Cain Smith desk

the writing desk | Cain Smith | Writer

by | The Writing Desk

Advice that changed me? To stop thinking of myself as a writer, and think of myself as an entrepreneur.


Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk Blog.

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…

Cain Smith, Writer

Cain Smith headshot

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 4-Hour Work Week had an impact on me and it’s a book I’ve returned to a few times.  The idea of not wasting time shoring up your weaknesses, but instead doubling down on your strengths…that actually inspired me to start my copywriting business.  Never nailed that ‘only-work-4-hours-a-week’ thing though…

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

I love Ogilvy’s Rolls ad.  I know that’s like saying ‘Hotel California’ is your favourite rock song…it makes people roll their eyes.  But come on, that headline!!

“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?

In fiction – restraint.  Leaving gaps for your reader to fill in.

In non-fiction – I’d say the opposite.  Sharing all your secrets and telling your reader everything they want to know.

If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?

I love James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits.’  If I could travel back in time, I’d give my younger self a copy of that.  Like it’s the Almanac from ‘Back To The Future II.’

The advice I’d give myself? Make decisions faster.  Everything that pops into your head, just go ahead and do it and stop procrastinating.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Silence, please! Although I’ve recently discovered a fingerstyle guitarist called Luca Stricagnoli who does amazing, technically complex arrangements of pop songs.  I listen to him now and again when I write.  YouTube him and prepare to be blown away.

What are your top three novels of all time – and why?

3. ‘American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – funniest book I’ve ever read. And the whole, blank, emotionless narration thing…Ellis writes like that in all of his novels, but he takes it to another level in this book. It’s a masterclass in control and voice.

2. ‘Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West’ by Cormac McCarthy – Insanely talented man, Mr McCarthy. He writes sentences that make you re-read them in awe…how many writers make you do that?

1. ‘Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – Just the best story ever.  I love Westerns, as you can tell.  This is about two retired Texas Rangers-turned-cattle ranchers who have a midlife crisis and drive their cattle 2,000 miles from Texas to Montana for the hell of it.  Thunderstorms, rattlesnakes, Indians, love, loss, betrayal, loads of humour…and nearly 1,000 pages of it.  Oh, and it’s got a scene where a bull fights a grizzly bear.  What more do you want in life??

What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?

I used to take part in a fiction-writing community called ‘Write Night’ (I think) and once a week, the community would log on and have 30 minutes to write an improvised short story on a randomly selected theme.  The top 3 best stories would be revealed the following week.  It was a lot of fun.

There was one particular week I won with a story about a pissed-off, retired, under-achieving rugby league player who rants about his failures in his local pub until everyone slinks out of the pub and leaves him, one by one.  People said it was moving and made them cry, and I felt moved writing it.  Don’t know where it came from but as Ken Loach as it sounds it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m proud of it.

What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.

A birthday card for my darling fiancée!

Who was your teenage crush?

Jet from ‘Gladiators’.  Every boy alive fancied Jet from ‘Gladiators’.  At least I think I was a teenager.  I might have been younger when that was on telly.

Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?

A huge mixed-grill platter in a restaurant called Vagabando’s, in a fishing village called Alvor, in Portugal.

What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?

I got a bottle of Bulleit bourbon for my birthday last year and fell in love with it.  Instantly became my new favourite drink.  At a party, though, I like Bacardi and Diet Coke…it goes down easily and the hangovers aren’t too bad.

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?

This is an amazing question.  I’d probably say the Canadian wilderness and tell him to show me everything.

What’s in your pockets?

I’m writing this in my pyjama bottoms.  Lockdown life, innit.

Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?

I’m a Google Docs man these days, through and through.  Even for taking notes.

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 Copyhackers and Conversion XL religiously and I like EConsultancy a lot, too.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Black coffee.  I’ve never tried a cup of tea in my life – the smell of it tells me everything I need to know.

Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?

My fave is a mug I got from the Manchester Christmas Markets quite a few years ago.  I’m a bit of a Clark Griswald and I sing Christmas songs in July.

What was your most adored children’s book? And character?

I was a kid with very weird and advanced reading tastes.  I was reading Stephen King in primary school.  I loved Jack Torrance in ‘The Shining.’ Not quite the Peter Pan answer you were expecting, eh?

Your favourite word?

Had to think very hard about this one.  I like ‘paradise.’

Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)

Queef.  I’m sorry.  I felt nauseous just writing that.

Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?

I’m a bloke – I don’t ‘browse’ for anything! If I want or need something, I just get it! If I don’t want or need anything, the thought of entering a shop – whether it’s online or bricks-and-mortar – just doesn’t cross my mind.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

I have to mention ‘Hotel California’ again.  I love all the lyrics in that song.

Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.

Michael Jackson!

Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?

None that I can think of.  I tap my fingers a lot and I’m a fidget, but I wouldn’t say I have any rituals.

What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?

A sales page for a home fitness product.  After that, a topic cluster page for a social media marketing agency.  I don’t really write content anymore –  but this particular client are very good to me, so I’ll write content for them.

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

A picture of my fiancée and daughter looking very wintry and pretty on a recent walk in some botanical gardens.  That sounds ridiculously middle-class, when we’re the most working-class family you can imagine!

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

To stop thinking of myself as a writer, and think of myself as an entrepreneur.  That resonated with me, and I stopped seeing myself as a pen-for-hire or a wordsmith.

What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?

That birthday card I got for my fiancée 😊

What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?

‘Murder your darlings.’  I don’t know if Stephen King originally said that or if he was quoting someone else, but I first read it in his memoir, ‘On Writing.’  It’s very good advice.

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

I’ve never watched it! It’s very high on the list.  ‘Game of Thrones’ is on that list, too.  I only discovered ‘Breaking Bad’ last year.  I finally crawled out from underneath my rock.

Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?

Dances with Wolves’, hands-down.  I like adventure stories with big themes.  I don’t like kitchen-sink drama stuff.  I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast recently where he interviewed Kevin Costner and really went deep into the genesis of that film…it was fascinating.

Which book or books is/are by your bed today?

None, unfortunately.  Everything I’m reading is online at the moment.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

MY GCSE English teacher, Mrs. Barnes.  I was in my shell, a bit.  I thought being good at English wasn’t cool.  She taught me that having a passion for something and being talented at something is very cool.

Who is your favorite artist?

I don’t follow or understand art at all.  But I visited the Picasso museum in Barcelona a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so I suppose I’ll say that guy! He wasn’t bad.

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?

I work from my dining table – I don’t have an office yet 😥 When the lockdown is over, I’m going to treat a day in Rhode Island coffee shop like a trip to Universal Studios!

Cain Smith desk

And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?

For business owners and growth marketers who want copy that will sell more stuff and make them more money:


For folk who want practical copywriting tips and musings to strengthen their marketing game


For people who just want to hear me moan about very British stuff and ponder pointless things that no one else cares about:

Twitter: @cainsmithwrites

Written By Katherine

Katherine Wildman is a copywriter for creative agencies and multinational brands – and the Creative Director of Haydn Grey.

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