Thursday, 9pm on the dot
“Oh, jeez, he’s not back again, is he?”
Quick post tonight.
Gonna cover something I get asked about a LOT by aspiring copywriters.
Let me know if ya got questions.
Here’s the story: When I first started my freelance career, I hit upon the idea of adopting a “writer” personality.
I had to — my slacker personality of the time wasn’t gonna cut it. It would, in fact, murder any shot I had at success.
I didn’t need much encouragement to mess with alternative personalities. As a kid, we experimented daily with “being” someon else — an astronaut, a vampire hunter, a bug scientist guy (we dug up anthills with glee and fed flies to spiders), a doomed cavalry officer, a neighborhood vandal (did that a lot), a detective, and so on.
We went hog-wild, too, going as deep as possible (as kids) into the personality traits we imagined a fearless vampire hunter would actually possess.
So we were little actors. (When we weren’t vandalizing shit.)
I decided to spend some time developing this “writer” character I would play, because the consequences were serious. Deadlines, writing to get results, meeting client expectations… it wasn’t playtime anymore.
I didn’t go into any kind of schizophrenic break, or develop a different speaking style… no, wait, I DID work on my voice on the phone, so I would sound more “professional”.
Mostly, though, I had a uniform I put on. Dirty sweats, and a weird hat. The outfit removed some of the distractions around me, cuz no way was I gonna go outside my bedroom-office looking like a street casualty.
That part of the personality — the dressing in a uniform, and having a special “writer’s” hat — is what causes some younger writers to go “A ha!” It’s a physical way to nurture a mindset you want.
And really, it wasn’t much different than the horrible “uniform” I’d worn while flailing about in the corporate womb: Slacks, uncomfortable shoes, tie.
Dress codes was how The Man kept you down.
But there’s more to the story here.
I’d forgotten about this next part… mostly because I was kinda embarrassed by it.
The ragged sweats and the special hat (a floppy Sherlock Holmes affair) are a funny detail. People “get” it.
The other day I was doing some preliminary prep work on on a presentation my buddy Frank Kern asked me to do at his Mass Control event.
And, while coming up with a title for the presentation… I had this shivering memory burst into my brain.
I thought I’d killed and buried that guy decades ago, deep in the dark part of my head where you do that kinda thing.
Here was the good doctor, triumphantly re-entering my consciousness with all the old swagger and bluster completely intact. Not a trace of having been locked away for twenty years.
Allow me to introduce y’all: Dr. Smooth was the name of the character I first adopted while honing the public persona of my new professional career.
Now, I realize this effort at transformation is something NLP uses all the time — by reframing the situation.
I was a broke loser with low self-esteem… taking the biggest risk of my life, and needing to go out and BE a professional writer (when I’d never even met one before).
I needed to get into the mindset of a writer who created killer ads from nothing, with a gun to the head. I needed the strength of a character more worldly than I was at the time.
Why go through all this trouble?
Because I knew, instinctively, that approaching potential clients as a loser wasn’t gonna cut it… so I would sit in the parking lot before every first meeting… and shake myself like a dog.
And take a deep breath…
… and summon Dr. Smooth.
It worked, too.
However, I was so self-conscious about the name, I shuffled the good doctor off to the shadows early in the first few months of my career.
He did his job well. I learned the lessons he had for me so quickly, they became ingrained. It was probably self-confidence that I needed the most… and after my first couple of successes (which, fortunately, happened right away), I realized I actually had the chops to do the jobs I was offered, and do them at a high level of competance. (Remember — I’d sped-read half the Torrance Municipal Library’s section on biz just to get “even” with what I thought was a very savvy business world. I was shocked to discover this little cramming exercise actually put me light years ahead of everyone else — because almost none of the agency honchos, or any of the writers, had bothered much with educating themselves about advertising. They just winged it.)
I better explain: He is not a “slick” kinda guy.
The name was forced on me by my subconscious. I didn’t pick it — he arrived in my head, fully formed and ready to get to work.
he wasn’t “smooth” like James Bond is smooth. He’s not a playboy type, dressed to kill and suave and sexualized.
He was, instead, “smooth” as in understanding how to move like a cat through the world. Adaptable to every situation, self-confident with survival skills, and funny.
But not “cool” like folks today regard the term.
I imagined him as more of a warm knife (me) slicing easily through butter (the world).
So, where I was socially clumsy, too cynical, and too quick with inside jokes… Dr. Smooth was friendly, optimistic, thoroughly enjoyed life, and let other people in on all humor.
I wish I’d met the doc about fifteen years earlier, as a surly youth… but I was glad he stopped by when he did, at least.
And, because I was terrified someone would discover I secretly went into “Dr. Smooth mode” during professional meetings, I exiled him as soon as I’d learned the lessons and internalized the friendly-yet-feisty outlook.
Why he’s back now, I have no clue.
But I’m not at all embarrassed anymore about him. I’m actually happy to see him, in fact.
In the intervening years, I met multiple professionals who had similar “alter egos”. Gary Halbert had Dr. Feingold (who he frequently registered as in hotels), a notorious character who loved to screw with people’s heads. For example.
And while working out of Hollywood, I met many actors who had a smidgen of fame from some “cool” character they’d played… and they were trapped. Because in real life, they were anything but cool… they desperately needed lines, written by someone else, to keep the perception of casual hipness alive. (And you wonder why actors drink?)
Some day, I’m gonna go off on the taming of the word “cool” (which has been co-opted by fashionistas, who think “looking” cool is what it’s all about… a direct 180-degree opposite meaning the “cool cat” beatniks meant originally with the term).
But not today.
I just want to share this old embarrassment with everyone.
Because of Dr. Smooth, I was able to crawl out of my self-respect hole and move forward aggressively in the world. He did his job of bucking me up so I wouldn’t walk into client offices in an anxious swoon. He did his job, and accepted exile gracefully.
Because I could soon let my work talk for me. That’s a good place to be. That’s where you wanna aim.
I may keep the dude around awhile, though. I know enough about psychology to realize there are no accidents in life.
He’s wandered back for a reason.
I don’t need the confidence boost.
But maybe… maybe I’ve been taking myself a little too seriously lately, or something.
A slightly goofy, yet smoothly optimistic and self-assured tweak to my fundamental attitude might be needed.
I love life. When you’re awake, it’s a never-ending adventure.
Know what I mean?
a.k.a “Dr. Smooth”
P.S. One last thing — the website for that hot interactive workshop I’m hosting in San Francisco on May 2-4 is up and purring.
We’re doing something VERY different here… and you’re gonna enjoy checking it out.
You should visit this link as soon as you can:
There are a bunch of free video clips, and a very intriguing offer (with bonuses!) (unless they’ve all been snapped up already) that will definitely take you out of your normal “box”.
Things are happening fast. Pop over there now, and let me know what you think.
Ciao, mon ami.
P.P.S. The comments section was down last night — sorry if you tried to post one and got denied. Try again.
It’s been a heavy week of tech glitches…
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Just wanted to say this post reminds me of that movie “Over The Top” with Sylvester Stallone. He’d turn his hat backwards, and all of a sudden he’d be “in the zone” and with a burst of strength, would slam the other guys’s hand down on the table. I’ve heard John talk about “writing clothes” before, and I too have a hat I wear when I sit down to write. Helps me get down to business.
Remember when Latka on “Taxi” would turn into “Vic Ferrari”?
Conjured up to be hip, slick and cool in all situations.
I believe you are saying Dr. Smooth has a large dose of wisdom
and savvy injected into the 2008 version of the persona.
Can I call ya “Doc” now?
Nahhhh, better not!
Thanks for the “peek under the hood”!
Ha ha ha ha ha!
John, I gave my sub-conscious the task of thinking about the
persona I should take on, based on this blog post.
You’ll never believe what it just came up with (when I was
working on something else completely)…
Certainly this is worth a laugh.
After about a day of deliberation… my subconscious said…
I have the ghost of sir Gary Halbert, sitting on my shoulder,
whispering advice in my ear!
I don’t know yet if that’ll help (on the copywriting side, it
probably will) or hurt (speaking as frankly as Gary without
the years of experience could put me in hot water with
clients very quickly)!
Anyways — I really appreciate the post. I think this way of
stepping back from ourselves helps us act despite fear,
and really achieve greater things in life.
I certainly take myself too seriously on a daily basis.
Thanks for this strategy for doing that a little less often.