“Find a thing you like and do it. Figure out what people have paid you for in the past and where that intersects with what you like. Make a list of those things and pick one that speaks to you.”
Michael Burns is a professional writer, copywriter, storyteller, and content consultant. After studying Film and TV, English & creative writing at The University of Miami, he went onto pursue a career that spanned TV, Hollywood films, business writing, music journalism and included a stint at a record label.
Now he works remotely as a copywriter and content consultant for clients all over the world.
After scripting, producing and researching for documentaries and TV shows, Michael decided to leave the US and work remotely in 2016.
“I changed my LinkedIn description and got two job offers straightaway. So I figured I must be doing something right.”
“Now I write copy for business websites,” he explains.
While his interest in different areas waxed and waned, Michael kept coming back to writing.
“When I was really young, I wanted to be a fireman. Then I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t like blood. Then I wanted to be a film director. And then I realized I would rather write the films than direct them.”
“When I was in college, I was given good career advice to stick to writing and stay out of TV production but I didn’t listen.”
“Having said that, I had a great experience during my film and TV career and I’ll probably get a couple of books out of it at some point.”
Moving into the world of copywriting was a bit like stepping off a cliff, he explains.
“It forced me to take massive action to make it happen.”
“I wanted to be able to write lots of different things. Niching is more sensible but I’ve had a hard time specializing in one thing. I’m a polymath, so I tend to enjoy learning and writing about lots of different areas.”
“It often involves lots of research. Then there’s the writing, and the re-writing – which is when the magic happens. Or you’ll be talking to clients and getting clear on what they want. You also spend a lot of time sending proposals.”
“To be good you’ve got to be motivated. You need to be organized, self-directed and be reliable. A lot of it is up to you.”
“In addition, a lot of copywriting is self-taught. You’re looking at successful copywriters and asking what works. The more you do it the better you get.”
“Essentially, you need to learn how to be a storyteller.”
Michael notes that the way people read has recently undergone some changes.
“Over the last five years, people have become much more savvy about the kind of content they consume. So if people aren’t producing things of value they’re seeing their conversion rates drop.”
“The best idea is to try to write things that are of value to other people. It could be valuable advice or a funny article. Something they don’t know they need – that’s really good writing.”
If you want to get into it, you should write every day, Michael explains.
“I journal in the morning or the evening. If you want to do this, force yourself to do it. I get up in the morning, sit down and write three pages of anything. It can be total garbage. It’s an exercise. Get the neurons firing in your brain.”
“Keep educating yourself. Take some classes online. Read books, find a mentor, and study how other professionals do it.”
“If you want to make a lot of money as a writer, pick a niche that you’re passionate about and specialize in it.”
The nature of opportunities for writers to get paid is changing too. There are fewer jobs in newspapers, for example. Some content creation is becoming automated as writing jobs are already being lost to artificial intelligence, he notes.
“I was getting these updates for Fantasy Football and started to wonder if there was a human behind it. I did some research and found out it was being done by AI – it was scary to see.”
“I think increasingly you’ll see that replacing basic journalism and formulaic writing. The Los Angeles Times set up an AI bot to automatically generate earthquake stories. Dry fact-based text can be more easily automated.”
Michael doesn’t see robots taking over all writing in the future. He stays optimistic and attuned to the bright side of his chosen vocation.
“I love writing, and I’m really happy that I’ve taken something I’m passionate about and made it my career. I love the creativity of it and coming up with fresh, imaginative ways to say things.”
Michael’s Top tips:
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work
“The Cult of Copy on Facebook is a great resource for copywriters. Ask questions and see how other people are doing things.”