There’s a great story about the Irish writer James Joyce and how after a day’s writing his brother Stanislaus found him prostrate on his desk and utterly despondent.
“Brother, you look so unhappy,” Stanislaus asked. “How did the writing go today?”
Wearily lifting his head, James said, “Not good, brother, not good. I wrote six words today.”
Feeling sympathy for his genius older brother, Stanislaus said, “Oh my, I’m sorry, James, so few words after so many hours.”
To this, James is reported to have pounded a fist on his desk and declared, “No, it’s not that. It’s that I don’t know what order they go in!”
Now, while I share in common with James Joyce only a need for spectacles and a taste for Guinness, I do understand his plight. In fact, I’d submit it’s a commonplace dilemma for any self-respecting advertising or marketing writer.
Because the truth is, we aren’t always provided as much information as we’d like and often struggle to determine how best to arrange those few materials into something meaningful. At times, it can feel a bit like being handed a bunch of hand towels with the request to fashion them into a king-size blanket. But that’s the magic we’re hired to perform!
So, like Joyce with his stubborn six words, our challenge is to figure out how to cajole those limited resources into a complete story that solves our client’s business problem—one that is clear, compelling, on message and hopefully unique. And yes, for all that is good and right, what in the hell order do the words go in?
Before you think you’re the only sufferer, survey the painful ends to which others have purportedly gone. Every writer has his or her own tools and tricks for filling that taunting, catch-me-if-you-can page:
The point, I suppose, is that writers are freaks. In the agency world, too, we writers will stop at nothing and entertain just about any craziness if there’s a chance it might help us turn our six words into copy that makes the reader feel something and connect with our clients’ brands.
Now, I can’t cop to blindfolds or rotten apples, but I do care just as deeply about getting it right—for our clients, their customers, and for myself. Here are a few of the strategies I will call on when in need of a bit of help moving the words around:
No matter which strategy is used, it eventually comes down to exactly what Jack London said of the process: “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.”
Marketing isn’t inspiration in itself. Creative copywriters need to call upon the muses to find that true connection between people and brands.
Photo by Aaron Burden
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