It’s the most awkward position I find myself in. I saw myself as one of the up and coming South African writers who has some knowledge and skill. And then, after years of blogging and correcting other people’s mistakes, I find myself in a new writing environment. Furthermore, I find my knowledge and skills are actually limited, and I make such silly mistakes! The hunter becomes the hunted!
Shall I retreat into an “I-can’t-do-anything-right” hole? It won’t bode well for my budget. It will also not assist me in getting anywhere in future. So let’s hunker down, face the failure-fears and actually learn something. Because the cliché is—once again—absolutely true. One is never too old. And there’s a myriad of skills you and I can add to our repertoire.
As South African copywriters, we tend to get stuck in habits. Using terminology the international audience don’t use or identify with, can diminish the quality of your article. The only way to get out of these habits is to realise what they are and start eradicating them. I repeat words such as “that” over and over. I write ‘you are’ instead of the much more reader friendly “you’re”. Some of it may be school teachers’ residue, but guess what? You’re allowed to be short and sweet!
I’m a poet at heart. I can rhyme about any topic you throw at me. But unfortunately this does not make me a good copywriter. Including too many metaphors and poetic themes to a piece which is supposed to inform the reader, does not bode well for me getting more copywriting work. It may have impressed my teachers, but the multitudes out there do not listen to Shakespeare for entertainment. They are in need of facts and they want them fast.
For years I only ever worried about the grammar of written pieces around me. Never did I really focus my attention on the words which were being produced by me. And I bravely—though with my head hanging—admit how lazy I have become. I’m a member of the aspiring writers in South Africa who want to make an impact with words. For this goal to be reached, I’m supposed to use the best grammar and punctuation. I’ve seen however how lazy I am for activities such as using hyphens and semi-colons. In the right places they turn ordinary sentences into beauty. I sidestepped opportunities to place them in the correct spots (and instead mainly used them for smiley faces in text messages. There is so much more to them!
When one simply writes for yourself you easily forget your words may actually be read and heard by others. As soon as you apply yourself to copywriting, you receive feedback about sentences being too complicated. And then you read the sentence again. Aloud. And you think “What was I thinking?!” South African copywriters have to make their statements as simple as possible to assist the reader in quickly realising the goal for each sentence and paragraph, instead of having to dissect it to get to the true meaning.
But mistakes do not make me a bad writer. Making adjustments makes me a better writer. As a copywriter it’s such an honour to be part of a group of South African writers that share knowledge and thoughts through the written word. It’s essential to keep to the basics and make is as easy as possible for every reader to grasp the current message. As with so many aspects of life, less is more.