Monday, May 27, 2013

The Lost Art of Writing

I love to write. I mean, it's my thing, right? There's nothing better than well-written prose, whether you're sitting down to a juicy novel that you can't put down or repeating a jingle you heard on the radio or being captivated by a movie or TV show. From the greats that brought you To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and Seinfeld to the geniuses behind "Just Do It" and "Don't leave home without it", good writing is STILL the cornerstone to anything worth reading, watching or listening to.

Trouble is, not everyone gets cc'd on that memo anymore. The further we get into the technology age, the more writing becomes this archaic skill akin to desktop publishing and talking on the telephone. I mean, who does that anymore? Better yet, why do we need it when we have all these other technologies like texting, tweeting and instant messaging to divert our attention and and show us shiny things quickly?


It's hard to get people to appreciate the skill and talent it takes to write. I'm not tooting my own horn - or wait, maybe I am. Because I am a good writer. I know what I'm doing. I can write for most any audience, in most any tone, for most any application. I can. It's what I do. I can't design stuff, I can't fix stuff, I can't go out and sell stuff. I write. And I've been around long enough that I can put myself in the place of my reader and know what they want to hear.

I've used this example before. Years ago, the agency I worked for had a medical account. The surgeon wanted to be very involved in the marketing process, but being a surgeon, he was way too busy and really didn't have the expertise. When we explained to him that he needed to trust us to do our jobs so he could do his, he finally said, "OK, deal. You don't do surgery, and I won't do marketing."

The problem is, everyone thinks they can write copy. Don't get me wrong - some people can - and that's great. When I was job searching a few years ago, it seemed every writing job I encountered wanted to know if I "did design." Finally, I enrolled in a few design classes at ICC. Boom. Now I can design. Can I design WELL? Can I design QUICKLY? Uh, no and no. Design is an art unto itself, and it's a disservice to those talented individuals to have someone without those skills messing in their world.

Like design, it's important to not overlook the art of writing when you're creating something that is going to be "sold" to the masses. If you're going to spend thousands on a website, or an ad campaign, or even come up with marketing strategies and branding, DON'T SKIMP ON THE COPYWRITING. Seriously. Don't. It's kind of like trying to fix the huge leak in your house versus calling a plumber. You might be able to patch it so it's OK for the short term and saves you money right now, but in the long run, it probably would have been better to shell out the bucks and have the expert take a look-see (as evidenced by the flood in your basement.)

Where would M&Ms be without "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands"? Shoot, look at K Mart with "Ship my pants." GENIUS to a fledgling company! You think the programmer thought of that one? No offense to my programming friends, but PROBABLY NOT. And where would Saturday Night Live be without all those comedy writers behind the scenes? You think Hans and Franz, Church Lady, Stephon and The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with at a Party just invented themselves???

Copywriters don't get the glory, nor do we want it. We're not in all the high level meetings, we don't shake the hands and don't go to the lunches. We don't always see the fruits of our labors. But that's OK. There's nowhere I'd rather be than behind a laptop, typing at 80+ words a minute, telling someone's story. That story might be an article, or a website, or an ad, a script, or a speech, or a comedy routine. Doesn't matter. It's me, becoming them, and telling their story the way it needs to be told to their audience.

I still write letters to my kids every year on around their birthdays. Hand-written. With a pen. In those letters, I relive the past year, good and bad. Their accomplishments, their struggles, my struggles and reiterations of how I feel about them and how lucky I feel to be their mom. I then seal them and put them away. Someday, I'll give these letters to them - when they need them. And they'll have this tangible record of their lives in their mom's handwriting, in their mom's words, from their mom's heart.

Lost art. The generations behind us aren't writing letters - in fact, they're barely learning cursive. It's so sad. At some point I think our communication is going to be a series of acronyms and abbreviations - and that's too bad. We have so much to say and we forget that we really, really need to say it, and say it well. 

Writing? Yeah, it's my thing. It may not make me a gazillion dollars, and it may not make me the most important person on the marketing team. But someday, I'm going to be in the right place at the right time to the right people, and the things we accomplish together will be amazing.


  1. I appreciate copywriters, even to the point of wanting to give the ones I work(ed) with a hug. You'll be in my dex (short for rolodex because mine doesn't actually roll, so it must just be a dex or possibly even an odex) forever!


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