My first real job was in advertising. I worked as a copywriter for an agency called Benton & Bowles in New York City. An artist or entrepreneur's first job inevitably bends the twig. It shapes who you'll become. If your freshman outing is in journalism, your brain gets tattooed (in a good way) with who-what-where-when-why, fact-check-everything, never-bury-the-lead. If you start out as a photographer's assistant, you learn other stuff. If you plunge into business on your own, the education is about self-discipline, self-motivation, self-validation.Read the whole thing. Oh, this is a hard lesson to learn. Pressfield goes on to pound the proverbial nail on the head when he notes that every advertising client "is in love with his own product. The mistake he makes is believing that, because he loves it, everyone else will too." Can any of us, from the compositional dilettante to the grizzled professional novelist, argue that writers don't also fall prey to this impulse? Of course we do, hence our difficulties with honest feedback and negative reviews. Sure, the realization that nobody cares "about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchopotoulis" can turn us sour and pessimistic. Or we can understand that "it isn't that people are mean or cruel. They're just busy." And this comprehension can transform us into empathetic writers who learn how to truly connect with an audience.
Advertising teaches its own lessons. For starters, everyone hates advertising. Advertising lies. Advertising misleads. It's evil, phony, it's trying to sell us crap we don't need. I can't argue with any of that, except to observe that for a rookie wordsmith, such obstacles can be a supreme positive. Why? Because you have to sweat blood to overcome them -- and in that grueling process, you learn your craft.
Here it is. Here's the #1 lesson you learn working in advertising (and this has stuck with me, to my advantage, my whole working life):
Nobody wants to read your [expletive].
(Picture: CC 2010 by bbweb; Hat Tip: Tony Chavira)