Monday, 9 November 2009

Unfamiliar Territory

Barman. Any chance of a drink? I've seen a lot of shit writing lately and I just need to calm my nerves.

-Was it something I read on holiday? No, everything I read on holiday was great, thanks. I read Frost by Thomas Bernhard, which was hilariously miserable and very, very German; I read Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton which was exceptionally good and the kind of tight, perfectly poised novel no-one can be arsed to write anymore; and I read Nick Cave's Death of Bunny Munro which was ace, and also a clear example of something you can genuinely describe as "mordant", which is a good word to use any time of the day.

No, the shit writing came before I went away. I was forced to deal with the single worst thing a copywriter can ever face: someone who thinks they can write. (Better make it a large one, yeah...)

As George Orwell once said in his essay Politics and the English Language, when it comes to writing the "enemy of clarity is insincerity". Which is to say, if you have no fucking idea, interest or understanding of what you're writing about, "one turns... instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms" - or as I like to put it: cliches and dogshit.

See, the difference between great copy and 150 words of crude, hollow, formless, nervous, prattle is roughly 1 day's research. Minimum. And NO! Mr. & Mrs. Planner, that doesn't mean researching and understanding your audience. It's not method acting, for fucksake. An audience is always gonna be an irreducible vortex of atomic randomness, yeah - and you can't apply quantum theory to the world of general relativity, dickhead, so lets just stick to what we know and can prove and undertand, ie. the facts. Let's not start second guessing and theorising (the client hasn't got the time/money for all that). No, we just need to get our heads round a few universal basics and take it from there. Once we've got those figured, digested, reduced, boiled down and mapped out, we can travel wherever we like within that world - the familiar territory of the audience.

It's this skill that every creative needs and that every shit writer lacks - the ability to make sense of and find a clear, confident and convincing way through unfamiliar territory. If you don't know the lay of the land before you set off, you'll be up Shit Creek after about 10words. The shit writer I had to deal with got so lost and changed direction that many times, the writing wasn't even fluent anymore and only just literate in some places. A right mess (shudder). I guess he's still trapped there now, going round and round in circles trying to find his fucking audience, bless him.

A toast then: to shit copywriters everywhere!

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