Nine Pages

On a given day, when I go down to my cave at 7:00 A.M. and do not emerge until 6:00 P.M., my wife may have quite a litany of things she did – then ask: and what did you do all day?

Answer: nine pages.

I find this to be an unsatisfactory answer. It does not fill much conversational void. It’s worse, though, if asked in front of a complete civilian. Then the answer sounds very close to: I laid around all day in my recliner, crumpled up pieces of paper into balls and shot at the wastebasket, took a nap with the dog, oh, and I managed the pitiful, pathetic output of typing nine pages. It sounds like that because it was that.

Good grief, the civilian thinks, her husband is unemployed, poor thing.

I watched the classic Hitchcock movie “North By Northwest” the other night. Halfway through the climactic chase and fight to death scene played out on Mt. Rushmore, Cary Grant and the actress whose name I can’t come up with are clinging by their fingers to the rocks, dodging gunfire, when she asks him why his two wives divorced him. He, an ad man in normal life and only an accidental spy, drolly replies “They found me and my life too dull and boring.”

Unless you are the copywriter or writer birthing those nine pages, I think it’s impossible to find the doing of it interesting.

Writing is one of those things that’s interesting only to the writer. That’s why there are lots of TV shows about firemen, cops, trial lawyers, even people sitting around in a coffee shop and talking about going on dates with firemen and lawyers, but hardly any shows, ever, about writers. Technically, the original Dick Van Dyke Show was about comedy writers, and Bob Newhart’s character at the inn wrote technical manuals. But at the end of the day, the fireman, the tree trimmer, the bartender and the cab driver have stories to tell about the happenings of their day. The writer has nine pages.

The other night on CNBC, they had a show on start-up entrepreneurs. They spent a full 15 minutes at a cupcake store, showing the making of the batter, the elaborate, artistic icing, the packing and wrapping of the boxes, customers coming in, the little bell above the door dingling, them ooh-ing and aah-ing and choosing cupcakes.

Imagine them coming and filming me producing my nine pages. I don’t think so. Even my Million Dollar Dog is uninterested. She comes down now and then, confirms that I’m at my desk, steals a crumpled paper to chew on and leaves. Watching squirrels in the backyard is much more interesting than watching me write. I don’t blame her. I prefer watching the squirrels too.

Last month, eight pages of mine brought in about $300,000.00 for a client, bringing me a nice 3% royalty check of $9,000.00 on top of the original fee. How many cupcakes do you have to sell, do you suppose, to put $300,000.00 in the cash register? Or even $9,000.00? This too is a private, solitary matter. You can take people to see your cupcake store or to the firehouse. You can’t take them on a tour of photocopies of your royalty checks.

Believe it or not, this really bothers a lot of copywriters. The solitariness of the work, but more the inability of anybody but themselves and to some degree, their clients to appreciate what they do.

Speaking, by comparison – something else I’ve done for 30 years – is often, obviously public, and there are laughing, applauding audiences, standing ovations, autographs asked for, a stampede to the back of the room to get my materials.

Speakers get picked up at airports in limousines. Copywriters do not. Basically, writing is about nothing but the writing. There’s nothing else to it. So you damn well better like it and derive great satisfaction from the doing and the done.

An artist or photographer will have his work framed and hung. No one’s going to frame your ugly neon green postcard with your 700 words of immortal copy about the revolution in vacuum cleaner technology on it and put it up on the wall. Certainly not your spouse. When I write a book, there is, ultimately, a book – and that will find its way to a prominent shelf upstairs. It’s on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. Not your sales letter. Writing copy is almost always a personal, private, unheralded, uncelebrated thing.

I actually prefer the privacy and solitary confinement and anonymity that is mine as a copywriter. That preference fosters productivity – and usually, to be serious, I put out more than nine pages in a day. But a lot of people who move to this from a normal workplace feel separation anxiety and long for socialization, human contact, busyness around them. Some can be found trying to write at a little table at Starbucks for this reason. The best copywriters I’ve ever known, though, are very content withdrawing from society and human contact for days or weeks on end. For us, just the nine pages is enough. We are not “people who need people” per the Streisand song. That can be disconcerting to other people, but, mostly we won’t notice.

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Published: October 26, 2009

3 Responses to “Nine Pages”

  1. Thanks, Dan.
    I am looking forward to your presentation at Bootcamp '09.


  2. Good, fun read!


  3. I'm one of those cursed individuals that is both social and solitary. I love writing, but I also love being around people. The greatest "Hell" to me would be doing data entry in an enclosed room, with no companions, no music, and no windows. Death by boredom!

    However, my dream is still to be a well-paid copywriter with good passive income, and to use that extra time to pursue my acting and singing aspirations. Thus, fulfilling both my needs.


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