Copywriter Confidential: Think visually. Draw (terribly).

Let me get something out of the way first. If you can write and draw well, there’s a good chance I enviously hate you. There, I feel better now.

As a copywriter, your creative work is more than a series of headlines and body copy. Or, at least it should be. People are visual creatures, there’s no getting around it. Explaining an idea will never be as effective as showing an idea. That’s where sketching comes in.

“I can’t draw.”

So you can’t draw well? That’s okay, neither can art directors. I keed, I keed—don’t flame me, Art Directors. Focus on the concept; in the beginning all you need to do is convey an idea. There’s time for refinement later.

Your sketches will be probably be bad, unless they’re not then see the statement of hate above, just focus on the idea behind the sketch. Laugh along when the Art Director and Creative Director points out how your vanishing point has vanished and your stick figures are floating; then talk about the idea.

Carry a Sketchbook

Halfway through my internship I exchanged my notebook for a sketchpad. That 9″ x 12″ blank canvas was a glorious departure from the journals that ruled my life up to that point (pun 100% intended). Two things came of that decision. 1. I ended up doing most of my writing and all of my sketching in this book. The physical size meant I had to turn away from my computer to use it, freeing up focus that Facebook greedily held onto. 2. I used the extra space to nurture ideas that weren’t possible in Word. I could sketch a quick thumbnail and connect several headlines to it. No Photoshopping, no scanning, just simple drawing.

Elephant in the room

Okay, now for the elephant in the room. You’re encroaching on Art Director/Designer territory with your pretty pictures. Some will be okay with it, and some will implode. This is a bigger conversation about the creative partnership. Here’s where I stand, you and your partner should have a give-and-take collaboration. If that’s not the case, then this is a perfect time to strike one up. It’s not easy when egos are involved, but your book will be better in the end. Keep in mind that it’s a two-way street. My Art Director partners have come up with some great headlines I never would have thought of.

Keep the idea. Lose the look

Us copywriters can be a sensitive lot (speaking from experience), so when your idea is hanging on the wall by a thin swath of tape, don’t get hung up on the look. Hold onto the nugget of truth in the idea, but let it be molded. Give up some ownership. It’s not “my” idea, it’s “ours.”

“Writers just do the words.”

There still are places where the kind of overlap and collaboration I’ve been talking about isn’t part of the culture. If you’ve ever received the “just do the words” talk then you’re in one of those places. I’ve been on the receiving end of those five words—it’s not fun.

You have two choices, change it or leave. This is the most direct advice I can give. If you’re in an environment where you’re not allowed to fully explore ideas, then you should start looking elsewhere. Limiting your thinking will only stunt your growth and career.

That’s it for the first installment of Copywriter Confidential. What do you think about writers breaking out the sketchpad? Are there any topics you’d like to see covered? Hit us up on our Facebook page.


Copywriter Confidential is a series of indeterminate length giving budding creatives advice on the good, bad, and grammatically ugly in this business.

Brian Crawford is a copywriter, creative director and creator of things. He feels lucky to get to work with his wonderfully talented wife every day at BC/DC Ideas. He enjoys solving problems, creating brands, talking about communication, nerding out, and writing in the third person.


By Brian Crawford
Published January 14, 2012