Insight September 7, 2018

A New Story to Tell: How a Copywriting Internship Changed My Idea of Writing


By: Peter Hogan

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And I always thought I knew what that looked like. Tweed jackets with elbow patches. A beard long enough to run my hands through. Owl-rimmed glasses and maybe a spare bedroom I call “The Study” – the walls blanketed in books, the whiskey straight and with a name hard to pronounce. For days at a time, I’d lock myself away writing the next great American novel. Or at least one that would be read by more than my parents.

I had this idea of how to achieve that goal. Write every day. Read every day. In my head, none of that meant taking a 9 to 5 job. No writer ever worth their pen would dare do something so mundane. It would be the death of their creativity as they know it. I’d wait tables till my knees shook. I’d scrub dishes until my fingers wilted. I’d do anything I had to do in order to keep writing. There was no other way.

But my summer as a copywriting intern at inferno changed what I thought a writer was. It changed what I thought a writer could be.

Write every day.

Concepts. Headlines. Body copy. All of this sounded like a watered-down version of writing to me – then I sat in on my first meeting with the creative team.  What’s the story we’re trying to tell? My ears perked up. Is that what we’re doing here? Telling stories?

Ideas began bouncing back and forth. Everyone in the room feeding off of each other’s creativity. The story slowly coming together. I’ve seen this all before in my grad school writing workshops. When I graduated, I never thought I’d see it again.

I spent every day at inferno writing. Really writing. Headlines and body copy became plot and narrative. Every client brought a new concept. A new story to tell. I felt my writing grow stronger. And the best part was, I never did any of it on my own. The creative team at inferno is just that – a team. And working together to make the best possible story for our clients was the highlight of my summer.

Read every day.

Every good writer has heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” For instance, if you’re writing a story about a jazz trumpet player in the 1920s, and you yourself are not a jazz trumpet player in the 1920s , then in order to tell the most authentic story, you have to read as much as you can about jazz trumpet players in the 1920s. I know that’s a mouthful, but I learned the same goes for copywriting.

I didn’t do too much reading on jazz or trumpets or the 1920s during my summer at inferno, but I did read a lot.

The National Security Agency has to have a list somewhere of the Google searches copywriters do. Sometimes about construction aggregates and foreign shipping prices. Other times about sales incentives and sweepstakes prizes. Old movie scripts and craft breweries.

With every project I was given, I had to read about the client. I had to learn what they did and how they did it and why it was important – reading all I could to tell the most authentic story. As a copywriting intern, I got to read every day. I got to learn something new every time I sat at my desk.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote streetcar slogans and billboard headlines. Joseph Heller was working as a copywriter when the idea hit him for “Catch-22.” There’s no single clear path to your dreams.

My summer as a copywriter at inferno taught me that. I had such a narrow perspective of what goals were and how to go about achieving them. But copywriting at inferno opened doors for me that I had always thought were locked.

I still want a room lined in books. I still want a hardback cover. I still want a Pulitzer. And compromising my ideas of what a “real” writer looks like has not taken me further away from all of that. If anything, it has brought me closer to it.

Thank you to everyone at inferno for a fantastic summer. I look forward to using my experience here to grow and advance in my career. I can’t wait to see what’s next.