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.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Does everything really happen for a reason?

I'm sure I've written on this topic before, but it begs being revisited because it seems to be my go-to mantra quite a bit lately.

Fate. God's will. Destiny. Whatever you want to call it, some people rely on this ultimate conclusion to every decision they make. But how true is it, really?

I am firm believer in "everything happens for a reason" but at times I question it. My belief is that God has this Grand Plan for all of us - he alone knows where we're going to end up. He's privy to every choice he gives us along the way, and he gives us these "predicaments," for lack of a better word, as learning experiences in order for us to grow, learn, understand and appreciate.

Everyone has a scenario where they can say, "Well, looking back, if I hadn't done (this) then (that) would never have happened." True. I'm divorced, and sometimes I wonder why God put my ex-husband and I together in the first place if that is how things were going to end up. But then I look at my two boys and think, "That's why." God wanted them here. He needed them here. He has a plan for those two boys and the only way he could get them here was to put the two of us together. I'm OK with that.

It's hard to see at the time. I remember standing on a beach in Florida when things were literally going south in my life and thinking, "God, WHY did you put me in this place? WHY did you bring me here and have me do all this and come all this way to have THIS happen? Why would you do this to me?" I still don't have the full answer to that, but I do believe that if we are never faced with the tough times, the tough decisions, then we're not going to be prepared to appreciate when the good ones really come along. We learn from our mistakes. We make what we think are good choices and they fail, but maybe they fail for a reason.

Or is relying on this method of understanding just a crutch? Is it just a way to validate a bad decision in the hopes that God had a hand in it in order to bring something good our way in the future? To me, that's where faith comes in. Because here's the deal. Try explaining heaven to a child. "What will I feel in heaven? Won't I miss my friends and my family? Will I get to eat as much candy as I want and watch as much TV as I like?" It's easy to say, "Sure! In heaven, everyone's happy." But that's too hard to understand. Why? Because like God himself, it's an enigma that is just way beyond our comprehension or understanding or explanation. We are stupid, silly, ignorant people muddling through life making good decisions and bad decisions and hoping for the best. The only recourse we have is to trust that there is a Higher Power looking out for us and guiding us to make those decisions, good or bad, to stay on track with the plan God has for us so we can end up in this magical place and finally say, "AHA! Now I get it!"

Steven Hawking said, "I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined and that we can do nothing to change it look before they cross the road." OK, I see your point, Steve. It's easy to say that we have this free will, which we have, and that we're regularly screwing up our own lives by the bad choices we make. But I'm not talking about buying the almost-expired steaks that made you sick just to save a little money versus going to the butcher. I'm talking the TOUGH decisions that keep you up at night. The ones you struggle with for days, weeks, or years wondering if you're doing the right thing. The ones that cause many people to FINALLY turn to God for when they have nowhere else to go.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

I don't mean to go all holy roller on you - that's not me. But think about a tough decision you made once that, looking back, you realized, "If I hadn't done that, I'd never be here today." Taking that job. Not taking that job. Moving to a new city. Not moving. Ending a relationship or a marriage. Starting a new relationship too soon or to quickly, or taking too long to tell that person how you really feel. Deciding to have a child and losing that child. Deciding not to have a child and becoming pregnant. Everyone asks why at some point but the kicker is, there is no answer. You will never in this life come to a full understanding of it. So you can wallow in your "did I do the right thing" mentality forever, or you can hope that the reason you made that decision was that God was at the helm, guiding you like a mouse through the maze of this crazy thing called life, searching and searching for that cheese. We may not think we'll ever find it, but He does.

And sometimes, that's all we have to hold onto. So why not just hold onto it?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

'Just wait until you have kids of your own..."

When my mother said this to me years and years ago, I wasn't  sure if it was a threat, a warning or a premonition. Maybe a little of all three. I didn't get it. I couldn't have gotten it. I was just a kid whose life revolved around me and who couldn't see any further into the future than a psychic with short-term memory loss. And now, here I am decades later, saying the same thing to my kid.

It's not so much a warning or a threat. It's more of a wistful plea that someday, at some point, he'll look at me and say, "I get it, Mom." That someday he'll realize why I am the way I am. Why I worry. Why I nag. Why I persist. Why I pray. Why I drive him crazy and he drives me the same.
This is me. Now you know why Mom encouraged my writing.
It's amazing the circle of life. Not a day goes by that I don't think of my mom with awe at how she got (and still gets) through some of the things we kids put her through - and there are four of us! I remember when it dawned on me why she took baths in the middle of the day. It made NO sense back then - I mean, who lounges in the tub for an hour at 2:00 in the afternoon? An overwhelmed, overextended mom with four kids, that's who. Thirty years later I say, "DUH" as I sit crouched in the laundry room quietly pouring my second glass of wine before dinner hoping my two won't discover me next to the pile of dirty socks and underwear.

"Just wait until you have kids of your own." It's the only recourse moms have. That someday, when their kids are older and procreate they'll have that almighty "aha moment" and realize that mom wasn't the blithering idiot they thought she was all along. But it's not so much the satisfaction we'll gain in finally having our kids understand all of our worries and fears despite their best attempts to reassure us that they "know what they're doing." (We sure as HELL know they don't know what they're doing. But the only way they're going to KNOW what they're doing is NOT know what they're doing and make a mistake so they KNOW how to do it in the future.)

But I digress.

Above and beyond all that "mom knows best" stuff, "Just wait until you have kids of your own" to me means that you will never, ever know how much you can love another human being until you have a child of your own. You cannot ever imagine the amount of joy, pain, pride, frustration, hope and worry that someone can can cause you to have until you are responsible for the rise of this child from innocent infant to tempestuous teen to (hopefully) admirable adult. You can't fathom that for once you will not have all the answers and that you will more often than not question your validity as a parent yet you will still be compelled to tell your child that you do know best even when you're not sure you do.

"Just wait until you have kids of your own" is no different than the quote (paraphrased), "Being a mother is deciding to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body." It's going from being able to completely focus on one task to doing ten things at once and knowing at a drop of a hat that your son is right now giving a presentation in 4th hour and saying a quick prayer that his nerves are calm and he doesn't have toilet paper stuck to his shoe. It's the difference between cheering on your favorite sports team and making a deal with God that you'll never ever say another curse word again if your son connects with the ball just this one time. It's watching him drive down the street and holding yourself back from running alongside the car shouting for him to wear his seat belt, use his turn signal and watch for deer.

No child knows how overwhelming it is to be a mother. And I don't mean overwhelming in just a negative sense, because for every hour of angst there can be sixty seconds of joy that completely negates that other 59 minutes - do you know what I mean? If you're a mother you do.

If not, just wait.