I was at a poetry reading last night (stop laughing!)
My interest in modern poetry faded about two seconds after I graduated from college but I listened attentively and enjoyed the whole thing. The guy’s very good.
Someone asked “How long does it take you to write a poem?”
“Oh,” said the poet, “sometimes months. Every poem goes through at least a hundred drafts, even the short ones (pause) especially the short ones.”
Wow, thought I, the philistine copywriter.
This man writes poems very few people will ever read or hear. They may be important poems but there’s nothing at stake that will make a practical difference in a great many lives.
On the other hand, what we write – copy for ads, commercials, web sites, emails, direct mail – is important because there’s a lot at stake – sometimes millions of dollars and lots of jobs.
And how many drafts do we go through? Not enough.
If I have time, I’ll write a dozen or so teaser headlines for envelopes and something like 20 drafts of a direct mail letter. Same with an email, especially Subject Lines. But who has time anymore?
The poet doesn’t have a deadline and he doesn’t submit his work to committees for their approval. He writes for himself and he puts his name on the finished product. It’s his and his alone. That makes a big difference. I don’t see how we can bring that factor into copywriting.
But we could at least tell the committees “Look, I wrote 20 drafts of this piece, read it to a half dozen people who know a lot about copy that sells, and made more changes. Please at least read it all the way through, the way our prospects will, without a pencil in your hand.”
P.S. The poet’s name is Michael Cleary: michaelcleary.com