I'd read somewhere writers should expect to receive enough rejections to be able to wallpaper their entire house.  

At around sixteen, my stepdad was (strongly) encouraging me to get a job.  After a failed attempt to clean a holiday house, I decided to look for writing jobs.  I approached a local newspaper (who ignored me), but nothing really came of that.  

A chance meeting in a coffee shop changed all that.  My mother struck up a conversation with a grey-haired man enjoying his lunch, who handed her his business card.  "He's an editor," she announced when she returned to our table.  She gave his business card to me and I studied it.  "Fred Silver, Editor."  He was based in Stornoway and ran a newspaper.  

Everybody left the cafe, except me.  My heart was pounding but I knew what I had to do.  I slipped into the seat opposite the man.

Dolly Parton wrote in her autobiography that she had said to someone "I want to work for you."  The person had said something along the lines of "You've got the job.  You're the only person who said they actually wanted to work."  (It's been many years since I read her autobiography, so forgive me if I've mangled the quote!)  However, that anecdote stuck with me and I always determined if I ever got the chance to work for anyone that I would use those exact words.

So, without further introduction, I slithered into the seat opposite the Stornoway editor and said: "I want to work for you."

After finishing his mouthful, Fred gave me my very first writing assignment.  Little did we know it was going to be the first in a long series of assignments.  But I completed it, then he asked me to create a story based on an interview.  Shortly afterwards, I went out to the Isle of Lewis for some work experience - and I worked for Fred until 2020.  

In that time, I helped kickstart the Isle of Skye's first online news-site and ultimately became the editor and chief newsgatherer for it.  I also wrote for award-winning website, We Love Stornoway; helped create similar news-sites for the isles of Barra and Vatersay; photographed and wrote for The Heb Magazine and, latterly, became sub-editor of The Skye Magazine.  I got to interview Alexander McCall Smith, photograph Rod Stewart and Amy Macdonald when I reported on their concerts and interview TikTok stars.  

When I got the letter saying I was being made redundant, I sat on my windowsill with the sun on my back and felt an eerie sense of calm.  I had loved this job and would have been happy to stay with the company all my life - suddenly Covid had changed everything, but I wasn't panicking.  

It felt like being sixteen again.  I was Googling writing jobs.  My plan was to stay with journalism and see if any local newspapers would have me now.  But I kept seeing advertisements for something called "copywriting."  What on earth was that?  I hadn't heard of it.  

When I Googled it, I discovered this definition: "copywriting
the activity or occupation of writing the text of advertisements or publicity material."

"That's what I've been doing for years!" I thought.  "Well, that's what I'll do then."  I created a Facebook page, organised a website and got my first client thanks to a Facebook share.  I'd also taken on a job making and serving pizzas in a local takeaway - scribbling ideas for my business on the back of old orders.  

Business started to take off - just a little bit.  I was writing music reviews for an up-and-coming band.  I placed an advert with Facebook, which led to my very first web content client.  

I joined LinkedIn.  I applied for every single writing job I could find, until I learned how to use LinkedIn properly.  Back then, I just threw the net as wide as I could and hoped for the best.  

And the best did happen.  I was extremely fortunate to have several people give me a chance to get into the copywriting world.  After about a year, I learned exactly what kind of clients I wanted to attract and who I wanted to work for.  I learned to put my rates up.  I invested in this brand-new website and I started to get my ducks in a row, as they say.

At the time, when my journalism career ended, it felt like I'd been dropped into a huge abyss.  Although I was calm, I was also uncertain.  I didn't know what to do or what path to follow.  I'm so glad I followed the copywriting path.  I'm fortunate to have received some amazing chances very early on and I have nothing but gratitude for the people who helped bring me to where I am now.

Of course, there are too many to name - otherwise it'll sound like an OSCAR acceptance speech - but thanks obviously goes to my mother, Fred, Alex, Sonia, Jon, Clare, Claire, Emily, Dan and everyone else who has been part of my journey so far.