Typing Is Not Writing

Orange Yeti asks some tough, and oh so pertinent, questions.

Why do clients love to pretend they can write? Time and time again we stress the importance of good copy. And almost always we get an, “I can handle that,” or a “No problem!” There is a problem though. Most people have poor writing skills.
Writing is hard. Communication is difficult. Why is it so often sloughed off as a trvial task that anyone can do well?
I wouldn’t tell the contractor building my new home that, “I can handle installing all that sheet rock and insulation. No problem.” Sure, I could do that work, but I probably wouldn’t do it as fast or as well. And after I finished making a mess and wasting time and energy, I know I wouldn’t have the cahonés to hold the contractor accountable for the delay.
So why do people think writing good content is easy? Well-written comments only please.

What’s even worse is when a client lets you go through the motions of writing their copy, when they have no intention whatsoever of running with it. You know, because they prefer to “save the day” at the last minute with their own version.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. People write every day,hence thinking it is easy and they are good at it. Installing sheet rock is a craft that most don’t do on a daily basis.
    There is one major difference though… A man or woman installing sheet rock and insulation doesn’t have the ego of copywriter. Why is that?

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this. I try to counsel my clients as best I can, and most of them take our advice, but every once in a while, we have a client who wants to leave their own mark on the project, just so they can say “I did that!”
    It almost always ends badly.
    And in response to your comment, Joe, copywriters and creatives almost HAVE to have big egos for this exact reason. If they don’t, the worse clients will inevitably impose their will on their work.

  3. Joe, you’re right. The sheetrocking analogy breaksdown on that point. But I was using it more to tie in with contracting.
    How about this analogy?
    Most people drive their cars everyday too. And there are still plenty of bad drivers. But I wouldn’t pretend to think that I could control (much less drive) a Nascar at 200 mph. I can’t imagine my routine trip to the grocery store comes even close to approximating what that is like.
    I think that works better… the client copywriter would be akin to a backseat driver in a Nascar race.
    On egos:
    I don’t think it’s ego at all. I think it’s about being an expert. If I started to give my hypothetical sheetrocker uninformed pointers on how to spackle better, I’d imagine he’d let his “ego” show a little too.

  4. Ego is a bitch.
    One of my all time favorite writers sums it up nicely:
    “I could do my imitation of an important novelist entering Elaine’s, but why? There’s no bigger trip than self-importance — to blind you, to decrease the energy of your art.” – Jim Harrison

  5. Another thing to keep in mind is that while these clients are not necessarily copywriters, many of them think they can do it because they write marketing nonsense every day–in the form of letters, proposals, bad PowerPoint presentations, and all sorts of internal things the agency never sees. Some might be failed journalists or “corporate communications” specialists or some might have written for the high school newspaper.
    And good advertising copy, while we kind of know it when we see it, is generally in the eye of the beholder–we have rules we tend to stick to (although that varies too, as I once freelanced in The Agency Where Bad Puns Still Live), but then we also break them at will.
    Get yourself a One Show or CA annual from 20 years ago and you’ll see that copywriting has evolved, whereas client training hasn’t. “Makes Fantastic Pasta. Fasta.” was once sheer brillance.

  6. farvignugen says:

    Imagine how we novelist feel when you copywriters attempt to write a book.

  7. What are you talking about? “Makes Fantastic Pasta. Fasta” is *still* pure brilliance! Can I get that on a t-shirt?

  8. Werd. What’s worse is when it happens at work. Boss makes “last minute, needed” changes… BS.

  9. ivoxpierre says:

    It reminds me of the story, I think involving Margaret Atwood, from a social even where a fellow diner asked her what she did, and she told him she was a writer. He then informed her that when he retires, he’s going to start writing. She then asked him what he currently does for a living and he said he was a neurosurgeon. Her response, “What a coincidence, I was thinking of taking up brain surgery when I retire from writing.”

    Writing is done by writers, becasue that’s what they do. Automechanics work on cars for the same reason. Teachers – same thing. None of it is easy, yet why does everyone think they can write?