Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wruminations on writing.

There are two conflicting thoughts or stories I hold in my head by writers, about writers. I learned them from two of my favorite writers and I think about them a fair amount. Mostly because I think they pertain to me. And because they’re more than a little bit contradictory.

Mr. Liebling in situ at The New Yorker. Almost no one wrote faster.
The first comes from a boast made by the great New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling. Adam Gopnik called A. J. Liebling’s “The Earl of Louisiana” the “best single piece ever to appear in [the New Yorker.”] Liebling said, I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and I can write better than anyone who can write faster.”

There are times in the agency world today where the need for speed is paramount. Like every day. In fact my two cents says, there’s too much talk in agencies and not enough words on a page. Words on a page are important. They’re how ideas get communicated. They’re how people see progress. They’re how we make things.

I guess you could say something like an aphorism: an ounce of copy is worth a pound—or a ton—of bs.

I pride myself of course on being a bit of a craftsman. I grew up in the Ogilvy tradition that says, “every word of the copy must count.” So you have to tinker and hone what you’re doing. No matter how fast or how good you are.

The other bit of writing thinking comes from America’s greatest historian, Robert Caro. I’ve written about Caro a lot. I think about his advice (advice I wish more clients and agencies took) “Time equals truth.”

If you want to create something ownable and true to a brand, it takes time to discover its core and truth. If you don’t take that time, your words, like most advertising words, will be bland and generic. They’ll be words you can apply to nearly any client for nearly any product. The apotheosis of such crap was created for BMW a few years or decades ago when they abandoned “The Ultimate Driving Machine” for “Joy.” The first was theirs. The latter was Hallmark.

Caro tells a story about a professor he had while he attended Princeton, R.P. Blackmur.

Caro as in slow. He plots everything before he writes a word.

In Caro’s words, “we met to discuss a short story I had written in his creative writing course at Princeton. We had to write a short story every two weeks, and I was always doing mine at the very last minute…Yet Professor Blackmur was, as I recall, complimentary about my work, and I thought I was fooling him about the amount of preparation and effort I had put into it.

At that final meeting, however, after first saying something generous about my writing, he added: “But you’re never going to achieve what you want to, Mr. Caro, if you don’t stop thinking with your fingers.”

“Thinking with your fingers…No real thought, just writing— because writing was so easy. Certainly never thinking anything all the way through.”

This is exactly what scares me when I am forced to “think” as fast as I can type. (And I’m forced to do that often.)

No matter how many ads you’ve written, regardless of having written over one-million words on this blog, writing, thinking, being interesting takes time. No matter how experienced you are. Good takes time. As my old man used to say, “I can’t turn it on and off like a faucet.”

The machinization of creativity in the modern agency—the dismissal and disregard and lack of respect for craft, is the great equalizer. Most everything suck.

We are forced, too often, to "think with our fingers."

So too often, that knocks everything down. Nearly everything is generic. Nearly everything “fits your lifestyle.”

Ack ack ack.

Blah blah blah blah.

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