Writing Down the Page

I encourage my writing students to really experiment with their process.
I find that things like the time of day that I write,
what kind of mood I’m in,
where I am,
what kind of music I listen to,
whether I’m writing or typing, whether I’m writing with a pen or a pencil or a crayon–
all these things can influence how I write and bring out different voices.

Sometimes I write down the page.
Just one thought per line, kind of like a telegram.
It’s not a magic trick, but sometimes it helps me focus on each sentence.
Evaluate each sentence on its own merit.
Cut out the fat.
And get the transitions right.

That’s all I got today.


Try this when you’re stuck

Copywriters: the next time you’re absolutely stuck with your copy, try this.

Go pick up a novel of a writer whose style you admire. Say it’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez – he’s about as unmarketing-speaky as you can get. Open to any page. Now copy the words of the page into your own notebook.

When you’re finished, start writing what you need to say about your product. You’ll find you’re doing it in an entirely different voice.

You can do this with Hemmingway and Steinbeck as easily as you can with Dan Brown and David Sedaris. Go ahead and try some poetry. Works with Sandberg and Billy Collins, too.

Art directors: Do the same by taking out a big book on fine art. Or photography. Or design. You don’t have to recreate each painting. But you can try. Sketch out the composition. Study the shadows and the colors. Spend a half hour with a particular style. Then jump into your layout while it’s fresh in your brain.

Small trick. But it works. And it’s much better than staring at a blank page, or just writing and laying out what you think the client (or the awards show juries) expect.

Keep Writing

Three lessons to take away from this great spot:

  1. Music can make even a history lesson dramatic and inspiring. Learn how to use music.
  2. You don’t have to have CGI, punch-lines, scintillating dialogue, a cast of thousands or slick editing techniques to make a killer spot.
  3. Writers, yes, you have to learn to think visually. And sometimes a killer visual with the client logo is the right thing to do. But a real writer, has to write. And write as well as BBH’s Justin Moore did on this spot.

Body Copy: A Dying Art

A week ago I was called in to help do some finessing on a big pitch. One of the things I was asked to do was to write body copy for the ads.

Working from home, I wrote four pieces and sent them off. The CDs in charge of the pitch loved them. So much in fact, they asked me to write body copy for the rest of what they were presenting.

Here’s the secret: I’m not the world’s best copywriter. But I do care about body copy. I do try to craft it. And I do try to give it a voice. That’s really quite rare in this business.

It’s very easy to fill up body copy with cliches and aphorisms and words like “introducing,” and “finally.” And why not? Everyone’s doing it, and no one reads body copy anyway.

The truth is probably 10% of consumers read body copy, 80% of creative directors reviewing your book read it, and 100% of the people supervising this pitch were reading it.

If you care about body copy, writing it becomes easy. If you don’t care, it’s a headache. It’s having to get out of bed because you forgot to take out the garbage. It’s torture.

My portfolio school professor used to say writing body copy was a dying art. I agree. But if you can become proficient in that art, you’ll stand out.

An Argument for Manifestos

Just a follow-up to Jim’s assignment.

You could argue that writing manifestos is a waste of effort. They can be time consuming, and there’s no manifestos category at Cannes or the One Show. Much better to just sit down and start coming up with ideas, right?

Maybe. But here’s my argument for writing manifestos.

It used to take me a long time to write one. Then I realized that a manifesto doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to do three things…

  1. Crystalize the direction (not just for you, but for everyone else involved in the project).
  2. Get the client excited.
  3. Serve as a springboard for future ideas.

Manifestos are a great way to open a presentation. It’s far more exciting to open a meeting with a battle cry than to say, “Okay, let’s look at some work.” Once, I even read a manifesto with some accompanying music.

I’ve had the account team internally and clients during a presentation applaud a manifesto. I promise you, you’re going to have a much easier time selling the real work if you can get people applauding BEFORE you even show it to them.

Lastly, if you’re a writer, you need to be able to write. That means you need to have a sense of language. It means you have to be able to simultaneously clarify and dramatize an idea. Headlines are a great way to do this. But a manifesto is an even broader canvas.

One caveat about manifestos: Clients tend to love them because they can say everything and nothing at the same time. The more specific you can be in your manifesto, the better chance you have of selling the work that you came to show. Don’t hesitate to go back and retrofit your manifesto to sell the work.