“Hi, my name is Jeremy Harper. I’m a copywriter.”

That’s how I introduce myself to our Stone Ward intern class. They’re college kids full of energy and promise. They smile and nod politely and ask me what I do.

“Well, I come up with ideas,” I say, which doesn’t sound like writing, which to most sounds like the clatter of fingertips dancing across a keyboard. Later, when the designated copywriter intern wanders into my office, we work less on sentence structure and more about concept.

After all, the idea is the most important product we create for clients. Search Engine Optimization and Best Practices for Direct Mail Writing can be learned. But ideas can only be imagined and honed.

Every writer approaches his or her work differently. There are no universal methods.  But when asked, these are the six tips I pass along to those interested in pursuing copywriting.

  1. Become your audience. You are writing for a specific audience. Sometimes your audience is very specific (Female CEOs in the Southwest). Sometimes, not so much (Male, Female, ages 18-65). Regardless, you must use your imagination to become your audience if you expect to write to them. Otherwise, you’re likely missing the target by writing only for yourself (after all, chances are you’re not a female CEO from the Southwest).
  2. Welcome research and information. The account team has done their due diligence. They’ve studied the market landscape. They’ve examined the demographics. They’re familiar with the product. Take in the knowledge the account team has acquired. Absorb the creative brief. Ask questions. You’ll create a far more effective concept in a far more efficient manner.
  3. Pencil and paper. I find that when I walk a golf course, I play better golf. In the time it takes me to walk to my shot, I’ve calmed my nerves, plotted my approach, and envisioned success. That’s a process one loses in an electric golf cart. Concepting with a pencil and paper yields similar results. It slows the pace and focuses your thoughts.
  4. Don’t be a lone wolf. Everyone brings to the table a unique perspective and a valuable set of skills. Collaborate freely with your creative and account teams. Better yet, visit with people not even working on the project and ask for opinions. Good ideas don’t care where they came from.
  5. Steel yourself for criticism. Feedback, good and bad, is just part of the job. It’s not personal. Never hesitate to defend an idea, but always consider a critique with an open mind. After all, criticism is never delivered without reason. And the concept that best withstands criticism is the strongest.
  6. Seize every opportunity to write. We actually live in an age where composing ideas in written form is more prevalent than ever – texts, emails, Facebook statuses, Youtube comments, Twitter posts, blogs, Instagram captions. These aren’t junk forms of communication, but canvasses on which you can develop your craft as a writer. Make your Twitter updates epic. Post a poignant Facebook status. Compose a clever email. Today’s technology affords us new and exciting ways to concept.

Of course, there are a hundred general laws for creating advertising. (No more than six words for an outdoor board, Lead with your most important point, Never dangle a modifier.) There is wisdom in those laws. But the best laws are the ones you create for yourself. Create them, abide by them, and when the situation calls for it, break them.