Sarah Townsend desk


by | The Writing Desk

The Queen of Freelancers – Author of Survival Skills for Freelancers


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…

Marketing copywriter and author of Survival Skills for Freelancers, Sarah Townsend.

Full length image of Sarah Townsend


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…)

Katherine, I am WAY too tidy to have a dog-eared book on my desk 😁 (I’m only partly joking, too…) It’s not really a business book, but the one I’ve read over and over is On Writing, by Stephen King. It’s full of gold and supremely quotable.

The book that actually IS on my desk right now is Read Me: 10 Lessons for Writing Great Copy by Roger Horberry and Gyles Lingwood. It’s not a book you can rush – mainly because it’s so full of goodness – so it’s been there a fair while!

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

They tend to fall into three categories:

1) Those that get me emotionally, such as the Lloyd’s Bank black horses, or the Yellow Pages ad from the 80s, with JR Hartley (yes, I have been known to cry at ads).

2) Those that are visually stunning, such as the Baileys Cream With Spirit ad with the ballet dancers, and

3) those I relate to.

I’m a big Apple fangirl and I’ve enjoyed most, if not all, of their advertising over the years but I particularly liked their Think Different campaign. “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits… the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently.” I guess I related to the concept. Like a lot of great advertising, it reinforced a feeling of being part of something special.

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

It’s ironic because I never believed I did! I never had any desire to write a book, and here I am with a bestseller on my hands! Sorry. I digress.

Sarah Townsend Headshot

I could talk all day about the secret to good writing. I guess, to me, clarity and soul. When you’re writing to sell, which is basically what copywriting is, you’re aiming to make a deep connection with your reader. That’s the magic space where you have them primed to buy or sign up. It’s not something you can fake, though. It needs to be sincere.

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

When I started out there was no social media – there was barely an internet! I was juggling building a freelance business with being a mum, and it was tough! Nowadays there’s a ton of information to help you get started. Read books and blogs, follow people who inspire you, listen to podcasts… learn from the people who’ve already achieved success in your field.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Always, always music. Never anything with lyrics and never radio. I have a work playlist of electronic, ambient and trance music. It’s perfect focusing fodder.

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

I’ve been dreading this question! I’d love to be able to impress you all here but on the rare occasions I get to read for pleasure I’m a bit of a top 10 blockbuster kinda gal. I’ve read everything by Marian Keyes and Lisa Jewell (I particularly enjoyed her recent psychological thrillers). I’d probably have to go back to A Level English lit to come up with anything remotely intellectual. Sorry 😃

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

Well, that one is easy! Survival Skills for Freelancers, without a shadow of a doubt. When I started the process, my aim was to produce a book that provides the guidance and support that 29-year-old me would’ve loved when I started my freelance journey. Judging by the comments in the reviews I’ve had already, I achieved it – and that makes me happy.

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

Replacement microfibre pads for my steam mop. Rock ‘n’ roll!

Who was your teenage crush?

Andrew Ridgeley from Wham! and Cary Grant. Before he was dead, obviously 😁

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

I’m a wheat-avoiding vegetarian, so eating out can be challenging! I was lucky enough to accompany a client on the cruise liner, Queen Mary 2 (long story). The food was incredible, and practically every meal onboard falls into that category.

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

Tough call as it changes with my mood. Probably a large Baileys with plenty of ice.

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’ve always wanted to explore Japan. I’m fascinated by the culture. I wouldn’t be writing about it though – you said a month off, right?! 😉

What’s in your pockets?

Very little, probably… 20p and a hair elastic.

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

I’m a big fan of a handwritten to-do list – I’d argue that it’s far more satisfying crossing off completed items – otherwise everything is digital. I even take notes on my iPad Pro while having Zoom calls on my Mac, now. Saves so much time typing everything up afterwards!

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?)

Not regularly enough to mention at the moment, alas.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Mine’s a weak and milky coffee, please. I don’t drink tea (though I’m partial to a vanilla chai and recently forced myself to get used to green tea).

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

I do! It’s in my photo, and it’s my absolute fave. I spotted it in my favourite café in the Lake District, Chesters by the River, but it was £15, which anyone would agree is a mad price for a mug, right?! 😄

Image of Sarah Townsend

Me being me, I didn’t buy it but ended up spending the next four months wishing I had… Eventually, I ended up buying it online for £15 plus postage. So, yes, it was the world’s most expensive mug, but I love it so much that it was worth every penny.

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

I had two favourite books: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My favourite character was Pollyanna, who invented The Glad Game – do you remember her?

Your favourite word?

Oh, too hard! I have so many! Twilight, ostensibly, luminescence, concatenate, iridescent…

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

Whiff. I can’t even type it without pulling a face.

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

I’m ashamed to say I’m an online shopper. I can’t actually remember the last time I spent the day shopping.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

Probably something by Guy Garvey of Elbow. The guy’s a total poet. Ed Sheeran’s not a bad lyricist either. The lyrics of Afire Love make me cry. My daughter was an Ed Sheeran superfan. We’d rap the lyrics to things like You Need Me… and Homeless in the car on long journeys. Getting them word perfect gave me a great sense of satisfaction 😃

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

I like trance, so probably no one anyone else has heard of! Above & Beyond, Jody Wisternoff, 16BL…

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

Before I work on any document, I put it into 12pt Calibri, 1.5 line spaced with 10pt space between paragraphs. Does that count?! I also do this thing where, when I’m in flow but can’t find the right word, I’ll type the word something. It prevents me from losing flow, and I can go back and address it later, when I’m editing.

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

It’s a tricky one at the moment as I’m trying to balance client work with book-related stuff! Today, book-wise, this questionnaire and a piece for Digital Drum. Client-wise, a set of company profiles for a large translation agency and a promo piece for an engineering firm. In terms of what’s in the pipeline, I’m working on getting podcast interviews and talks lined up on freelance life and wellbeing.

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

It was a photo of some fresh pineapple and a mug of homemade cauliflower and coconut soup to prove to my partner that I’m eating properly while he’s back home!

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

Think of your writing as a conversation with your reader. Simple as that.

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

A text to my daughter.

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

I’m always quoting this, from Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” It’s all about the heart connection.

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

Not sure I can answer that one, given that it’s so long since I last saw it!

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

The Adjustment Bureau. It’s smart, it’s intriguing, it’s romantic, it’s set in NYC (as all my favourite movies are) and it stars Emily Blunt. What more could you want?!

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

I’ve just finished Content DNA by the LinkedIn legend that is John Espirian.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?


Who is your favourite artist?

A bit of an obvious choice, perhaps, but probably Monet. I’ve seen some of his waterlily series paintings in the flesh and you can lose yourself in them for hours.

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?

Before lockdown, I worked every day from the café at my gym. I’d get there early, have a break for exercise mid-morning, and work there as long as my MacBook Pro battery allowed. I miss the buzz (and the coffee) but I’m lucky enough to have an office in my home, so I haven’t had to resort to working from the dining room table!

Sarah Townsend Desk

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

You can buy my new book here:, read more about Survival Skills for Freelancers here and find my copywriting website here.

I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @STEcopywriting, and you’re welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn (just add a note saying Katherine sent you!).

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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