#096: James Chartrand on Freelance Copywriting Trends, Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing and the 200-Word Story Challenge

James Chartrand is the owner of Men With Pens, a web design and copywriting company.

She’s also the creator of “Damn Fine Words,” one of the best and most popular writing courses in the business.

Yes, I said “she.”

If you’re not familiar with James, he’s actually a she. The story behind that is pretty interesting. So is the story of how she came clean.

She’s wicked smart, super-fun to talk to and an all-around great person.

In this episode, James and I talk shop about the latest trends in freelance copywriting… different ways you can improve your craft… practical business tips for introverts…

And a simple, 200-word-a-day exercise that will improve your copywriting muscle.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

James Chartrand owns Men With Pens, a web design and copywriting company. She is also the creator of Damn Fine Words, a 10-week writing course.

“James Chartrand” is a pen name. She started her career under her own name but struggled to break into the male-dominated field of copywriting. When she started writing under the name James Chartrand, her business took off. She’s been using it ever since.

In 2009, she “came out” as a woman in the post “Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants” on Copyblogger.

How has the copywriting market changed over the past few years?

The quality and quantity of copywriting is continually rising. And while that was a good thing initially, now it’s overwhelming.

Today, it’s not enough to be a good (or even excellent) copywriter.

Businesses don’t just need someone who can write. They need someone who understands their business.

What other challenges are writers facing today?

A lot of people want to start their own writing business, but they don’t know how to run it. They don’t know how to pitch article ideas or grow their business or do their accounting.

People can bridge those knowledge gaps by taking narrowly focused courses that help them develop missing skills.

You can also outsource some of these tasks. But it can be useful to do these things yourself at first. It will help you better understand what’s working (and what’s not) in your business.

Do you have any advice for writers who are introverts?

Many people are attracted to writing because it’s a solitary endeavor.

Introverts have some real business strengths. They’re great listeners and observers. They reflect and think before taking action, and they’re happy to let other people shine. These are great qualities.

But still, you have to be able to talk to clients. Fortunately, you can train yourself to get better at this. For example:

  • Take a class. Sign up for a class that gets you out of your home office and around other people. It could be singing, painting, drawing, hiking or anything. The more you participate, the more comfortable you’ll feel.
  • Have a stress-out session. If you have a scheduled client call, give yourself 15 minutes before the call to stress out about it. Scheduling your stress for 15 minutes before the call prevents you from worrying about it all day. And when you take the actual call, you’ll find it’s not as bad as you imagined.

What are some of the best books you’ve read over the past year?

James finds that reading fiction helps her with her writing. It fosters her creativity and helps her write more vivid descriptions.

Her recommended reads:

  • Patrick Rothfuss, Wise Men’s Fear.
  • Scott Lynch, the Lost Lamora series.

What can writers do to get better at writing?

James doesn’t subscribe to the standard advice to write every day. If you don’t want to write on the weekend, don’t. If you’re supposed to write until 3:00 and you’re exhausted by 1:00, then stop. Pushing yourself beyond your limits doesn’t help.

Challenge yourself to write a short story with no outline. Add 200 words to it every day. It’s intrinsically satisfying to write something for fun with no pressure and no client demands. It’s a great way to warm up and get you thinking about words. It makes your client work easier and better.

Another challenge: Write something as succinctly as possible while still sounding natural.

Writing shouldn’t always be about content. Sometimes it should be about the joy of writing.

Are there any tools you recommend?

James has tried all kinds of apps and software, but her preferred methods remain simple:

  • Print out your writing and read it.
  • Use colored Post-it Notes to record to-dos.
  • Reading everything you write aloud.

Part of the joy of freelance work is that no one tells you how to do things. You get to decide what works best for you.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

James’ copywriting website: Men With Pens

James’ writing course: Damn Fine Words

Twitter handle: @MenwithPens