2017: A year in review

Are you, like me, sick of people saying that 2017 was a year of ups and downs? Are you, like me, bored of people saying how proud they are to have come through a tough twelve months with such good friends by their side? Are you, like me, fed up with everyone’s optimism for the year ahead, despite the fact they have no noticeable skills or abilities that will make 2018 any better than the year before?

Well, you’re in the right place, as this year in review will say none of the above and will only deliver the cold, hard facts about a year in the life of me, Ash Billinghay, Senior Copywriter and purveyor of fine words and sarcasm.

For those unsure what this is all about, why not look back at 2016: A year in review? That post was full of misery and uncertainty, and will give you a good idea of the kind of tone to expect over the next few paragraphs.

If you don’t care what this is about, then let’s plough forward and get this show on the road, beginning with, as is tradition, January.

January

January was a weird time, as Lincoln City were making headlines for holding Championship side Ipswich to a draw in the FA Cup. Anyway, you don’t care about that, what you do care about is the fact I had my second, third, fourth, fifth and potentially even my sixth date with the girl I’m now living with (I know!), and that I got myself a new job to expand my horizons and grow my CV.

This resulted in me looking for flats in the northern sweat pit that is Leeds. More on that in approximately no time at all.

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This leaving card gets it.

February

Flat hunting is one of the most stressful things you’ll ever do. The same applies to house hunting, or bungalow hunting, or probably even houseboat hunting, but with flats you get extra pressure. You’ve only got one floor to look at, and on that floor you’ve got to find warmth, space, and potential for joy.

I looked at two flats, and this was my mistake. Flat number one was tiny, and despite its beautiful location, its lack of fridge, washing machine and enough space to live in put me off.

Flat number two won me over. It was a huge basement flat (alarm bells) with a massive amount of space, in a prime location oozing with potential. It looked lovely on first viewing, and within ten minutes of stepping foot in the door, I was making an offer.

Oh, if only I knew then what I know now.

Moving out was heart breaking. I loved my Sheffield flat, but an urge to better myself was taking me away from it. Stay tuned through to December to see how long that lasted.

I moved in to new flat the day after my birthday, and from that point on, everything went a little bit wrong with it.

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March

Starting a new job can be daunting.

I’d been in my last one for three years, and actually really liked it. I was only moving because I have grand ambitions to be the best version of me possible, and an opportunity missed is a moment wasted, or something like that.

It felt weird starting somewhere new. I had to learn new names, and remember new passwords, and I suppose rebuild my brand in a new location. But, on the bright side, Lincoln City got through to the quarter finals of the FA Cup, and I got to sacrifice my brand for the sake of cheering loudly as we got battered 5-0. Never mind.

Anyway, I got to explore Leeds, get lost in new places, and do it all with my now long-term girlfriend by my side. Getting lost together turns ‘bumbling around in a panic’ into ‘going on an adventure,’ which looks much better on Instagram.

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Here’s a really thin building in Leeds.

April

Have you ever been to Liverpool? Neither had I, until April 2017, where I went along and met a lovely French man called Sean and his girlfriend Jenni. With them, and Grace on my arm, we wandered through parks, drank our way through every pub we could find, and best of all, watched Lincoln City lift the National League trophy. Ok, admittedly I was the only one really watching this, in a deserted pub in which I had to request they put the game on, but it was wonderful to see.

My only regret was that, after a lifetime of seeing us suffer, I couldn’t be there in person with my Dad to watch our moment in the spotlight. I’ll make it up to you, Dad, with lots of trips to see us languish in mid-table in the Football League. You reds.

Other April highlights included… no, wait, Lincoln winning the league was it. Nothing can top that.

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Liverpool parking.

May

In May something magical happened, when during a routine walk round through nature, we discovered a mystical band of characters known as ‘The Friends of Roundhay Park.’ Their dog followed us for a while, and we were invited to join in with their park cleaning activities. We declined and never saw them again, only hearing their song in the trees whenever we passed a park.

We also got to try on fancy hats in a shopping centre, an image of which later went to appear on a cushion in our flat.

Speaking of the flat, I should point out that by now I’d become aware it was a shithole, full of damp walls, a bathroom that leaked whenever it rained, spiders that would eat you given the chance, slugs, broken appliances and a maverick landlord who would let himself in whenever he fancied, instantly breaking the tenancy agreement.

Other things I found included the pound meter that needed topping up for power, and slime growing up several of the walls.

It took three months of living in hell for any of this to be fixed, and despite claims that he’d used ‘the best people in the business’ for it, the damp came back with a vengeance within weeks.

Fuck you, flat. I wish I’d gone for the tiny new one in a fancy location. Who needs a fridge, anyway?

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Fucking flat. Fuck off.

June

This goes down as one of my favourite Junes in history. Since moving to Leeds, I’d really missed my friends and began to feel a little bit homesick. So, when I got to spend a weekend in Whitby with them, I was full of glee and delight. Whitby is a babe of a town, and the seaside is one of my favourite places to be. Prancing about on the sand, running like a coward from the cold, northern seas, and eating copious fish and chips all made this one of my most cherished 2017 memories.

I could go on, but this picture will do a much better job of expressing the joy I felt.

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July

I could count the number of weddings I’d been to on three fingers. Until July, that is, when it went up to four, and I got to sit a little awkwardly in a Catholic church as everyone around me sang along with hymns and prayers I’d never heard of. More awkwardly than that, at the end of the ceremony everyone turned to each other and, with a handshake, said, “Peace be with you.”

I misheard this, and spent the next few minutes saying, “Pleased to meet you,” to a very confused Catholic congregation.

I’ll remember the day as being a wonderful chance for me to meet new friends, have fun and watch a lovely couple get married. Others will remember it for me pouring water down my drunk girlfriend’s mouth, as bridesmaid duties got the better of her.

That’s another skill to add to my LinkedIn.

July was also home to the busiest weekend of my year, where I went to my best mate’s birthday party, some weird outdoor festival where a man played bamboo, and London all in the space of three manic days. If you’re considering getting the coach to London, don’t. It smells. Also, if you think you can drink that amount of alcohol in such a short space of time, you’re wrong, you can’t, and you shouldn’t even try it. You’re not 21 anymore. Grow up.

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August

Skinny jeans have been my go-to fashion choice ever since I had the confidence to start wearing them. For a long time, I based my image on having thin legs and big hair, but then I started going to the gym and, soon enough, it didn’t work anymore. This was made obvious during an August walk up in the Derbyshire countryside, where my impractical choice of clothing promptly split, leaving my groin feeling very fresh and airy.

Not long after, I discovered how expensive actual jeans can be, and forked out on a pair that will hopefully last me longer.

August also saw me lose in an obstacle course to a three-year-old boy, so maybe I need to go to the gym more.

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You can’t see it here, but those jeans are ruined.

September

IKEA is a wonderous place. I’d never been to one before, so September opened my eyes to some incredible possibilities. One such possibility was a tea cabinet, which I put together all by myself to house my ever-growing collection of teas of the globe.

Go to IKEA, readers, it’s got everything there.

September was even more memorable for being the month my girlfriend moved into my damp, falling apart flat with me. Look at me, cohabiting with a girl. Do you see this, teenage Ash? Remember when you thought you were unattractive and would never find love? Remember that bitch who cheated on you for 18 months and made you feel like shit again? Remember all those bad haircuts that rightly put girls off you?

Look how far you’ve come. Now you share toothpaste with the love of your life.

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October

In October, my friend announced she was carrying another human life in her stomach, and I felt paternal instincts that I didn’t know existed. What is this wizardry? How can something so small grow into something so big? Can I please be the uncle who leads it astray and feeds it too much sugar, to make up for the fact I am diabetic?

All valid questions.

This month also saw me dress up as a terrifying witch doctor, embracing Halloween in full for the first time since I dressed as a rabbit, got too drunk, and walked home dragging my furry carcass behind me.

And, most excitingly of all, I missed Sheffield so much that I decided to move back there and make it my forever home. This meant I’d need to remember how to drive, and suddenly, things literally moved up a gear.

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November

It had been a solid seven years since I last sat behind the wheel of a car, so what better time to get back into the habit than in the cold, icy weeks of November? I could see the fear in my instructor’s eyes when I sat behind the wheel and told him how long it had been, but three lessons later and it had all come flooding back to me. The starting, the turning the wheel, the stopping at red lights. I was a natural.

According to the photos saved on my phone, that was pretty much all that happened in November, but remembering how to move a large, metal object at fast speeds is exciting enough.

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December

The year ended with as much excitement as it had begun. Honestly, in all the years I’ve written this review that only about six people ever read, never has it featured so little sarcasm, regret, or pessimism for the year ahead. I’m sorry about that, readers, as I know you don’t come here for happiness. You could find that with any copywriter, but with me you expect a certain bitter tone of voice. I fear I have let you down on that front with this post, but I should also point out that I don’t care, as 2017 was a bloody delight.

There were no ups and downs, only ups and a lot of damp.

December saw me, for the first time ever, spend Christmas with a girl and her family, splitting the day between clans Billinghay and Hollister. I also bought a car, and am now legally allowed to drive it at up to 70mph on the roads of the United Kingdom. So far, I’ve driven it to places such as Asda, Chesterfield, Sheffield, Aldi, McDonalds and Edinburgh. Who knows where it’ll go next? (Probably to and from Leeds quite a bit, what with me moving back to Sheffield. Yay.)

In short, while other people are talking about years of struggle that they feel stronger for having come through, I’m going to take this chance to brag about how good my year was and how I thoroughly deserve it. Go 2017. You were the tits.

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Why you can’t write copy

I know you think you can write copy, but I’m here to tell you something important – you can’t, and you should stop trying.

That is unless, you too, are a copywriter, in which case you’re free to carry on. This doesn’t concern you. This concerns those around you who think they know better.

I’ve been doing this job for a long time now, and no matter where I’ve worked, I’ve noticed something – everyone else thinks they can do better.

You’ll write a tagline for a product and send it over to a designer, just to watch them take all the punctuation out because it looks messy.

You’ll write an email campaign, before the account manager decides it would sound better written differently, and proceeds to do just that.

You’ll write a radio script, but the new business guy ‘knows the client’, so steps in at the last minute to pitch his own idea.

It happens time and time again, all across the industry, leaving copywriters wondering what they wasted all that time gaining experience and honing their craft.

After all, it’s only words, isn’t it? Anyone can do them.

Just the other week I was speaking with a creative director who told me he doesn’t have a full-time copywriter, as the COO likes turning his hand to writing and finds it relaxing. I took a look at their website, and you could tell.

And once I sat next to a very senior member of the creative team, as they took an apostrophe out of the word ‘it’s’ because it “didn’t look right on the screen.”

“But it means something different now,” I protested. “It’s the wrong word. You may as well put potatoes in. People will laugh at us. We’ll look like idiots. IT IS MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO ITS.”

It went to print, and I was told to get down off the table.

It’s time it stopped.

This doesn’t happen with any other area of creativity. You won’t see anyone editing a designer’s work without first consulting them. You wouldn’t get anyone cutting a film together unless they worked in that department. It only happens when you’re a copywriter.

It’s our own fault, really, for choosing a career that is just so damn easy.

Almost everyone can write. In fact, most of our colleagues will write several emails a day, write briefs, write texts to their friends, write shopping lists, all sorts. They write all the time. Piece of cake.

Writing is a doddle. They’ve been doing it since they were a kid. They thought about becoming a copywriter once, actually, and got a B in A-Level English. Writing is more of a hobby, anyway.

Their confusion comes in thinking that copywriting is the same.

It isn’t.

Copywriting takes a lot of work to get right. It takes a mind that can think in puns and wordplay and sales and imagination and the down and dirty all at the same time. It takes skill.

You haven’t got that skill, junior artworker. You haven’t spent your entire adult life practicing it, web developer. You don’t have a portfolio full of award winning lines, account director.

Sure, you can suggest things. There’s every chance I got it wrong and it could be improved. I’m not always a genius.

But your suggestion is where it should stop. Leave the words up to me, let me decide what sounds better, and let me be the one who says where a bloody apostrophe should go.

Or I’ll start doing your job for you, and I can promise you right now, I’d do it really badly.

Eat the ice cream

What’s the last good advert you remember?

I don’t know either.

I mean, I see enough of them, on TV, on Facebook, on Instagram, on websites, on billboards, on every single piece of media I ever consume, ALL OF THE TIME, but none of them stick.

However, one thing that has stuck recently, is this dystopian film for ice cream.

Watch it, then watch it again, then wonder if it was real and watch it a third time just to make sure.

Yep.

Having first been sent it by my friend, I’ve since seen it talked about by a bunch of people who don’t think it’s very good. Some people, in fact, hate it.

Well, I’m here to take it upon myself to let you all know you’re mistaken.

This is the best piece of advertising I’ve seen in ages, and what follows is a list of perfectly valid reasons why your opinion is wrong.

Reason you’re wrong 1 – People are talking about it.

Already this sets it apart from almost any other advert you’ll see. Right now I’m watching an ad for Lor coffee. It tells me I shouldn’t pursue anything less than gold, and just like that it’s over and I’ve forgotten all about it. Will I tweet about that Lor advert? No. Will I send it round the office tomorrow in an all-office email? No. Will I do that with any of the other ads that are flicking past my eye holes behind my laptop? Not a chance.

But I will, and already have done, with dystopian ice cream. If advertising has any purpose at all, it is to get something talked about. Success.

 

Reason you’re wrong 2 – It wasn’t designed by data.

The reason a lot of ads are shit is because data is their inspiration. The data says the audience will like this. The data says they responded well to that. The data says your ad should look like this.

Data conforms your creative. It gives you the building blocks to make something, and whenever you build with a prescribed list of ingredients, you end up with something that looks very similar. That’s why most of what we see it bollocks – it’s not been inspired by creativity; it’s been inspired by facts and figures, which in the entire history of the world, have never lead to anything mildly interesting. Sure, a bit of data is nice. A brief and a proposition, that’ll do. But let’s not go overboard.

This ice cream ad wasn’t even made by an agency. A film studio did it, which is why it looks so sharp and finely produced. Ad agencies often fall into the trap of creative by committee, where if a room full of people don’t all love the idea, the idea dies.

No committee got anywhere near this, so the idea stayed original.

 

Reason you’re wrong 3 – It caused controversy.

If everybody likes an idea, the chances are it’s bang average. It’s been shaped by opinions, feedback, criticism, and round after round of amends and changes. While it might have started out as something fresh and new, an agency full of people whose jobs are to tell you ‘no’ have ended up making it boringly safe.

It then goes to the client, who makes it safer still, before you deliver something everyone is just happy to get off their desks and won’t put anywhere near their portfolios.

Every second a good idea dies. It’s the way of the world.

Dystopian ice cream is an idea that not everybody likes. Some people think it’s great, while other people think it’s a piss take. That means it’s the furthest thing away from average you could imagine. In the few days it’s been out, it’s already caused more conversation than anything that went through a panel of experts.

It’s fresh and new, and no-one killed it.

 

Reason you’re wrong number 4 – Excellent SEO.

Search dystopian ice cream. Need I say anymore?

 

I’d always much rather create something that is hated than something that is acceptable.
Acceptable ideas are what will kill the industry. Things like this are what will keep it striving to be different, which I’m sure was the reason we all got into it.

Advertising is meant to cause a stir and make products stand out from their competition. I can’t think of anything that has done that better recently than robots force feeding a captive OAP ice cream.

Be more you

When you work as a copywriter, it can be quite easy to forget who you are. Not in a soul destroying, career doubting kind of way, (although that does happen too, at least every other Wednesday,) but more in a way that makes you forget how you speak.

As you first learn how to write, you’re encouraged to develop your own tone of voice, your own distinct style that makes you stand out from the crowd.

This is what gets you praised at school. This is what will make your English teacher stop and pay attention. This is what will help you pass your degree and get those early gigs as a features writer or social media manager. (Personal history, follow your own path, yeah?)

Your tone of voice will define your early portfolio and get you those first steps on the career ladder. People will want you because you are you. Or just accept you because you’re there, one or the other.

However, the longer your career goes on, the more being you becomes difficult.

Clients don’t want you because you can write in an irreverent, witty way. They don’t care much for your imagination and personality when simple, clear copy will do the trick just fine. If you can sell their product in plain English with a strong call to action, they’ll take that instead of the option you’ve given them that includes a dragon wearing chinos.

The more you write, the more this becomes a problem.

You learn to speak in other people’s tone of voice instead of your own, adapting your writing style to suit different briefs and different demands. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Any copywriter worth their salt can change the way they write. To be able to slip seamlessly into writing for Client B when you’ve just finished a job for Client A is a skill not many people have, and it will stand you in good stead with anyone who relies on your words.

But by doing that, you can very easily forget how to write as yourself.

Some feedback I got the other week reminded me of this.

“This is great, but it’s a bit too Ash.”

That was the kind of comment I used to receive all the time. In fact, I’d respond to every brief with my own tone and character, offering it a twist that no-one else could and hoping that, this time, the client and my words would see eye to eye.

But recently I’ve been hearing it less and less. I’ve had to tone my ‘Ash’ down and ramp my clients up, and that’s a good thing if you’re my employers, or the people who pay my employers to do work.

But it’s a bad thing when it comes to Brand Billinghay.

This is a brand I’ve been building for 27 years now, and at its peak it saw me writing for numerous indie publications, a major British broadsheet, countless blogs, several arty creative types and some of the biggest clients in the UK.

Now I just do the latter, which I guess you can look at in two ways:

  1. My career is now shit hot. I mean, listen, haters, look at me now. I got paper.
  2. I don’t blog as much as I’d like to, and when I do, I struggle to remember how to be cool and alternative.

 

So which one of those matters the most?

The answer is neither and both of them. Somehow, in order to achieve true Ash happiness, or Ashiness as it shall henceforth be known, I need to combine writing fluently in client tongue with writing utter nonsense in my own language.

I need to rediscover what makes me, me. Otherwise I’m just the same as everyone else.

You’ll see countless copywriters who are very good at their jobs, but write just like any other good copywriter could. They’ll do their work well, but it won’t be memorable or cause any debate in the office. They won’t be told they’re being too Dean, or too Susan, or too Robert.

They’ll make life easy for their account managers and plod on with a perfectly happy career until they hit 40 and are no longer deemed relevant to their agencies, at which point they’ll go freelance and write some more perfectly good words for other people.

No problem with that. Good for them.

But I don’t want to plod. I don’t want to write like anyone else, or settle for doing things well.

I want to do things my way and make my own mark. I want to hit 40 and be looked at as a pioneer, invited into universities to deliver talks on how to stand out in, what by then, will be an industry full of hipsters who are all trying to do the very same thing.

I want to write books, change mindsets, and make ads that people will still be talking about in the future.

Or, more realistically, I want to be told to stop and seek professional help.

Can I do that by writing like anybody else?

In part, sure, but the best chance I’ve got is by writing just like me.

Be the client when necessary, but when it comes to my own time, be as Ash as it’s physically possible to be.

Dear First Utility

Dear First Utility,

Do you remember the good times? I do.

I remember switching to you on a hot summer’s day, gleefully accepting your very cheap rates and wondering how – just how – you could afford to be so, well, affordable.

Why couldn’t more energy providers be like you? The amount I would have to pay you each month made switching the easy choice, and I was happy with such service for the next two years. We never had a problem, you and I. I’d pay you the pittance you asked for, you’d keep my power on, and we’d get on with our respective lives.

Those were the good times.

The happy times.

The times that are long since over.

Ever since moving home and having to cancel my account, you’ve been far removed from the cheerfully cheap utilities provider I once admired.

You’ve been clingy, stubborn, and at times plain threatening as you refuse to accept our time is now over.

Having mistakenly tried to take you with me to my new address (something I could not do, due to my landlord controlling the power there), you refunded me the £30 you’d taken from my account. Sure, you shouldn’t have taken that money from me in the first place – I’d already cancelled my account by then – but mistakes happen, we’re all prone to them. I mean, I tried to switch my energy provider when I couldn’t. What larks!

You sent it back without much fuss, and I cashed the cheque in without a second thought.

Then you got annoyed.

The very next day I received an email telling me I still owed you money based on my final meter reading. I wasn’t sure how this could be the case, so I called you to talk it through.

I was on hold – as is always the case when I try and get through to you – for a very, very long time, before I was given the option to have someone call me back. They did, and explained to me that I did owe you money, and that I really had no choice but to pay it. So, being the law abiding citizen I am, and trusting in businesses like we’re told we can do, I paid you the money.

I was told by the lady on the phone that my business with you was now done. My account was cleared, and once and for all, would be closed down.

Easy as that.

Or not.

The next week I received a letter in the post. It told me that I owed you yet more money, and that despite several attempts to contact me I was still to pay it. Now, for the sake of the reader, I can confirm that no previous attempts to contact me were ever made. I assumed this letter was a mistake.

You disagreed.

A few days later you sent me an email in a much sterner tone of voice. You wanted your money, and were giving me one last chance to pay it.

I called you again, but as I’d previously discovered, getting through to anyone at your call centre was almost impossible. I’m a working man, and I couldn’t spend my whole day chasing you. What ever would I put on my time sheet?

Instead, I tweeted you, and someone got back to me immediately. I explained the situation to them – that I’d already cleared my account, that I owed you nothing else, that this was just a mistake – and you agreed.

Sorry, you said. It won’t happen again, you said. It was just a flaw in the system, you said.

Good old First Utility, I thought. They might make the odd error now and again, but they’ll hold their hands up and admit when they’re wrong. They’d always have a joke or two on Twitter too, and seemed like decent people.

But you wouldn’t give it up, would you?

Time passed, and then once again, up popped your name in my inbox.

“You owe us money, Mr Billinghay, and we assume because of your repeated refusal to reply to our REGULAR attempts to contact you, that you do not intend to pay this.

This leaves us no option but to involve external agents to claim the money back.”

Well, now things were getting serious. I’m a big fan of the Channel 5 programme “Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away,” but I did not want to ever appear on it. External agents sounded menacing, and me being a little old consumer was a tiny bit scared. Surely you wouldn’t keep making this mistake unless I really did owe you. Surely you wouldn’t send this kind of message unless I was really in trouble. Gosh, I must have done something very wrong. Bad me.

Again I called you. Again I heard your hold music. Again I resorted to Twitter.

The Twitter man told me that the money I owed was due to the following:

We (First Utility) mistakenly paid you back £30 on more than one occasion. We sent you two cheques, and also transferred the money into your account. That is why you now owe us.

You couldn’t be serious, could you? I’d received one cheque, not two, and no such payment had ever been made to my account. I proved it with a statement, and your Twitter man apologised (again) for your mistake, and promised to pass this information onto your payments team.

Phew. I was glad this whole mess was over with. I did not want external agents knocking on my door and taking my things away. I like my things.

ONLY IT WASN’T OVER WITH, WAS IT FIRST UTILITY?

While sitting at my desk I received a phone call, and unlike you I picked it up straight away.

“Hello, it’s blah from First Utility. Can I just confirm some details please?”

“Yes, here you go.”

“Good, thank you Mr Billinghay. I’m calling because you have an outstanding balance with us. Despite repeated communications with you, you still have not paid the balance you owe us. We need to take that money today to prevent legal action.”

It’s a good job I’m a nice man, First Utility, because I wanted to shout very unseemly things at the man on the phone.  I explained the situation to him, just as I had done numerous times before, citing the number of Twitter conversations I’ve had with you in which you’ve said sorry and promised to sort things out. I told you about the phone call in which you’d said the very same thing. I told you about the letters, the emails and the threats you’d made, and said that while I understood it was not the man on the phone’s fault, I was getting quite annoyed.

Guess what you did?

You apologised, accepted you were wrong, and said it would never happen again.

Again.

It better not happen again, First Utility, because there’s an energy ombudsman tab open on my desktop right now, and I will fill in various forms about your repeated nagging of me to pay you money I do not, never have and never will owe.

If you were doing this to any normal consumer, that may have already happened. But you’re not. You’re doing it to a professional copywriter who chooses to take his annoyance out via the way of a sarcastic blog post, so consider yourself lucky that only the few thousand people who visit my website will know of how bad you’re being.

You started out as such a breath of fresh air, but now that air is stale and smells quite bad.

But with service like that, at least I do now understand why your tariffs are so cheap.

Let’s get personal

I’m a firm believer in following a passion. Life is about living, after all, and if you let work get in the way of pursuing your dreams, you can quickly end up just existing.

Having a side project on the go has always kept me (relatively) sane. It’s helped me stay creative, even if my day job has been dragging me down, and kept my mind ticking over despite the urge to turn it off and burn it.

But as much as I know the benefits of doing it, actually making that passion a reality is a different thing all together.

Let me paint you a picture of my regular day:

6:30 – Alarm goes off. Wake up full of good intentions to get out of bed and make a hearty breakfast.

8.00 – Actually get out of bed.

9.00 – 12.00 – Write copy. Really good copy. Like, some of the best copy you’ll ever see. I’m shit hot.

12.00 – 12.45 – Lift weights. Really light weights. Like, some of the lightest weights you’ll ever see. I’m shit.

12.45 – 5.30 – Amend all the copy I wrote earlier.

5.30 – 6.00 – Walk home full of more good intentions.  I’ve got a great idea for a book, and today I’m going to make that idea a reality.

6.00 – 10.30 – TV.

10.30 – Bed.

I don’t know what happens between my walk home and arriving home. The urge to write is there, and the ideas I plan to put down are all swimming around in my head. But then, for whatever reason, in my head is where they stay. All cosy, cuddled up, and safe from the ridicule of the real world.

It should be much easier. I work all day as a copywriter, spending 8 hours planning, thinking of, plotting and playing with words. My fingers rarely leave the keyboard, unless it’s to pick up a pen, and writing thousands of words in a pressurised environment comes as second nature to me. Taglines, scripts, concepts, content, strategy, and everything that comes with it is easy. Piece of piss, mate. No problem.
My story, on the other hand…

Are my fingers ready for a rest? Is my mind too tired to do any more? Is it Theresa May’s fault? All these things are possibilities, but I think the reality is something different.

Pursuing your passion is meant to be hard, otherwise everyone would do it.

It’s an incredibly rewarding thing to do – to follow your dreams and see them come into fruition. To have an idea and turn it into something physical, touchable, tangible that you can hold in your hands and say, “Hey everyone, look what I did. That was me. I thought that up and then did it and isn’t it nice?”

I imagine that’s how parents feel about their new born babies, or dung beetles feel about their balls of poo. That’s definitely how I’d feel about my book, if I ever got on with writing it. It’d be my own, personal ball of poo that I’d rolled all by myself. It would have grown much bigger than me, but I’d have been determined enough to keep on rolling until it formed into a huge, shitty sculpture that I could Instagram for all my dung beetle friends to admire.

So, what can ya do? What’s going to shake you out of your lazy zone and give you the kick up the arse you need to go on to become an incredibly successful author? How are you going to have your work turned into a hit Sky drama that’s available to download in boxset form?

You’re going to set yourself targets, that’s what.

It was Christmas last year when I decided I was going to stop wanting to do something and actually get on with doing it. During that particularly pointless period between Christmas Day and New Year, when some companies insist you go into work anyway – ahem – I sat at my desk and whacked out a few thousand words to start things off.

That was when my first target was set. It had only taken a few hours, but I’d already set the scene for the story, identified my main character, and got the plot underway. The idea that had been swimming around in my head for so long suddenly had a home on paper, and that was a lovely thing to see.

If all I could give to my project was a few hours a week, that was still enough to achieve quite a lot.

Since then that’s what I’ve done. I’ve set aside even the tiniest bit of time to write something down, whether it’s a full chapter or just an idea for what might happen later.

The second thing that’s helped is to find an audience. If I didn’t respond to a brief at work, people would be disappointed. I have a crowd to please. The same applies with my story. My girlfriend wants to know what happens next, and she’s an absolute gem who’ll sit there and listen while I talk about the nonsense I’m planning. If I haven’t written anything that week, I’ll have nothing to tell her. That’s like disappointing a puppy, and we can’t be having that.

Finally, I’ve got an ambition. An ambition for what I want my life to be and what things will look like in the future. Sitting about and waiting for something good to happen is never how success comes about. No-one’s autobiography has ever included the line, “So one day I was just putting off doing anything, when suddenly I became really rich and all my dreams came true.”

That’s not how it happens. Wanting it won’t get it. Wishing for it won’t make it come true.

You’ve got to go out and make it, so for a few hours a week, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Everything’s changing

To stand still is to move backwards.

That’s what one person might have said, once. I don’t remember. I didn’t take notes.

Anyway, it’s an idea I fully believe in. I think if you’re not moving forwards in life, you’re only really moving backwards. By standing still, you’re letting life and all of its many opportunities run away from you.  You’re getting left behind, enjoying the warmth of your comfort zone and missing out on what else might be out there.

You’re wasting your turn.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, not really. If you’re happy, you’re happy. Don’t go changing that for the chance that you might be happier doing something else. Having a comfort zone is seen as a bit of a bad thing sometimes, but it can be lovely and cosy, and I’ve found myself there a few times before. Enjoying it, supping on its wine, warming my hands in its bosom.

However, if that comfort zone starts to feel a little bit, well, claustrophobic, it’s time you look at getting out. When you realise that your comfort zone is stopping you from fulfilling your potential, you need to find the exit door and race on through it.

Hence why I’m here, sitting in Leeds and writing a blog about how it came to be.

My comfort zone wasn’t expanding as I’d have liked it to have done. I’d planned to build it an extension, filling it with furniture and making it bigger, brighter and better as I went along. I had big hopes for my comfort zone. I thought one day it might not only be comfortable, but it would also be rewarding, profitable and excitable.

I’d hoped that the more I put into my comfort zone, the more it would give me back.

Yet here I am, sitting in Leeds, writing a blog about how it came to be. It’s safe to assume my comfort zone did not deliver.

I’m a big believer that life won’t just work out for you if you sit and wait. If you want something to happen, you have to go out there and bloody well make it happen for yourself. That’s the only way you’ll achieve success, the only way your dreams will be realised, and the only way you’ll get where you believe you should be.

If your comfort zone is getting uncomfortable, make yourself a new one.

My new one happens to be in Leeds, where I’m sitting writing a blog about how it came to be. I’d only been to Leeds twice before – once for an eventful 22nd birthday party where a girl I liked at the time described me as being something of a brotherly figure (real boner killer, that), and again when I went to an equally eventful client Christmas party, where I was trapped in a corner and flirted with excessively by a middle-aged woman.

It wasn’t the best introduction to Leeds I could have had, but it certainly created stories.

This time round I’ve moved into a new flat, started a new job, ordered a new repeat prescription, and brought my relatively new girlfriend along with me for the ride. Leeds v3 is looking up.

Sometimes change doesn’t work out, but in this instance it’s almost certainly been a good thing. It’s brought me closer to my #lifegoals, and helped make paying my rent a little bit easier. I’ve also discovered that I need change to top up the ancient coin operated electricity meter in my new flat, so that’s something.

I’d recommend a bit of change occasionally for everyone. If you’re not happy, change it. If you’re feeling unfilled, change it. If you simply hate your haircut, you know what to do.

Standing still gets you nowhere new. Heading off over the horizon might not work out, but it’s definitely better than never knowing.