Thursday, February 27, 2014

Writing tips.

It seems odd, but against the powerful tide of our oppressively vulgar, vapid and banal cultural obsession with youth, some higher-ups in my agency are beginning to treat me as the wise old owl of advertising.

I'm not sure I completely like this role. I don't look old, feel old, act old or think old, but I do, I admit have a compendious knowledge of the history of advertising, from I think both the UK and the US, of the last 75 years or so.

Not only did I grow up in the business, having had an Uncle who rose to the top of Philadelphia's largest agency, Weightman Advertising, in just over two decades my father rose from an in-house copywriter at RCA's advertising department in Camden, New Jersey, to Chairman of the Board of Kenyon & Eckhardt, a top 20 agency later merged into Bozell, later merged into Lintas, later merged into Lowe. My father also wrote "the book" on advertising after he left the business and turned to teaching it at Northwestern University in Chicagoland. You can find the book he co-authored here.

Additionally, and I've written about this before, I have always been a denizen of dusty used bookstores, in particular The Strand. There, I picked up every D&AD, One Show and Art Directors annuals I could get my hands on, as well as dozens of Communication Arts Advertising issues. I've studied them like Rabbinic scholars study the Torah. What's more, I practically memorized every ad and every bit of copy in "Remember Those Great Vokswagen Ads?" A book that is hard today to find but well worth the investment.

So today, as I said, higher ups say to me, "George, can you teach young writers to write." They expect that writing skill can be transfused like blood.

I happen to believe writers are made, not born.

You make yourself through study, practice and patience.

I can help.

I can cross out a long word and substitute a short one. I can point out a horrid piece of jargon or a faulty instance of logic. I can excise superfluity and help hone and sharpen. I can even loan people my books.

But if you want to learn to write, there's no shortcut. This isn't Hollywood where a surgeon can perfect in minutes the lifelong work of the gods.

Read everything David Altschiller wrote and Marty Puris and Ed McCabe and Ed Butler and Bob Levenson and David Abbot and Tom Messner and Curvin O'Reilly.

Read Rich Siegel's blog. And Dave Trott's. And Bob Hoffman's.

Read "The New York Times."

Read my writing gods, Joseph Mitchell, AJ Liebling, John O'Hara. Even JD Salinger, for crisssakes.

Find someone whose writing you like, whose style suits you. And copy.

And write every day.

Every fucking day.

Don't get all persnickety about it and make every word perfect. Just write like you're a journalist and the paper's about to go to bed.

Tell a story in 55 words. (That's about the length of a :30.)

Tell a longer one in 80 words. (That seems the acceptable length of copy today.)

But try writing 1000 words on oatmeal and make it interesting.


And write.

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