In conversation with

Dan Nelken

Creative Director & Author



Only a select few can get away with listing their job title as ‘Chief Creative Ding-Dong’ on LinkedIn. Dan Nelken is one of them, and we can’t say we’re mad at the boldness.

If you’ve found yourself scrolling through copywriting tips on LinkedIn over the past few months, chances are you’ve come across Dan and his headlines like ‘Less is more. And also, more is more’ or ‘Embrace your dirt’.  What started as LinkedIn posts evolved into a newsletter and is now a published book called ‘A Self-Help Guide For Copywriters’ (aspiring and expiring ones might we add). Dan explains, “It’s a little tongue-in-cheek but it’s also born out of a truth. Feeling self-doubt or imposter syndrome is common for creative types. We’re generally more sensitive. That’s just part of the kit that comes with being creative.”

We caught up with Dan to talk about strategy, storytelling and overcoming creative blocks. 

Question and Answer

You’re the self-proclaimed ‘Chief Creative Ding-Dong’ (your words, not ours). Tell us what this job title means.

Haha… yes, that’s me.

Well, when I first started sharing content on LinkedIn, I couldn’t help but notice all the inflated titles. Every other person is a CEO or Founder. Or both. And nobody who has written a book is just an author, every single one is a “best-selling author”. Calling myself a Ding-Dong was just an opportunity to call out an elephant in the room. Just a bit of fun. I was going to take it down after a week but the response was so great I’ve stuck with it. I’ll change it soon. I’m thinkin’: Dan Nelken, Average-selling author.

Your book is called A Self-Help Guide For Copywriters. Why do copywriters need self-help?

It’s a little tongue-in-cheek but it’s also born out of a truth. Feeling self-doubt or imposter syndrome is common for creative types. We’re generally more sensitive. That’s just part of the kit that comes with being creative.

And most of the industry ignores this creative self-doubt, even though everyone’s feeling it. We’re always told to work on our craft. Well to me, understanding self-doubt and overcoming blocks is as much a part of building your creative craft as learning to write headlines.

And really, that’s what the book is meant to do. It focuses on the craft of coming up
with ideas and turning them into headlines (with over 200 examples). But it also focuses on (And I think I can safely say more than any other book on creativity in advertising) the mental hurdles we face before, during, and after the creative process. The book provides insight and tips to help whack-a-mole self-doubting thoughts before the little sh*theads can pick up too much steam.

Long answer short, I wrote the book I’ve always needed. And I’m so, so, so, so grateful that it’s helping other people.

Your newsletter is one of the most shared and mentioned amongst copywriters. What was the strategy behind it?

Strategy? I wish.

I started sharing content on LinkedIn and people would say, “I’m never on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is like the facebook of business. You should have a newsletter.” So I started ending my LinkedIn articles with things like, “If you think LinkedIn sucks, sign up for the newsletter I may never start at

Within a couple of months 500 people had subscribed and I thought, “Crap, I guess I have to start a newsletter”

A year in and 4,000 subscribers later, I’m thinking about strategy. First and foremost, I want to help people build their creative confidence (myself included). And that includes helping creative people create more for themselves (myself included).

Too many creative people don’t create for themselves. I’m not talking about scrapbooking. I’m talking about using their creativity to build their own businesses.

Most people don’t take action because they don’t know what they want to do. And that was me for the last 400 years. Now that I’m finally making stuff, I’m realizing what I’ve always known but didn’t know I knew…if you’re creative, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re creating, as long as you’re creating something. Joy comes in the doing, pain comes in the over-thinking.

“Most people don’t take action because they don’t know what they want to do. And that was me for the last 400 years. ”

When was the last time you had a “I wish I wrote that” moment?

I have an example from last week but it’s more of a “I wish I got to work on that” moment. And it comes from a brand called Chocolonely.

They came out with a message saying their product (chocolate) was bad for your health. In my book, I write about a creative technique called Embracing your Dirt, and they definitely do that here. They know the world has a sugar problem and they know they’re a big part of that problem. And their entire message was around making a commitment to helping people consume more mindfully.

It’s such a bold and counterintuitive stance that shows their brand is more than a product. It is a collection of values. And I bet over time it leads to both innovative sugar-free products and miles of content. This is a brand creatives want to work for.



What kind of stories are you generally drawn to?

If we’re talking marketing stories, I want stories that provide some sort of value to me. How does this enrich my life? This answer seems so stupid and obvious but it’s crazy how many brands talk about themselves, to themselves. If these brands were people, they wouldn’t get a second date. Or a first.

This probably tells us that not enough companies know what their values are, or they’re disconnected from them.

As for other stories, I read and loved all of Dave Trott’s books in 2021. They’re made up of short, fascinating stories about anything ranging from parenting to clubbing seal pups to war tactics, and then he magically twists them into a creative or marketing lesson.

What is your favourite word of all-time? And why?

I like words with meaning. The first two that come to mind are Finn and Poppy; the names of my son and daughter. They’re tied for my favourite word of all-time.

And without question, my least favourite word of all-time is… “excerpt”.

Try saying “excerpt” three times quickly. Or even one time slowly. What a waste of letters.

Dan's Storylist


  1. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson
  2. Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan
  3. Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
  4. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  5. The Power of Ignorance: How Creative Solutions Emerge When We Admit What We Don't Know by Dave Trott
  6. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

Digital Platforms

  1. Scribd
  2. Waking Up
  3. Duolingo
  4. LinkedIn
  5. Canva

More from The Journal

InterviewNatasha Collie

Natasha Collie

Senior Brand Marketing Manager at Penguin Random House UK

At the start of the year, Ladybird Books approached Sonder & Tell with a dream brief. In 2021, a year that’s been particularly challenging for...

InterviewTatton Spiller

Tatton Spiller

Founder Of Simple Politics

Talking about serious issues doesn’t mean defaulting into a serious tone of voice, or using complicated language. If anything, accessibility, clarity and a touch of...

Interviewloïs mills

Loïs Mills

Brand & Community Manager at Homethings

Creating a tone of voice from scratch can be challenging. But a blank slate to work from also mean there’s room for something a bit...

Previous Story
Emily Gosling

Writer & Editorial consultant at Red Setter

Next Story
Anita Cheung
Anita Cheung

Artist & Illustrator