“Oops, I did it again…” (Britney, God love her…)
I’m on a roll here, grabbing criminally-ignored posts from the blog archives…
… and re-posting them prominently, so you criminally ignore them no longer. With a few minor edits, of course, tailoring the prose to fit today’s quirky needs for advice. (Hey, you don’t fit into your old high school jeans anymore, either, you know.)
Here, we have another dangerously-tasty post from not too long ago… which, I believe, requires no explanation other than to say it’s some serious insight into the writer’s brain.
You do NOT want to venture into this quagmire without a guide. Which is what I’ve written here — a short “guide to the writer’s mind”.
Not exactly a hot Disneyland ride, but if you’re in business it’s some wicked-valuable info.
So, indulge, and enjoy (if you dare):
I’m gonna need your feedback on this.
See, I’ve always been a wave or two out of the mainstream… and that’s actually helped me be a better business dude, because this outsider status forces me to pay extra attention to what’s going on (so I can understand who I’m writing my ads to).
This extra focus means I’ve never taken anything for granted — especially not those weird emotional/rational triggers firing off in a prospect’s head while I’m wooing him on a sale.
And trust me on this: Most folks out there truly have some WEIRD shit going on in their heads, most of the time.
It can get spooky, climbing into the psyche of your market.
Still, though, it is, ultimately, exquisite fun. This gig as a professional writer — figuring out how to get people’s attention, influencing decisions that will change their lives in profound ways, and weaving stories and glory out of blank pages — can be more invigorating than leaping off Half Dome with a tiny parachute.
I’m sure you don’t believe me. Few do on this matter.
But the raw truth is… good copywriters work in the deep grooves of Real Life, where it’s strange and dangerous and… well, fun.
At the next seminar you go to, check out the bar in the hotel. You’ll find the best writers in a gaggle near the back of the room, rolling on the floor and holding their bellies from laughing so hard.
What’s so funny? Everything.
Writers are like M*A*S*H doctors on the front lines — so deep in the mire of human existence, they need to laugh to keep from going mad. Because the world is one batshit-crazy joint…
… and they are neck-deep in it, getting up-close-and-personal with the insane stuff that decent folks try their best to ignore.
To an observer’s eyes, writers can seem irrepairably neurotic. And share a tear for the spouse: For both the male and female of the species “Writer Erectus”, it takes a super-smart, confident, and wry partner to keep a relationship going. There’s no such thing as “settling into a rut” when half the marriage is a writer.
You better have the chops to deal with serious “wild and crazy” intellectual (and, sometimes, physical) acrobatics. It might help to think about writers as being semi-tame monkeys, itching to revert to chandelier-swinging at the slightest provocation.
Except, of course, for those uncomfortably looooooong periods where the writer is staring off into space, or so transfixed by the Word document in front of him that you almost want to check for a pulse to make sure he hasn’t left the corporeal realm entirely.
From deep good fun, to deep near-comatose thinking.
It’s a roller coaster, trying to befriend, live or work with one.
Which may be why writers seldom get any respect.
Which also may be why most of my closest friends and confidants… are also writers. We “get” each other.
We don’t have to explain why we consider writing so much… fun.
Even when it’s painful.
Like I said… we’re weird. Not in step with the rest of the world.
And yet… we MUST connect with the rest of the world, to be able to write sales copy. So we become amateur shrinks, rookie hypnotists, gluttons for inside info… and world-class students of human behavior.
Normal people can’t be bothered with observing other humans closely. Too much trouble, and it’s hard, anyway.
Better to just adopt a convenient world view — “us” and “them” — and be done with it. Be a little loving, a little hating, do business, mow the lawn and take your kids to church. Hope for the best, fear the unexpected, kill all messengers with bad tidings.
Writers, however, will shrivel and die when forced to be “normal”.
Screw that. We read what we like (even if it’s nasty and especially if it’s prohibited)… we think bizarro thoughts that would bring normal people to their knees in horror… we sing out loud and fall hopelessly in love… and we don’t notice the sun setting — we observe the dappled thunderheads huddled over frozen mountains, swallowing the blazing orb hungrily, giddy for the starry onrush of night.
So, yeah. Fun, with life, with words, with living as deep and fearlessly as possible… if the gig wasn’t rife with these things, most of us would be doing something else.
Well, for most of history, scribes were slaves. Then (big upgrade) they were groveling servants of the ruling class — never equal, never respected much.
Then — when the novel appeared in the early 19th century — a funny thing happened: Writers started earning money for their efforts.
And, sometimes, the wealth accumulated. Mark Twain was a rich and respected world-traveler. Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Alexander Dumas used their notoriety as story-crafters to rise above their normal “station” in life.
By the time direct response advertising became a thriving industry (early twentieth century), the utter importance of writers made them minor rock stars among advertisers.
Now, with the global reach of the Web, a guy who learns to write well — to communicate, persuade, and close the deal — will have to struggle NOT be have piles of money thrown his way.
… and yet, as my friend Rich Schefren observed in a recent chat: “John, it’s ironic that you — the guy who helped so many of us get our start in marketing and using words to sell — seem perpetually trapped in what is viewed as the most UN-SEXY part of the business world.”
And he’s right.
I hate him for pointing it out… but he’s right.
It’s probably part of the appeal that keeps me in the game. I thrive on being an “outsider”. I get itchy whenever I’m too “accepted”, or feel myself slipping into the mainstream. Don’t like it. Will do something anti-social to break rapport, and stir shit up.
If my slovenly little corner of the biz world ever truly became “sexy” enough to gain total mainstream acceptance, in fact… my head would implode.
And bats would fly out, and little tiny monsters would scrabble from the steaming wreck of my neck, where just a wee dangling smidgen of ape-brain was left, snarling and spitting…
Professional ad writing is not sexy. (With all due exceptions for Don Draper in “Mad Men”.)
It’s not raiding pension funds for profit… it’s not gaming the stock market for windfalls… it’s not gory entertainment like cage fighting… and it’s not sexy like the “magic” of launches and social networking scams and posting funny YouTube shit is sexy.
The irony kills me, every day.
In Hollywood, moguls gnash their teeth and directors consult astrologers while investors shovel money at box-office-boosting stars in a never-ending attempt to make their movies “huge hits”.
They do everything, in fact, except respect the ONE thing that truly matters: The fucking script.
You know — what the WRITERS produce.
Same with business. I teach freelancers to walk into a client’s office and OWN the situation. Charge a gazillion bucks (payable immediately), and make the client like it. Set cushy deadlines that please you, order folks around, and generally run things like an asshole.
Why? Because you’ve got to smack clients upside the head like that — and sometimes BE an asshole — to get the respect you require to do a good job.
Because while your skills at writing are the FOUNDATION of success in every single project out there… most clients refuse to admit it.
This hard-core “own the joint” attitude is 180-degrees opposite of how most freelancers go about dealing with clients. They crawl into a new client’s office on their knees, begging to be hurt and whipped and abused. They accept “vendor” status, and get paid on 60-day invoices. They allow their best stuff to be trampled and rewritten and shat on by lesser mortals… because they’re closer to the old slave scribes than to the Web millionaires using copy to get rich.
You want sexy?
How about having fun and making money.
You know — like the folks who bother to learn the deep, dark art of viciously-effective copywriting.
Okay, I know there are lots of members of the opposite sex who realize how super-bad-thexy writers truly are. Most of the writers I know aren’t widely appreciated in the biological pool, but within certain groups they are lust-candy. To a certain part of the population, brains being used for bad behavior… just so we have a good story to write about later… is the sexiest thing going.
But in the broader scheme of things, writers are always going to be outcasts.
Which brings me back to that table in the back of the bar at the seminar.
Who cares about respect, when you get to hang out with the smartest, funniest, most interesting folks in the room all the time?
I like the money that arrives from knowing how to write. I love the fun that comes with seeing the world differently than almost everyone else.
And I’ll just continue to be ironically pleased with a sexiness that only I and a few others seem to see.
It’s a very secret club. You earn admission only by embracing the craft, and being demanding of yourself in getting really, really good.
For those of us in the back of the room, it’s the ONLY club worth being in. We’d belong even if the money wasn’t stupid-huge.
To the writers out there: Can I get some testimony? How do you guys experience the frustration of not being understood, of working alone so much of the time, of owning a brain that goes to amazing places other people can’t even dream about?
I know that none of you would give up your hard-won chops as a writer, not for all the money in the world. We hold all the true power in life, and in the culture. Pen mightier than the sword and all that.
And in business, too — it’s the writer who makes the magic happen.
Still, what do you guys think? Am I being too dramatic here? Not dramatic enough?
Love to hear from y’all…
P.S. Two last thoughts:
Thought #1. As always, if you crave knowing what writers know about the world and about business…
… just click here to see what’s available through the Simple Writing System. That’s your first step — get the inside scoop, and learn the basics of quickly becoming the best writer you’re capable of becoming. (Plus the sneaky advanced-yet-simple stuff filling this system that can make you ridiculously-good, in case you decide to go pro).
That’s your ticket to the club, so to speak.
Thought #2. And if you’re already a pro writer, stay tuned…
… cuz we’re gonna revamp the infamous “Freelance Manual” soon. Which is all about the specifics of living the good life as a freelance copywriter: Finding and managing clients… getting paid the big bucks… and grabbing your seat at the head of the Feast Of Life, where the adventures are fast and furious.
It’ll all be available soon. Hang tight…