The absence of a client is bad in one way: it means the absence of any payment. But it’s good in two other ways, of which the first and more obvious is that no-one’s going to come back demanding lots of stupid and irritating changes to it.
That is, more or less, the potted, one-para version of the blog I intended to write. The full-length version, needless to say, would have developed into a bit of a rant about clients, and how tiresome they are – and how silly and counterproductive they are, too, because if I look at the universe of all the stuff I write, I’d estimate that the half that hasn’t been dicked around by clients is at least twice as good as the half that has.
But at the moment I sat down to unburden myself of these thoughts – fingers hovering over keyboard – I realised that actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. I said there were two reasons why it’s good not to be writing for a client. The second – the one that’s very easy to overlook, even though it’s a rather big and uncomfortable point, to be honest – is that in truth, on the average, I write about half as well for clients as I do for myself.
Yesterday, for example, I wrote a 750-word piece for a client, and this morning I was less than astounded, or indeed delighted, to find an email from the client pointing out its sixteen miscellaneous faults and failings – basically, the title, the beginning, the middle and the end, as well as a dozen more nitpicky comments. Bloody clients, I thought: but then on closer examination, and in a sudden moment of objectivity, bloody hell, they’re absolutely right.
Well, maybe not quite all sixteen. But actually it was a rotten piece, wrong factually, tonally and structurally. It was Start-Again Time. I hope Draft 2 goes down better, though I sent it off a couple of hours ago and it’s all gone suspiciously quiet.
If I think about it, the way I set about writing these different things tells its own story. As you’ve probably surmised, I knock these blogs off in a few minutes, basically writing as fast as I can type. By contrast, writing that client piece yesterday was like trying to hew something out of granite with a teaspoon – hard going from first thought to last word, and an anxious feeling when I finally finished that what I’d written didn’t bear much resemblance to the piece I’d imagined when I started.
Why is that? Is it to do with the content? Not really. The piece I was writing yesterday was on a subject which I’m very comfortable with – indeed, which I’ve written about on previous occasions in this very blog. Is it to do with tone of voice? Maybe a little bit, but the industry’s a lot more relaxed about that these days than it was just a few years ago: copy that would once have been dismissed with a withering “too chatty” now comes back with a note saying “more engagement needed.”
No, I don’t think the problem with client copywriting jobs is to do with the client. I think it’s to do with me, or mainly at least. For some reason, I’m just not as fluent, not as confident, not as committed, when it’s a client job than I am when it’s a blog, or an article for a paper or magazine, or a conference paper, or whatever.
That’s not to say (he adds defensively) that some of my copywriting for clients isn’t pretty good. On the whole, it’s just not as good as my other stuff. It’s not you, as the saying goes, it’s me.
Unless, of course – scary thought – the other stuff isn’t as good as I think it is either.