“I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.”
It invariably takes me more than one attempt to do almost any creative project ‘right’. I’m absolutely certain there are people out there infinitely smarter and more talented than me, who can nail it on the first go – but for most of us, we’re stuck with the drudgery of drafts. Except it doesn’t have to be so dull. Drafts can be fun.
I love Ogilvy’s approach to the creative process: we should relax this idea that if it doesn’t work instantly, it’s terrible. It takes time. Some people like to agonise over each word. I much prefer to smash out all my ideas, letting the stray thoughts come and go, scribbling, doodling, drawing arrows and boxes and flicking through books wildly.
You can always refine. You can always cut. Cut, cut, cut away the nonsense and the noise ruthlessly – and hopefully what’s left can stand on it’s own two feet.
But, don’t stifle your ideas before they’ve even started to take root. Pour fertiliser on them. Go mad first. In the words of Ogilvy, let out ‘an uncontrollable gush’. Then, it’s your job to mop it up.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a hell of a lot more inviting than that dreaded blank page.
For an excellent primer on some of the key principles of good writing, you might want to check out the following talk from Steven Pinker, one of my favourite authors (and professor of psychology at Harvard University).