Friday, November 2, 2012

Learning to write.

There are many ways to become a writer, many ways to become an advertising copywriter, many things you can do to learn your trade and then your craft.

For my money, the best way however is to read everything that you can put your hands on. I mean, really read. Not just for meaning. Not just when it's short. Not just when there's nothing on the tube. I mean really read. And study what other writers have done.

Naturally there may be other ways to become a writer than to become a reader. But for the life of me, I haven't found any. I'm sure there are writers out there who don't read. I'm sure I work with some of them. And maybe they have secrets and techniques that are so phantasmagorical I can't even begin to apprehend them. That's fine. I, however, I will stick to my knitting and do things the way I have since I was knee high to a cockroach.

When I was young in the business, I worked at an agency where I did not have an abundance of respect for the creative directors. They were nice enough men but I didn't think they had the capacity for teaching me how to write, and I wanted to learn. Fortunately, the agency was just six long blocks from the Strand Book Store (18 miles of books.) Then as now the Strand sold mostly used books and I was able to pick up old award annuals for pennies on the dollar. I read every ad. Not just the headlines, the copy as well.

Over the years I've bought literally hundreds of awards annuals. I still do. And I still read what award winning writers write.

Some weeks ago I mentioned that I read somewhere that someone had remarked that Joseph Mitchell's "Execution," a short newspaper account of the electrocution of three convicted murderers, was one of the best pieces of writing he had ever read. Who wouldn't be intrigued by such praise. So I found a book edited by Harold Schechter called "True Crime: An American Anthology," that had "Execution" in it.

Then I also read Meyer Berger's Pulitzer-Prize-winning reportage "Veteran Kills 12 in Mad Rampage on Camden Street." This morning I picked up the volume again and read exactly one sentence by Damon Runyon, one of my favorite writers.

I read just one sentence and was so blown away by it that I had to put the book down and write this post. What I read was from a piece Runyon wrote in 1927 called "The Eternal Blonde." It takes a stronger man than I to resist a title like that.

Anyway, here's the sentence: "A chilly looking blonde with frosty eyes and one of those marble, you-bet-you-will chins, and an inert, scare-drunk fellow that you couldn't miss among any hundred men as a dead set-up for a blonde, or the shell game, or maybe a gold brick."

Here's a second and third sentence: "Mrs. Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray are on trial in the huge weatherbeaten old court house of Queens County in Long Island City, just across the river from the roar of New York, for what might be called for want of a better name, The Dumbbell Murder. It was so dumb."

I don't know about you.

But those sentences stopped me in my tracks.

I wish I could write like that.



But the first sentence is missing a verb.

george tannenbaum said...

I noticed that too. I forgave it because of this: " of those marble, you-bet-you-will chins..."

Tore Claesson said...

I think what you write applies to designers and art directors as well. Include clients and planners and account people and we may be getting somewhere.

dave trott said...

I read a sentence that stopped me in my tracks yesterday.
It was the last line of the chapter:
"Just then the alto sax jumped on the tune's tailgate for a long slow ride."

Justinmtdp said...

I think what you write applies to designers and art directors as well. Include clients and planners and account people and we may be getting somewhere.

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