Graham Strong, Copywriter & Novelist

I first stumbled across freelance copywriter Graham Strong after reading his useful copywriting blog, which he promptly discontinued, turning it into a novel-in-progress blog that was infinitely more interesting. Copywriters who live in more than one writing world are interesting to me, and Strong is one of those people.

A freelance copywriter for more than 17 years, he’s demonstrated an ability to both make a living and stay sane doing it, and you might gather — after reading his workflow tips — he does so in a fairly orderly way.

Welcome to another edition of Working Writers.

Tell Us Who You Are and What You Do (briefly)

My name is Graham Strong and I’m a freelance copywriter and budding novelist. I am a confirmed generalist, mostly for the sake of my own sanity. I am known (in certain circles) for my medical copywriting, though I also write press releases, brochure content, web content, case studies, and pretty much anything else.

Graham Strong's website

Graham Strong's working website

I love the fact I can explain the science behind flow cytometry in the morning, and then write about significance of Drew Barrymore’s butterfly tattoo in the afternoon.

I write in a variety of industries including design/build, mining, medical, small business, transcription — even the restaurant business.

What Hardware & Software Do You Use?

Last year I moved into a laptop — an Acer Phenom II — running Windows 7. I use a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard and an Asus 32” monitor, which has helped save the ol’ eyes and is great for ebook/magazine/newsletter/brochure layout.

On the road I use an HP netbook, but I am currently experimenting with an iPad using a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and some kind of Office emulator (CloudOn or Documents to Go – not sure of the exact software yet). I haven’t decided how well this will work, but initial use looks promising.

Another important piece of office “hardware” is my ergonomic office chair. I write with my feet up on my desk, which I find saves my back and my legs during hours at the keyboard. (Yeah, I know what it looks like. But try it — your feet and back will love you by the end of the day. Nobody’s peering into my windows anyway…)

I also recently got an iPhone, which I have connected to my email and calendar. It makes taking off from the office so much easier because now I don’t have to find a place with WiFi to check email throughout the day — in fact I can use it as a personal WiFi hotspot for my netbook or iPad as need be. Rounding out the hardware: a Sony digital recorder for interviews.

For software, Microsoft Word is at the heart of all my writing. I actually don’t mind it, though I don’t really put it through any stringent expectations. I use it for writing and that’s about it. I don’t do a whole lot of document formatting in Word (though when I’ve tried, it has driven me nuts). If I’m producing an ebook, I’ll export the text to InDesign.

I use Google Docs for sharing “live” documents.

My invoicing system is pretty basic: Excel spreadsheet to track, Word template to create the actual invoice, and Acrobat to convert it to PDF. I track time using MultiTrack Stopwatch and record it in Timesheets MTS which uses a MS Access database, so it’s easy to do a lot of the functions right at the database level, which I like.

Dropbox for syncing my netbook, Google Calendar for booking meetings/deadlines, Digital Voice Editor 3 (came with the recorder) for reviewing audio files, Google Chrome for browsing, and Thunderbird for email.

My favourite iPhone/iPad apps aren’t that flashy either: GMail for my secondary (backup) email, Facebook, HootSuite (for Twitter). I love Flipboard, though I haven’t used it to its fullest potential. I’m always open to interesting new apps.

Any Special Copywriting or Workflow Tricks To Share?

  1. I keep everything organized by project. Even if I have several “tasks” from the same client, I assign each task a project number, starting with the year, e.g. 122356. I don’t restart the numbers each year. When a project is complete, I move it into an archive folder, again sorted by year, so I can find it more easily when/if I need to in the future.

  2. When writing or editing “by committee” (ugh), I work with the main contact person first to nail down the text, and then send that polished text up the chain as need be. Usually, the main contact person is the expert in this field, so the meat of the text will be correct. That way, the only changes I’m likely to get further up the chain are little nuance changes from an organizational perspective.

  3. I email everything to create a paper trail. If I chat on the phone for two minutes, I follow up with an email. This doesn’t have to be a “mini-minutes” by any means. It could be as simple as, “Oh, by the way, when we talked about this today, I forgot to ask, should we be doing this too?” I don’t do this for every little “how’s the weather” phone conversation, but I find it’s a good habit for those crucial project points, especially things like deadlines and changes in project direction done on the fly.

  4. I always befriend administrative assistants. I’m generally a pretty polite, friendly guy anyway, but I’ve seen people ignore or (worse) condescend to assistants. As Julia Roberts would say, huge mistake. If you’re working with anyone in a C-level or similar position, admin assistants can make access to them as easy — or as difficult — as they like.

What Pieces of the Puzzle Are You Missing?

I’m pretty happy where I am at the moment, with a few exceptions.

For example, I wish I could say I’m a Mac person, but I just can’t justify spending all that money to convert. The hardware is a big enough chunk, but when you factor in all the software, it’s a big hit to take. I may compromise by getting one of those nifty PC ultrabooks I’ve heard so much about.

I’ll also say that there are little nagging things, especially software-wise, that could be ironed out. I wouldn’t call myself a Windows person, but there isn’t a viable alternative (for me — I know some people like Linux, etc. but too much work for me)

That being said, I can’t envision a better system – I’ll just know it when I see it.

Oh, one other thing. I’m scouting treadmills that I can convert to hold a laptop or perhaps my iPad/keyboard setup. I figure if I can do an hour or so of work everyday while on the treadmill, I’ll be doing myself the world of good.

Just The Facts

Graham Strong
Copywriting website
Novel blog