The best thing I ever learned as a copywriter

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This may surprise you, but to this day I think back to the lessons I had when I was twelve years old in order to master one particular skill and I am still so grateful that my parents forced me to take them. It’s a skill that I tell people they simply have to have whenever I’m asked for copywriter tips.

It was the early nineties and our family had just acquired a brand new computer, the first one in our home. I have no idea what type it was, although I know for sure it wasn’t an Apple. We had fancy document writing software which you had to be very careful to save as you went so as not to accidentally lose the social studies assignment you’d been working on all weekend. My brother and I constantly fought over whose turn it was to play Tetris or Wolfenstein, which were the only two games we had. Now that we were such a thoroughly modern family, my parents decided to send my brother and I to touch-typing lessons after school. What a drag! How lame can you get? All we really wanted to do was stay home and watch Degrassi High reruns, but off we went. The ‘lessons’, were really just a woman who had bought a program and installed it on her own computer. She left us with the guided learning system, which involved typing out ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ over and over again without looking at our fingers, all while being electronically timed. I think we only went once a week for a month. At the end of it we had paper certificates declaring us graduates from typing school, which were probably thrown in the bin once we got home. It seems like such a simple thing, but being able to touch type has benefited me from day one.

I started my career working in radio, writing scripts with sometimes only a matter of minutes’ notice. Being able to smash out copy quickly and efficiently was pretty much the most important thing I was able to do in that job. Later, I was on a working holiday and the only job interview I could get was with a tiny temp agency. They tested my typing skills and I was able to get a great office admin gig earning way more than I could have at Starbucks.

Nowadays, with computers a ubiquitous part of life, it’s amazing how many professionals never picked up the skill of touch typing. Sure, a lot of people are migrating to the touch-screens of tablets, but the majority of our communication is still done sitting in front of laptops and computers. I’ve watched CEOs and distinguished radio hosts falter as they search for the ‘x’ key, typing with two fingers extended like little kids. It’s true that most people adapt to be able to type reasonably efficiently, but there’s no substitute for the speed which touch typing allows for. My game is copywriting, and that month of lessons all that time ago means I’m able to let my thoughts flow quickly on to the page while I’m working. I don’t have to look at my hands as I go and not realise I’ve made seventy spelling errors while I’ve been writing. What a great thing my parents did for me. I’ll have to write to them to say thankyou.

Clea Sherman is a Sydney based copywriter. Photo by Seth Morabito

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