Miserable Genius

God, I love this blog.

I’m sitting here in the midst of four crushing deadlines, with projects tumbling around me like the walls of Jericho and a plumbing problem in the kitchen that’s warping the floorboards… and I notice a new comment on the last entry.

“Steve” from the UK wants to know why “most American copywriting guru’s are bad tempered, stroppy and miserable. Is it because of your ages?”

He’s worried, he says, because he’s about to turn 48.

Well, here’s my answer:

First, what the hell does “stroppy” mean? Should I be insulted?

He’s right, though (more or less) about the bad tempered thing.

But we have an excuse. If we come across as gruff and irritable sometimes, it‚Äôs mostly because teaching requires the kind of patience we never received ourselves, coming up the ranks. I‚Äôve had mentors throw manuscripts back at me… I‚Äôve had yelling matches with pig-headed clients who thought they knew better (they didn‚Äôt)… and while I‚Äôve never missed a deadline, I have encountered nightmarish ‚Äúreal world‚Äù problems with projects where patience had no place.

When I talk about the “front line trenches of advertising”, it’s not just a metaphor.

With printing presses starting to roll, hard drives crash-diving with your files onboard (a-ooga, a-ooga), people flaking out right and left, and more money on the line than you’ve got in the bank… well, anybody standing around calm and relaxed just doesn’t quite grasp the reality of the situation.

Veteran ad honchos have usually had the idealism knocked out of them long ago.

Still, as teachers, it’s our job to be patient. Even if we have to grit our teeth doing it. The fact we’re often helping clueless twenty-somethings get filthy rich with shortcuts we never enjoyed ourselves might contribute to our general attitude, however.

Behind the scenes, my friends Halbert and Kennedy are loose and hilarious. Though we do enjoy a harder-edged, “M*A*S*H”-style sense of humor that can shock the uninitiated. We’d go crazy if we took this job too seriously.

Gotta go. The plumber’s on overtime, and making me nervous the way he’s frowning at the wall behind the fridge…

John Carlton

P.S. to “Steve”: Don‚Äôt sweat 48. It‚Äôs fifty that‚Äôll kill you.

Party on, dude.

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  • ken calhoun says:

    Exactly. As someone (Sean Connery?) once said.. “I don’t suffer fools gladly”…

    I’ve little patience with adults behaving like kids in forums, casting flames on the ‘net that they’d never say face to face.

    I respect straight-shooters that cut to the quick of it, and know their stuff cold. The pros.

    The rest, can blow me.



  • ken oneill says:


    As one of the twenty somethings who read your blog. read gary halbert’s letter. Have most of the books and a few of the $200 programs from Dan Kennedy. I don’t think you come off as too grumpy. I personaly prefer hearing things as they are. Opposed to how people think they should be .

    I would be as grumpy as you guys . If i had to travel half as much. the airline like to make it big news when they make serice worse. then add Dealing with clients. And trying not to break some law while serving clients .

    The secret i am trying to learn from you guys. Is how can i start out and get away with being gritty while developing the goods. I am an introvert because when i speak i speak bluntly .

    By the way… this blog is great never a let down reading it.


  • andy says:

    You call that being grumpy? I’d been a professional musician up until a few years ago. You want grumpy, start playing with older guys than you when your 18, (and their in there 30s), and you’ll get grumpy every time you play one bad note. And it will happen in front of an audience of anywhere from 5 to 500 people… or more! Having a critique from one person about something you wrote that wasn’t so great, that’s like getting a grumpy attack on the easy side. Everybody has to take their lumps one way or another, and it’s better to get them up front than later when you think you know what you’re doing. And what better way to get them than from somebody you respect for their abilities. Now that’s the real way to learn.

    Andy, up and comer

  • Martin says:

    Stroppy. We use this word a lot, back here in civilisation. Just means bolshy or prone to complaining loudly. Actually it’s probably a colloquialization of ‘obstreperous’.
    An unfair attribution anyway!

  • So does that mean if we’re grumpy, stroppy (like that word even though I’m an American) and miserable at 32 that we’ll be fantastic teachers and copywriters ahead of our time?

    (Of course other cultures see old, stroppy farts as wise and knowledgeable teachers to be revered and respected.)

    Anyway, made my day… already ahead of the game and all that for my age.


  • Martin says:

    April. It looks to me like my compatriate, John, and, secondarily, I, have introduced a wonderfully useful Britishism into the American intellegensia that is the copywriting frat. This may be my greatest (shared) achievement. – Martin Williams – 41 on 30 June.

  • dmh says:

    Hmmm… I think you showed solid restraint even handling such a comment that reeked of superiority.

    Damn stroppy-ass Brits.

    They’re too busy whining and calling other people ‘stroppy” to have even a split-second of insight into reality, even by the age of 48.

    Ok, maybe not all of the British (but at least that guy from the last post).

    And having seen you (and some other guys) work at a conference, all I have is kudos for your general patience.

    So many attendees seem to think that you should not only wipe their butts for them, but whilst you’re there just magically fill-up their bank account with a lazy-million just because they paid to be at a seminar.

    I don’t you know how you guys do it.

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