Brand new grandma Thea Devine here.
Back in the “Mad Men” days, I worked for a multi-national advertising agency, first as a copy secretary and later, the assistant to a Creative Director whose name, coincidentally, was Don. Those days, there really were two hour (and more) lunches, and big celebratory parties. Lots of office affairs. Major secrecy and seclusion when pitching big accounts. Profit sharing vested in one year. Bright young college grads grabbing any salary to start as bottom rung junior copywriters or artists just to get a foot in the door. Corporate clients wielding power over all.
And there were endless rewrites of copy. Back then, we had to type print ad and tv scripts, an original and seven carbon copies, on clunky old Royal manual typewriters. No cut and paste. No click to print. I worked for two women copywriters, one of whom was gentle and cozy, the other, a beautiful razor sharp no-nonsense blonde.
I remember asking her one day, as she was rewriting a tv script for the fifth or sixth time, “how do you know?” By which I meant (remember, I was very young) , how do you know what to change and whether it would work.
She said, “I just know.”
I never forgot that. Because now I know, when you’ve been writing long enough, you do know. Lesson learned long afterward: there are any number of ways to approach a piece of ad copy or a piece of fiction. You know to trust your instincts, trust your gut. Trust yourself. You know how to move around a manuscript and when to change things and when not to, and that there are many ways to write a sentence. You just “know.”
Then there was the Creative Director. No slick Mad Ave type was he — he was from Vermont, had started in the mailroom, worked his way up to Creative Director, a pragmatic and plain-spoken man whose advertising philosophy I characterized as “demonstrable practicability”.
One day, one of his junior copywriters brought him a revised piece of copy to review, and I could hear the CD saying, “What’s this? I don’t understand that. What does this mean? This makes no sense,” and at the end of a grueling five minute critique, the copywriter came out of that session with the CD and jubilantly said to me: “He LOVED it!”
Let us all cultivate that attitude. The copywriter wound up a vice president of the agency. Lesson learned: love what you write. Defend what you write. Adjunct to that in my writing life: the editor (the Creative Director) is wrong. (More on that in another post.)
What I remember best about the CD was every morning he came striding into the office, saying, “Tell me something wonderful.” I mean, who wouldn’t wrack their brains to think of any small thing that could be construed as wonderful? It started the day on a positive note and things theoretically could only get better from there.
Sometimes he would say, “Tell me everything.” Tall order. But people do — tell you everything, I mean. All you have to do is ask. Except, I tried saying that to a cousin of mine I hadn’t seen in many years and he looked me dead in the eye and said, “NO.” But that’s another story for another time …
So tell me something wonderful. Do you trust your instincts? Do you love what you write? Was there some small incident that made a big impact on your writing life? What do you “know?”
Thea Devine’s The Darkest Heart was a June release from Pocket/Gallery. She’s currently working on the sequel.