Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk.
Now, imagine I’m about to introduce you to an auditorium, filled with the smiling faces of folks fuelled by caffeine and an eagerness to learn. What would I say?
Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce…
Ben McKinney. Emerging copywriter.
Here’s the part where we’d sit down and try and look comfortable next to the microphones. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…
Can you name the business book that’s always on your desk? (I’m talking about the one that’s covered in pencil marks, coffee stains and has turned down corners…)
The craft of copywriting by Alistair Crompton is the most dog-eared, but that’s because I had to buy a second-hand copy. The Copywriting Sourcebook and Write To Sell (both by Andy Maslen) are the two books I keep closest to hand and turn to most regularly.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
16-year-old me would say the 1998 Nike advert where the Brasil team run riot around an airport playing football and avoiding security guards to the song Mas Que Nada. However, there’s no copy in that ad so I’ll say the Guinness ‘Good Things Comes To Those Who Wait’ campaign from the late 90s and early 2000s. Specifically the ‘Swimmer’ advert where Marco races against the pint.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I think you need at least some talent. But I know hard work beats talent every time. I believe the secret is to read a lot (a wide variety of styles) and to write as much as possible (whatever it is).
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I am just starting out. It’s important to find support and to not be afraid to ask questions. I’ve been overwhelmed with offers of support from copywriters around the country and have places to turn when I need advice.
In terms of books, I’d again recommend Andy Maslen (he’s my mentor, whether he likes it or not). Read all of his books, but when you first get going especially pick up ‘Write Copy, Make Money’. Even though I’ve run my own business for 12 years, reading that was a good reminder to make the business side of freelancing as important as the actual writing.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Test Match Special, when it’s on. I do like to write with music on but if I’m stuck on something I’ll turn it off.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
Great Expectations: Just brilliant. Still relevant and relatable. Jaggers and Wemmick might be my favourite duo of all time.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A book about spies that’s not about spying. So intricate. To be inside the head of George Smiley is a fascinating place to be.
The Great Gatsby: See below.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I don’t think I’ve written anything that good yet. The only thing that rocked my world so far is probably my Copy Cabana speech last September. Speaking there has made me feel a part of a generous and talented community and given me confidence that I can be a successful copywriter.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
I bought some chips for lunch.
Who was your teenage crush?
Terri Hatcher. Lois from The New Adventures of Superman.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
An anniversary meal a few years ago at a restaurant called Bishops, in Norwich. Amazing locally sourced food in a lovely, intimate setting. Ironically, I just reminded my wife about the meal and she can’t remember it.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I’m not really partial to any one drink. I suppose I’d order a Guinness if I was in a bar right now.
If I were to give you a private jet, David Attenborough as a tour guide and a month off work – all expenses paid – where would you go and what or who would you write about – and why?
New Zealand. My wife’s family are all from there (although her mum and dad live here now) so there’s loads of cousins, nephews, uncles and aunts that we see very rarely. David could come along for the ride.
What’s in your pockets?
Headphones. Money clip (empty).
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I write on the computer but I’ve learned that I’m much more productive and consistent if I start by scribbling a plan (of sorts) in a notebook. Odette (my wife) recently bought me a book where the pages can clip out and be moved around. Very useful as I often pick up notes several days and pages after initially starting them.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on your desk and recycle?)
I read a ton of them but I couldn’t tell you who wrote any of them. I’ll usually read any that come into my Twitter feed and then clip points I want to use or remember into Evernote.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Coffee with breakfast. A couple of teas during the rest of the day.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
No favourite but I am selective. There’s definitely cups I won’t use. I tend to go by the shape.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Like almost everyone else I love Roald Dahl, especially ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo’. His world was so different to the one I grew up in. Excitement and possibilities seemed to appear everywhere.
My favourite characters were The Hardy Boys.
Your favourite word?
Adroit. I was a junior sports reporter for a local newspaper in my late teens and used to try and get it into reports (ideally when describing my own cricketing exploits) as often as possible.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Myself. Whether it’s customer service people on the phone, shop assistants, or the plonkers in The Apprentice, it’s used wrongly all the time. It’s a reflexive pronoun people!
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
‘There is a light that never goes out’ by The Smiths.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Currently, it’s Future Islands.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I didn’t think I did but Odette says that I do. A specific little shuffle and several coughs when I sit down to write, before going through a regime of moving things on the desk around, clearing any unread emails and doing a quick bit of online browsing before finally starting.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
A bit of business planning and the copy for my own website.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
It was last Wednesday, which was mine and Odette’s 9th wedding anniversary. It’s a picture of her and our 11-month-old son Baird having lunch during a nice little family day out.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
I was recently told ‘keep doing what you’re doing’. Freelancing can be a lonely job and it’s easy to get into your own head, doubt yourself and want to rip up everything you’ve done. This encouragement gave me the confidence that I can bring something valuable to my customers despite my inexperience.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A list of figures related to our mortgage for a meeting with the bank. Zzzzzzzz.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“I didn’t have time to write you a short letter. So, I wrote you a long one instead.” Mark Twain (?). I try and think of this every time a customer says, “How much?! It’s only a couple of sentences.”
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Roger Sterling. A cad with a conscience.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Back To The Future (Part 1, obvs). The bit near the end where Marty plays ‘Johnny B Good’ made me (and still makes me) want to play the guitar.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Wake by Elizabeth Knox, which I’ve just finished. On Writing by Stephen King. And a dusty copy of The Great Gatsby (see above). When Baird was a newborn we found that our tired, monotonous voices were one of the few things that would help him get to sleep. One of us would read ‘Gatsby’ to him while the other cuddled him. Invariably, we’d all nod off. His first year has flown by so quickly that keeping the book next to the bed is a nice reminder of those first few mind-boggling months.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
My friend Michael Borgailo in Florida. Michael and his family put me up for three months at a time on several occasions in my late teens and early 20s. Although I come from the most loving and supporting family imaginable, the experiences I enjoyed living with the Borgailos helped me grow up and very much shaped me into who I am today.
Who is your favourite artist?
Don’t have one.
Where do you like to work best – is it at a desk, in an office or in a coffee shop? And would you send us a picture of where the magic happens?
A desk in the living room. I used to think I had to be at the desk to begin planning or even thinking about writing. I’m now getting better at recognising ideas and writing them down wherever I am when they happen.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/benmckinney/