“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
So wrote old Bill Shakes, the frilly-collared play-dude.
I’m not a massive Shakespeare fan, but try as I might, I couldn’t get that quote out of my mind whilst writing up the interview I have to share with you here.
You see the ‘rose’ we’re concerned with here does have another name…
See what I’ve done there. It’s great, right?
Stop it – that’s rude.
Anyway, it is my great pleasure to bring you a lovely back and forth I had with Hertfordshire-based freelance writer, Megan Rose Douglas about how she got into writing, her creative process and what she thinks of Megans with a H.
But first, we drop in with Meg revealing what she likes to get up to when she’s not writing:
MEG: I REALLY like sleep.
I think it’s totally underrated by society. Everyone is too busy.
You’ve got people getting up in the middle of the night and then mainlining coffee, Red Bull and biscuits to get through the day.
GLENN: Don’t say you’re against biscuits? That could set the copywriting world on fire.
MEG: Oh no. Don’t get me wrong: I love biscuits. I just can’t cope without my sleep. I do spend time doing more than just writing and sleeping, though.
GLENN: Tea drinking?
MEG: Sure. I enjoy drinking tea.
GLENN: If you could have one, biscuits or tea?
MEG: OH MY GOODNESS. How can you make me choose?
Tea, though. Every time.
GLENN: Correct. Continue.
MEG: So, what else do I do? I love getting outside, even when it’s cold and rainy (amazingly, I don’t dissolve in the rain).
I read a lot, of course, often switching between something meaningful one minute and then something trashy the next.
GLENN: I think that’s important – mixing highbrow with lowbrow. Of course, I say both of those words whilst holding my fingers like quote marks.
MEG: Ha. Exactly. Variety is the key.
Always be creative
MEG: It’s the case even when it comes to creativity generally. I mean, I don’t just like to write. I love making things as well, although I’m not always very good at it. Nothing turns out quite as I hope. I’ve been playing around with needle felting recently.
GLENN: How does that work?
MEG: Basically you stab wool with a needle until it turns into something beautiful. It’s great stress relief when you’re trying to deal with a tricky client.
GLENN: Sounds it. Though you should make sure to hide those needle-felt voodoo dolls if you ever have a client in your office.
You mentioned to me you’re quite a visual person, right? How does that figure in your writing process?
MEG: Yes, I am. I guess I’m a bit of frustrated graphic designer without much artistic talent. But yes, for me, planning stages always involve lots of colour. That might mean felt tips and paper strewn across the floor (for the more complicated jobs) or straight to the computer.
GLENN: Lots of colour? How do you mean?
MEG: Sounds a bit strange, I know. But yeah, the colours mean things to me; they’re not just random.
First, they help me nail down the brand, and second, they categorise information so I can play with the structure. If I’m on the computer, I also pick the font I feel sits best with the brand, to help with getting the feel of it.
It might be the closest I can find to the existing brand font and colours (if they’re established) or I’ll pick my own to suit the personality we’re trying to create.
Of course, I don’t send copy to the client in that state, but it helps me get the tone right in my head.
GLENN: It’s interesting. I can see how giving yourself a visual colour guide on the page helps.
MEG: I sometimes pick music to fit the project, too. Although they’re generally soundtracks. Otherwise the words tend to creep into the copy, and my neighbours complain about my singing.
GLENN: Ha. What’s your go to soundtracks right now?
MEG: Gladiator, Harry Potter and The Greatest Showman, depending on what I’m working on. Trust me, they suit the projects.
GLENN: Gladiator. Yes. The other two…hmm. Haha. Anyway, let’s move on. You’ve been a freelance writer for a while now, but was that always the plan?
MEG: Not really. It’s the result of years spent pondering, learning about writing generally and trying to get my head around other aspects of business too. Then suddenly realising I still didn’t know what to do.
I figured I had another long while of work ahead of me so I should do something and writing had always been a big part of my jobs, and that’s the part I really loved, so I ended up going in that direction.
GLENN: Very quickly, because I know this is what people are thinking right now…
Hamburgers or Hotdogs?
We all have weird paths into copywriting
GLENN: Good. Now, you worked for the National Trust before, right? You were looking after a house?
MEG: Yes. That was amazing. I worked with them for five years, helping to manage historic houses. I got to live in the mansion, which was amazing, and freezing.
GLENN: A friend of mine did that – they lived in John Lennon’s old house. But it had to be kept as it was in the sixties. Seemed very weird.
MEG: Oh yeah I know the place. I was mostly in a property called The Vyne, near Basingstoke. Thankfully when you work in the bigger houses you get a flat which you can make your own.
GLENN: I’m just looking online now – that is a hell of a house.
MEG: Yeah, it’s pretty grand. A big part of my job there was recruitment and communication. I also wrote for leaflets, guidebooks, non-English speakers, school groups, exhibitions – lots of different types of copy, for different purposes and very different audiences.
GLENN: Great experience for understanding what makes different people tick.
MEG: Definitely. It was the same with my next job…
I worked in emergency planning and resilience for five years. We dealt with things like flooding, infectious disease outbreak, major incidents, business continuity…all kinds of stuff. Those five years were really interesting because they took in the preparation for and duration of the London 2012 Olympics.
GLENN: That’s cool.
MEG: Yeah, I led on our local community engagement, so lots of persuasive copy, especially for vulnerable groups like older people, children, particular cultural groups. Lots of sensitivities there. And lots of sensitivities in the other side of the job, which was writing formal multi-agency plans and procedures which worked for, and made sense to, everyone from the military to tiny local voluntary groups, and everyone in between. Lots of fun!
GLENN: Wow. Not your typical route into copywriting.
MEG: No, it’s been a weird one. Especially considering after that I worked for another five years helping to establish intensive support for families.
GLENN: You don’t say. What did that involve?
MEG: The idea is that families who are struggling for all sorts of reasons are encouraged to work with the service, before it gets to a point of social workers getting involved.
My writing there had to sell that approach to the families, as well as to the staff across the different organisations who were being shifted to provide those services.
GLENN: It’s amazing the backstories I hear when speaking to fellow writers. But it also seems – especially when it comes to copywriting – that most people find their way to it in strange ways.
The problem with networking
GLENN: Of course, as a freelancer, you’ve got that added challenge of findings clients. How are you on the whole networking front?
MEG: Hmm. Not a big fan of those formal 60-second pitch type events. They’re really just not ‘me’.
But I do like meeting interesting new people so I see networking on those lines rather than too much about selling.
I tend to go for the less formal groups, where you turn up and chat, rather than sit around a table like a board meeting.
I do a lot of my networking online though. It suits my lifestyle and I think I’m more likely to find the kind of clients who’ll want to hire me there.
GLENN: Makes a lot of sense. If it’s too structured, I think it gets a bit meh. I think the more casual events definitely seem better. And as you say, you can make some really good connections online these days too.
MEG: I agree. My favourite ‘in person’ one at the moment is a local get-together that always takes place in the evening and it’s always somewhere with a bar. I think those are great rules for setting up networking meetings.
GLENN: One. Hundred. Percent.
OK. We’ve covered a fair bit of ground already, but I do have two more quick questions for you.
First, as I think it’s always useful for people to hear, where are your copy influences coming from right now?
MEG: This is tricky.
I have the attention span of a gnat so I don’t often work through a whole book on anything. I dip in and out.
At the moment I’m reading Dave Trott’s One+One=Three.
GLENN: Phew. I was worried we’d get to the end of an interview without mentioning Dave Trott. Well done.
MEG: Had to mention him or I wouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s perfect for snacking on though. I’m really enjoying it.
GLENN: He is really good. He’s like the Jesus of marketing, dropping all these little parables everywhere.
MEG: Otherwise, I’m a really random and wide reader. I live in hope, trusting the important bits will stick.
GLENN: I know the feeling well.
MEG: Actually, thinking about it, I’ve been influenced a lot by people who can’t see the different meanings and emotions you’re able to express with words.
It’s always felt obvious to me, which tipped me off to the fact that maybe I should focus on working with words.
They were infuriating at the time, but in hindsight I should say thank you to all the frustrating, grumpy managers I’ve worked for and who’ve edited good writing into something terrible.
GLENN: I like it. And on the subject of potential causes of frustration: how do you feel about Megans who spell their name with an H?
MEG: Well if they want to spell their name wrong, that’s entirely their prerogative. Each to their own, and all that. But I have noticed a significant rise in people spelling my name wrong since the royal wedding was announced.
GLENN: And they shall all be known as ‘bandwagon Megs’. I’ll start a campaign for you. The campaign for ‘Real Megans’.
And there we have it…
A very nice chat with a very nice person, the lovely Megan Rose Douglas.
I hope you found that interesting and please do share it around on the Internet thing if you did.
In fact, if you click this link it’ll take you to a Tweet you can share.
P.S. What? You expected a mention of my book, right?
Because I wrote a book called The Art of the Click.
It’s available on Amazon.
And it makes sense to mention it after providing you with some interesting content like this…
I am not going to link to the book on Amazon.
Instead, you should go here and take a look…