Beware the “Veteran Smokescreen”

I spent 25 years writing my first children’s book. It started out as a short story in 1985…and turned into a book (about an invention for skiing elephants) that I published in 2010.

I thought it was my life’s work. But maybe this post beats it? Because this has been 30 years in the making.

Or rather, it stems from 30 years of sweat, tears and tantrums.

See, this month marks 30 years for me as a jobbing writer. I got my first paid gig (well, gigs) in August ’88, fresh out of my fresher’s year at uni – writing radio skits, stand-up material and a magazine column.

I was hooked. The buzz of getting paid to put words on a page. It was surreal.

I still remember hearing my first joke that made it onto the radio…seeing my first article in print…and my name in TV credits. It got me. And that thrill has never gone away. It’s kept me hammering the keys, part-time or full-time, ever since.

Stories, sitcoms, computer games, hundreds of articles…and buckets of sales material since I switched to copy in 2005.

Hang on though – why should you care?

Well look, I’m not expecting you to send me a cake and balloons. Or jump out and shout “SURPRISE!” next time I switch on the laptop.

(In fact, I’d rather you didn’t.)

No, as ever there’s a point in all this.

As someone with decades of scribble credits, I feel comfortable telling you:

Don’t believe the “experience” hype.
It is NO guarantee of quality.

Think. I’ve just breezed through bits of my CV. And some folks will read that and say “Wow, James is a safe pair of hands”.

But go back. Take another look.

I haven’t proven that at all. I’ve just told you that I’ve written stuff. I haven’t mentioned results… reviews… testimonials. None of it.

And that kind of matters.

There are writers who’ve been around for years, but don’t have the skill or know-how that should go with experience. Often, they’ve just locked themselves into a set way of doing a half-arsed job. So they churn out the same old tat, time after time. Never advancing.

And that’s not experience, in the accumulative sense. It’s repetition. Being crap on a loop.

And I might get struck off for saying this, but copywriters (some copywriters) are the worst offenders.

There are smart, proactive types who learn from every job they do. But right alongside them, there’s a whole army of hacks…long in tooth, short on knowledge…who’ve never bothered to learn the essentials, like basic sales and persuasion.

And don’t even think of asking them for marketing advice!

They’re “not that kind of writer”.

They just want to write to order. Not owning the strategy, or offering the wisdom they’ve had every chance to amass. Because they’d sooner waste their days writing cheap ‘n’ cheerful content for clients who find them on Fiverr.

I mean look, that’s fine if they’re happy that way. Live and let live, and all that.

Except…many still play the experience card. Claiming “veteran” status because they’ve stayed on the first rung of the ladder for a full generation.

So let’s remember that. And not confuse longevity with quality.

Donny Osmond has been around since the 70s, but that doesn’t make him a musical genius!

Something to chew on, next time you talk to an ageing freelancer…or a lawyer who says “trust us, we started in 1896”.

Look beyond the years – and don’t get lost in the “Veteran Smokescreen”.

UK Copywriter James Daniel

James Daniel

You might not know who I am, but no doubt you've read my copy. If you've ever bought a hearing aid, a pizza oven, flat roof or vacuum cleaner. If you've hired a will writer, an IT guy or accountant. If you've been to events on marketing, acting or how to buy a business. There's every chance it started with a bit of my copy - a few simple, chatty, gently persuasive words. Ring any bells?

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