Sex, Fun, Money, aaaaaaaand… More Sex

Monday, 9:27pm
Reno, NV
“Things will have to get more clear before I can even say I’m confused…”


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 I have 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 — 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 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 that gaggle near the back of the room, rolling on the floor and holding their bellies from laughing so hard.

Neurotic, sure. 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” shit.

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 ugly thinking.

It’s a roller coaster, trying to live 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. Too much trouble, and it’s hard, anyway. Better to just adopt a convenient world view — “us” and “them” — and be done with it. Do 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 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 thoughts that would bring normal peole to their knees in horror, and we don’t notice the sun setting — we observe the dappled thunderheads huddled over frozen mountains, swallowing the blazing orb hungrily, eager 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.

And money?

Well, for most of history, scribes were slaves. Then servants of the ruling class — but 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 reach of the Web, a guy who learns to write well — to communicate, persuade, and woo — will have to struggle NOT be become rich.

And yet…

… 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 like 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 scrabble from the steaming wreck of my neck, where just a wee smidgen of ape-brain was left, snarling and spitting…

Writing is not sexy.

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 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” 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 BE an asshole — to get the respect you require to do a good job.

Because your skills at writing are the FOUNDATION of success in every single project out there.

This hard-core attitude is 180-degrees opposite of how most freelancers do it. 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.

In Hollywood, the only writers who get respect are those who direct their own stuff, like Tarantino and Rodriguez. (Not sure what to do with Stephen King here, though — he defies the rule by writing great novels, and then directing really bad movies. Guy’s missing something.)

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 lusted after, 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 of knowing how to write. I love the fun.

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 merely 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.

And in business, too.

Still, what do you guys think? Am I being too dramatic here? Not dramatic enough?

Why do people — especially people in business who really should know better — still regard writers as aliens?

Love to hear from y’all…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Hey — here’s something that might be relevant to what I just posted.

My partner Stan and I have just now nailed down the date and place of that shocking “interactive brain-training” workshop I’ve been obsessing on for a year.

Date: May 2nd through May 4th (that’s Friday to Sunday, 3 full days).

Place: The best-situated hotel in central San Francisco, California. (Near Chinatown and the yummiest dim sum in the country… next to the notorious North Beach haunts of Kerouac and the Grateful Dead… a quick downhill jaunt to the best “eye candy” strolls along the Bay… and more.)

And in case your incoming data on this interactive, hands-on workshop has been hazy… I’ll be sending more info to people on my list in a day or two. Certainly, keep your eyes open this Wednesday for further details.

And if you’re NOT on any of my lists, for God’s sake sign up here on the blog right NOW.

Just leave your name and email in the box up in the right corner here. You can get OFF this list anytime you want.

But, for now, you really want to hear what’s going on.

We’re doing something completely unique with this workshop… and I want the world to know it’s my partner Stan’s fault if it goes awry. Just remember that.

Seriously — whether you decide to try to attend or not, you have GOT to see how we’re letting people suggest their OWN fee for getting in…

Oh, I can feel the buzz already…

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  • Paul Myers says:


    Gotta tell you,l I found myself nodding my head and then laughing most of the way through this. I don’t think you went overboard at all. If anything, it’s uncharacteristically understated.

    Well… for you. 😉

    Writers with any experience tend to be pains in the ass to deal with, because we see all the “sneaky” shit that people try and get over. Even when they don’t know they’re doing it, or why. Then, instead of getting mad, we just laugh about it, which freaks them out even more.

    And good writers rarely have dull friends. They usually surround themselves with scary smart people, because they’re so easily bored by the same old stuff. 3 minutes of, “Did you hear about Jane down the street?,” and I’m excusing myself for something less painful. (Maybe I could argue with that big drunk over there about which silicone-based life-form ought to appear on the next cover of Maxim…)

    I suspect your approach to “mastering” clients works well for a lot of people. Clients can be amazingly confused about what they’re doing. Personally, I fired all of mine years ago (some more politely than others), and started doing my own stuff.

    This way, I only have one pain in the ass client to deal with.

    As far as being understood… It’s more fun making sure you understand the other guy (or gal). They’re completely unused to it.

    Besides, when I do something odd that people don’t understand, I only ever need a 3-word explanation: “I’m a writer.”

    Works every time.


  • Ken Calhoun says:

    Right, John – it’s being a member of a special, widely misunderstood group that “writers” belong to… and that’s fun in it’s own way.

    Like Paul, I also fired all my clients years ago (nearly 10 now!) and it was the best thing to ever happen. Although I had the ego to not get trampled on by clients, I was also difficult and told them the truths of their businesses they often didn’t want to hear, or deal with… which made for uncomfortable “hey you guys the elephant’s in the room, your GM is a tyrannical pain in the butt and He’s why you’re having so many problems in the company” type stuff that legends are made of… at least on the coconut wireless in Hawaii, where my 140 clients were…

    I like your point about us having to be such avid students of human nature, being able to figure out the angst, the behavior drivers, the inside part of people that really gets them fired up, then tapping into it on a visceral gut level in the copy.. it’s tremendous fun to go to a restaurant or a mall and figure out what people are really up to…

    Being an outsider is fine… for some of us, it’s better that way… we can watch the world like a fishbowl, from the outside looking in… then dip our pens in ink and make a splash here, a tidal wave there, and rock the world. It’s a great place to be. Thanks as always for the insights, and examples of the craft of writing, in your words — you’re a master of it.


  • Ian says:

    One of my many perverse pleasures is making jokes about destroying the environment. This quickly brings out the people who take themselves to seriously. And I feel like a Lion who just spotted a wounded gazelle.

    Most recently at a party, I collected six pack rings from people and explained the fine art of tricking spotted owls into wearing them around their necks.

    During “Earth Hour” (turn off your lights for an hour to save energy), I secretly turned on every light a girl worked hard to turn off. She caught me and said “You’re worse than Hitler”.

    I told her real men don’t conserve electricity. We make more of it.

    A verbal tennis match ensued.

    I think I was winning with my strong arguments about thermodynamics and the convertibility of mass and energy.

    Her screaming was drawing an audience. So I try a verbal “drop shot” by saying I really do like the environment. I don’t wash my underwear because even I don’t want that much filth ending up in our drinking water.

    Hurrah! 45 – Love!

    It wasn’t a real victory though.

    More like Federer winning versus a drunk baby.

    Point is…I think one of the reasons writers are “Alien” is because we point out the absurdities of life.

    It’s fun.

    I’m off to club a baby seal. Peace.

  • Jim Kirk says:

    For those of us who can’t make it to Frisco at that time, will the ‘good stuff’ be available later?

    And, yes, you’re right about writers. We HAVE to be writers where we can let our minds and imaginations run wild. We just can’t make it as ‘suits’ and ‘9 to 5ers;’ I’m sure we’ve all tried at some point!

    In addition to sitting at the back table at the bar, we usually, too, end up in the hot tub at 3 a.m. with the (female) Regional VP, and two (female) sales consultants [clothing optional]! And, I’ve never really figured out how this works, they are more intoxicated than we are. Life is a mystery ain’t it?

    Now back to the other side of the brain. Will stuff be available for those of us who can’t make it at that time?

    Keep up the good work,


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