The Writing Desk | Gill Andrews

by | The Writing Desk

"Often, I find the process of writing quite torturous. Like giving birth, but with words."

Hello,

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…

Gill Andrews, a copywriter and web consultant who turns underperforming business websites into lead-generating machines

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…)

I don’t have a book like that, to be honest. Rather, I have several folders on my PC where I store my go-to resources: Screenshots from webinars and presentations, snippets of online articles, swipe files, etc.

The closest book that fits your description would be “Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” by Roy Peter Clark.

It has lots of pencil marks and turned down corners, but it sits on a bookshelf, together with the rest of my books. I read it at least twice in full and I love coming back to it.

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

It’s hard to pick an all-time favorite, but my favorite recent ad campaign is something I’ve seen at a local shop that sells hearing aids.

They had several posters with portraits of cool looking people (which I assume depict people exactly like those they target) on a black background with just one line “Hearing aids for people that don’t want any” (if you translate it from German).

Plus, there was an additional explainer poster that showed how small that hearing aid actually was visually comparing it to a match (and damn, was it small).

I found it to be a rare example where creativity met clarity, and it made my copywriter’s heart skip a beat.

“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 a secret to good writing is knowing what you’d like your message to be – that new thing (or things) you’d like your readers to think / feel / have learned at the end.

You can learn how to write well, but it won’t help you if you don’t know what you’re trying to communicate.

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

I’d tell myself to read less books / articles and to put what I’ve learned in theory into action sooner.

The more you know, the more you realize that there’s still a lot you don’t know, and the harder it is to put your work out there. But you can only improve if you practice.

These days, I read only if I have a problem I need to solve or if I need to become better at something to achieve a goal.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Absolute and total silence.

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

I must admit, it’s a tough one, because I stopped reading novels about 15 years ago.

It felt like there was too much drama going on in my own life, and that I just didn’t have enough energy to waste sympathizing with someone else’s drama, especially if it was made-up.

To this day, the only books I read are either business books or children books for the same reason.

Does it count as an excuse to name only one novel? 🙂

“Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov is a novel I first read when I was 18 and re-reed numerous times since in several languages.

It’s a fantasy novel, but it’s written the way you’d believe it actually happened.

It’s hard to say anything concrete about it without spoilers or without making it sound like the work of a mad man. To me, it’s the greatest manifestation of human creativity in writing. I don’t know any other novel that has a plot that crazy and, yet, that believable.

And the writing itself is so wonderful that it makes you “see” the events in your head as if you’re watching a movie and not reading a book.

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

That would be my book, “Making Your Website Work”, which I’m very proud of. Not in terms of “Oh, look, how beautiful the words are!” but rather “Oh my god, I can’t believe I pulled it off and people actually find it useful.”

It was hard work. The fact that I didn’t give up half-way and made it happen is already an achievement.

But seeing total strangers praising it – taking the time to post about it on social media, write me an email, post a review, etc. – is what makes it the best collection of words that I set free into the world so far.

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

Apart from groceries? Presents for my son’s upcoming birthday: A firefighter truck and a watch.

Who was your teenage crush?

I don’t remember, to be honest. I was more into reading than listening to music and I had very limited screen time, so it must have been some boy at school.

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

About 8 years ago in December, my husband and I were on our way to Portugal when our flight got delayed because of bad weather. We missed our connecting flight and were stuck at Majorca for the night.

It was Christmas Eve, and the airline company was nice enough to get everyone into a hotel. We also got invited to an all-you-can-eat Christmas buffet that hotel was hosting.

Imagine a huge hall with a crystal chandelier and tables after tables full of appetizers, main courses and, most importantly, desert! Did I mention it was all-you-can-eat?

We still remember it every year around the holidays.

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

Red wine, hands down.

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?

I’d say, “Thanks, but, no, thanks.” If I’m going some place cool with all expenses paid, I don’t want to have to write. I want to experience all the new and exciting things without constantly thinking what to write about it later.

I don’t think I’d make a good journalist or novel writer. Not to mention that I’d have to travel with someone I’ve never met before (no offence, David).

So, either give me the money and let me have my trip with no strings attached, or I’m staying home.

What’s in your pockets?

It’s impossible to carry anything in the pockets women’s clothes have and still feel comfortable. You can’t put anything there apart from a couple of coins. So, my pockets are usually empty.

I do carry an unreasonable amount of paper handkerchiefs in the pockets of my jacket, because my nose is always running when I’m outside in this cold weather.

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

Keyboard and screen for writing copy or blogging. Pen and paper for creating todo lists or making notes from an article or a presentation.

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?)

To this day, I read everything Henneke Duistermaat writes.

I’ve read everything there is to read about writing on Copyhackers blog, but I’m not subscribed to their newsletter.

Otherwise, I prefer to get writing advice from books or articles by people I trust to know what they’re talking about.

Most of the blogs I’m subscribed to talk about conversion-optimized design and user experience, not writing.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Black tea in the morning (with a small piece of lemon, no sugar). Black coffee in the afternoon when I need a boost of energy.

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

I’m obsessed with mugs and always bring one home when I travel some place new. I use different mugs for different occasions and moods, but these two mugs are the most special (sorry, couldn’t pick one).

My favorite everyday mug is the one I brought from Berlin. The first cup of tea of the day (the one with a piece of lemon) goes in here. I love the shape and the fact that despite its size it’s quite lite.

A mug

And this is the most valuable mug from my collection, because it was gifted to me by friend Henneke and also because I use it only in special cases – when I’m stuck and don’t know what or how to write.

It’s a proper writer’s mug with a name “Magic Creativity Mug for Writers” – one of 6 in the writer’s mug collection by Henneke – and so far, Henrietta’s magic powers have never failed me.

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

I’m trying to remember my favorite children’s book when I was growing up, but nothing comes to mind. I think it was just too long ago 🙂

I do remember disliking the Brothers Grimm fairytales. I found them very depressing. There was not a fairytale without someone getting injured, kidnapped, lost, eaten or orphaned.

My favorite character was Karlsson who lives on the roof. Not so much adored but more like, “Man, this dude is funny!”. I loved a cartoon about him, and I still use popular phrases Karlsson used to say in daily conversations.

These days, I’m rediscovering children books with my almost 6-year-old son. Every two weeks, we go to the library to get a new pile of books that I enjoy reading as much as he enjoys listening to me read them.

Your favourite word?

I don’t have any, I’m afraid. Or do you mean something I say often? That would be “awesome opossum” as an alternative to “great” or just “awesome”.

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

I can’t stand the word “subconsciousness”, but only because I never know how to spell it. Even now when I look at it my brain hurts.

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

I’d wish I could get lost in the aisles of a bookstore. But in real life, you’d rather find me browsing online – checking out other websites to find examples for my upcoming posts, posting on social as a part of online marketing, catching up with my peers and readers etc.

I wish less of my work involved online browsing, but alas.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

I don’t think I have a favorite song lyric. But these days, I find myself singing “we are the champions” a lot when I win a card game (an after-dinner family tradition). Does that count? 😉

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

Anybody who sings hip hop.

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

I don’t have any daily rituals. I just sit down and start typing. Client deadlines and the fact that I have to pick my son from kindergarten in a couple of hours keep me motivated enough to keep writing.

But when I have troubles connecting the dots in the copy, finding a right phrase or writing an intro to a blog post I wait till evening and then take a long hot shower to get the answer to my writing problems.

If I can’t wait till the evening and need ideas asap, I pour something hot into my magic creativity cup, sit in front of the PC, take a couple of sips and try not to think of anything.

I still find it strange how both of those things work every time.

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

Answering client inquiries. Working on updating my website (I need to make it faster and rewrite a couple of pages). Preparing a new post for LinkedIn.

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

My cat lying on my chest while I’m trying to nap. I take an unreasonable amount of photographs of my cat.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

“Stop trying to be liked.”

What got me into writing was actually the opposite.
I’d see all the polished posts from famous blogs like HubSpot or Crazy Egg and I’d think, “Man, people really like this? I can do this with links. This is really nothing special.”

So, I started doing that “nothing special”, and – what do you know? – nobody wanted to read it. Only after I dared to use my own voice and opinions people started reacting to my posts.

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

Haha. Is it even possible if you’re a copywriter? Even when I write a simple email to my husband, it follows some copywriting rules, like, “make it only as long as it needs to be”, “be clear”, “don’t bury important info”, “don’t use too long sentences” etc.

The only thing I can think of is a silly children’s poem I “wrote out loud” about my son’s foot telling how its day was (I love children’s poems).

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

“I hate writing, but I love having written” (Dorothy Parker).

Often, I find the process of writing quite torturous. Like giving birth, but with words.

But the relief once it’s done and turned out to be the way you envisioned, once you sent it to the client / shared it with your readers and the joy once you receive positive feedback is priceless.

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

I had to google what you’re referring to and it looks like I’ve never watched that show 🙂

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

If you mean a film that I’ve watched multiple times and could talk for hours about, nothing comes to mind. I’m not a huge movie fan.

The only thing I watched several times and still rewatch over and over again is a TV series “Friends”. I love their humor with ridiculous analogies and non-trivial jokes.

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

My eyes are so tired by the end of the day that I prefer audiobooks. Currently, I’m listening to “The Child Within You Must Find a Home” by Stefanie Stahl. It’s a German book. I’m not sure there is an English version of it.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

You mean generally speaking? As cheesy as it sounds, life. Not one person but certain events in life that taught me to be patient, more kind, perseverant, resilient, protective of my boundaries, etc.

But if you’re asking about the greatest teacher who shaped the way I write and run my business, I’m forever grateful to Henneke Duistermaat, a copywriting coach from UK and Kitty Kilian, a Dutch blogging coach.

When I was just starting out, they took the time to share invaluable advice and their own experience in private conversations, encouraged me and believed in me even when I had my doubts.

They also taught me that you don’t have to write cold outreach emails or toot your own horn 24/7 on social to become successful, and that it also works when you’re just being your helpful and introverted self.

We remain in touch and I know if I ever have a problem, I can always ask them for help.

Who is your favourite artist?

As in “painter”? That would be van Gogh and Rembrandt.

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?

Working in a coffee shop would be a nightmare. I can’t imagine working anywhere else than at home, at my own desk, with no people around.

I don’t have a separate room aka office (we didn’t think it through when we moved last time), so currently, my desk is next to our kitchen table, facing a drier and a cupboard with cords and kitchen supplies 🙂

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

My digital home is my website Gillandrews.com where you’ll find lots of in-depth resources on writing effective copy and on making your business website effective.

I share a lot of useful copy and design tips on LinkedIn. And you can also find me on Twitter where I occasionally rant about website mistakes I see on business websites.

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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