TALES OF A BUDDING (M)AD MAN II. by James Jackson, Intern
Spending an hour editing a few words doesn’t suit everyone, but it’s necessary. Necessary to get them to buy whatever it is you’re selling. The least interested you think the reader will be in the message; the better the headline has to be.
You want them to feel something. You want them to feel something. You want them to feel something.
That’s what reverberates in my head every time I sit down to write. I know there’s no need to pitch anything unless it will make people feel something. Here’s a little window into my process.
I read somewhere that the creative process involves three different personas: the artist, the editor and the marketer. Each with his/her own purpose to help flesh out the right headline for the right job and the right client.
When a writing job is dropped on my desk, the first of these three personas slips out, slips on the headphones and, without warning, proceeds to spew navy blue ink onto a snow-white page. This preliminary stage, for me at least, is the gathering of keywords, which lets me collect my thoughts. It’s always better when I can sit back and comb through my thoughts with nothing but a pen, a blank page from my WilsonMcGuire notebook and a couple of design magazines for inspiration. When I’m satisfied with the direction I’m going, then the fun starts.
With the page of keywords torn out and design mags front and center, the thesaurus makes its first appearance. Not a physical one — Thesaurus.com. I prefer a pen to a keyboard most of the time, so the second blank page from that notebook signals the first real step in the process. The step I get to fiddle around with words and idioms, pairing a double entendre with a common word or two for the perfect sentence like a chef tweaking recipes to make them his own.
Halfway through my tall iced white mocha, that snow-white page is crammed with barely legible chicken scratch. Half-written sentences now fill the page in every direction possible, wherever they can find room. Some dull, others with potential and a couple I know are winners. It’s all just strings of ideas looped around random thoughts to tie in to the original strategy.
But once you spend so much time on something it starts to invade your thoughts any way or time it sees fit. Those thoughts don’t care whether you’re at work or at home. They just scream, “Write me down! You can’t forget me!” so I oblige, whip out my iPhone (Evernote app) and wait patiently until they can be united with the rest of my thoughts on the page from which I started.
And like that, those keywords that were so feverishly scribbled down have transformed into phrases (or even whole sentences!) that, for now, are free from anyone else’s opinion or judgment.
The next persona that comes along is the editor. This is the first one who has a sense of what the client wants, and straddles the line dividing artist and marketer, looking at the work from a practical standpoint.
This is the stage where neither my words nor my pride are safe. We know we’re vulnerable, but we also know it’s a necessary step to crafting a headline the client is happy with.
“Less is always better. Something can always be cut,” LeAnn says. I’m told this every single time. No word is sheltered from my bloodstained ballpoint. A sentence here, a word there. Hell, I’ve cut whole paragraphs. It’s a pretty excruciating step in the process, seeing the work you’ve toiled over for God knows how long get marked out in the blink of an eye.
Last comes the marketer, the analytical one of the group. This is the one who knows the audience and the client inside and out, what they like and what they hate. This is when, with fresh eyes, I step back from my work and step into the shoes of the client to envision what they’re going to think of what I’ve written.
Then I walk down and take a seat with the audience. I lean over and and ask them, “Does this make you feel something?” “Would you buy what I’m selling?” If the answer to both questions is yes, then great. I’ve done my job. If not, it’s time to start over or at least rethink the path I originally went down.
The process has always been the most exciting part to me. A destination narrows your mind and won’t allow it to open up to the possibility of something new and different. It’s great when a headline gets chosen as something with potential, but the journey of how it came to be fascinates me the most. Whether the idea comes from relentless research, or from thin air in the middle of the night, it’s all the same. A good idea can come from anywhere and from anyone.
Every hat I own I bring to work everyday. There’s no telling which one will get worn tomorrow.