Friday, April 5, 2019

To writers. (The rare ones who write.)

Two-time Pulitzer-prize-winner, Robert A. Caro. One of my writing heroes.

There’s a small group of people in my life who you’d have to say are more or less unusual. We’re waiting, like other people await the big game or a big promotion, for the publication of Robert Caro’s next book.

It’s called “Working,” and it’s slated to come out in less than a week. Most of us have read excerpts in “The New Yorker.” Most of us, for that matter, have read the 3,500 pages Caro’s already written on Lyndon Johnson (we’re still waiting for his final volume on LBJ) and his 1,200 or so pages on Robert Moses.  

For all the reading I do, I probably make my way through fifty books a year, Robert Caro remains at the top of my personal Pantheon. He’s not just the best. He’s the best by a long measure. In fact, over the next three weeks, I’ll be going to two different seminars to hear him talk about writing. It’s as close as you can get in our modern world to attending Aristotle’s Lyceum. (It sure beats Trump University.)

Just now, as the publicity machine around Caro’s new book kicks into high-gear, I tripped over an article in the all-but-obsolete “Time Magazine.” I used to read Time back in college. The last time I saw it, in a doctor’s office some months ago, I said to myself, I remember Time from before it was a kids’ magazine.

In any event, Time's article on Caro was pretty good. Not dumbed-down to align with o tempore, o mores, and well-worth reading.

I shared it with a few of my writing friends at the agency—three of the best writers in the business.

Years ago when I worked for Advertising Hall-of-Famer Mike Tesch, I read an article about him in an exalted trade magazine, if that's not an oxymoron.

I remember one line from it in particular. “Mike believes that there’s no marketing problem that can’t be solved by a great television spot.”

I think one of the characteristics that makes good writers good—whether they’re in advertising or not—is that they believe that through their ideas and their words they can solve any problem, simple or complicated.

In short, they believe they can make a difference. To clients. To people. To business. To themselves.

One of those aforementioned friends just sent me back a note, pulling a quotation from the Time Magazine article. “Find out how things work and explain them to people.”

I scribbled a note back, citing another bit of the Time article, when someone observing Caro work said to him, “Do you know you sat at your desk for three hours without moving? I’ve never seen anyone concentrate like you.” 

I added to that another bit of wisdom I learned from reading Caro, three simple words.

“Time equals truth.”

If you put those thoughts together, you’ll get, I think, to the special, important, unmatched value good writers and good writing can bring to an advertiser and an advertising agency.

1.           We know how to concentrate. We know how to keep turning pages and how to uncover things others may miss.

2.           We know how to dig and find out how things work and then explain them to people.

3.           We know that time equals truth. We might take six months to describe one-mile of highway. In other words, we take the time to tell the truth.

There’s a lot of bushwa in our world today. People will spew high-falutin’ nonsense like engagement, targeting, re-targeting and, probably, re-re-re-re-targeting. They’ll show you heatmaps that track eyeballs. They'll call any blurt, any piece of digital flotsam, content. Other people will tell you that ‘no one reads anymore.'

They’ll do everything but one thing:

Make something interesting, something smart, something moving, something human.

Something true.

That’s what writers do.

BTW, if all this blather about Caro has made you at all curious, but you’re nervous about leaping into a thousand-page book, in 2013—the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy—Caro extracted 56-pages from volume four of his LBJ opus, “The Passage of Power.” 

Dallas, November 22, 1963” will give you a taste of Caro. And a living, breathing sense of an American tragedy. It will take you about two-hours to read.

You’ll be richer for it.

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