When you’ve spent your career as a copywriter — one who writes advertising — there are five small words you’ve come to despise: “I’m not a writer, but …” Whether they are uttered by an account person (reaction: snarl), an art director (reaction: hmmm…) or a client (reaction: sure, I’d love to have your input followed by snarl), those words really mean, “Allow me to do your job for you.” And, on particularly rotten days, “What’s so hard about what you do? I can do that. See?”
On behalf of all of us who do this for a living, yes, we do see. We see that you’ve come up with a headline or a product name a couple of times in your career. We also see that we come up with these things on a daily, if not hourly, basis for years and years.
Imagine the “I’m not a (fill in the blank), but …” attitude toward other professions.
Said to a neurosurgeon: “It’s not like it’s brain surgery.” In fact, that’s exactly what it is.
Said to a lawyer: “I could do what you do. I love to argue.” Right. But do you know how to argue in a way that’s intelligent and based in law? (Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah is not a defense.)
Said to a working actor: “Oh, so you’re just doing commercials until you become an actor?” No, I’m doing commercials because I am an actor. Right now, to be polite, I’m acting like you’re not an idiot — see how convincing I can be?
Said to a professional athlete: “How about a little one on one? I used to toss the ball around in high school.” Seriously? I’m an NBA player sinking buckets to the tune of 12 million dollars a year and you’re an out-of-shape tough guy downing a bucket of fried chicken.
Of course, writing to sell a product or service is not like saving a life, arguing before the Supreme Court, winning an Oscar, or scoring a three-pointer at the buzzer to win game 7 of the NBA finals.
What it is, though, is a very sharply honed talent, an ability to find words that others cannot, an incredibly good ear, a sense of drama, and a sense of humor. It is its own kind of brilliance.
It’s being write-handed.
© 2014 Claudia Grossman