Before you go all aww-goofy on me because I used the word puppies in a sentence, let me caution you. There is nothing cute in what follows. Think of this note as carrying three bags full of mixed metaphors and embodying that hated passive aggressive phrase “constructive criticism”. Or consider it a combination of advice and lecture - a lecture titled What This Job Takes. My own weary hope is that you will use it as a guide as it contains a few extremely practical tips and some, as the Jesuits like to say, spiritual direction.
The proof is in the proof reading.
Don’t wait for someone else to catch errors or mistakes - not just your errors. Mine, Jonah’s, Jane’s and Yasmin's. You’re the young sailor at the front of the unsinkable ship. It's cold and lonely out there but it's your bloody watch. Don’t reassure yourself that the captain is on the bridge, watching for icebergs. All you should care about or think about is that you are. Keep your eyes open. You can save the ship. You have to care. More than anyone else. There is no one else. The ship goes down, you go down. You are the watcher in the night. And winter is always coming. That's what this job takes.
Miss a deadline and you’re dead.
That doesn’t mean I am going to kill you. But someone will. The account manager. The client. Deadlines are not flexible. They are sacred. You have to come through in time. There are no options. Blood, sweat and tears. Constipation. I don’t give a shit. Make it happen. That's what this job takes.
Work it, work it, work it.
The only way to ensure you come through on time is by working really hard at writing and ideating. You need four headlines? Write 400. Write, write, write. Be a maniac about writing. The less you write the more your writing shows that you are not enough of a writer. Write, write, write. That's what this job takes.
Carpe the fucking diem.
Know what I mean? Don’t wait for someone else to suggest a good idea or to solve a problem. Jump in. Jump up. Put your hand up. Grab opportunities. If there are none, make opportunities. With every brief answer the brief. 400 times. Then ignore the brief 400 times. Then, come back to the brief. Give me another 400 lines/ideas/scribbles/brainwaves. Why 400? Well, I like 500 better. If you can keep going. Can you? Here’s the nub of it: if you can really count how many lines/ideas/scribbles/brainwaves you’ve had, you haven’t done enough. Keep going. You never know what you’ll find. A gold lion. A yellow pencil. A raise. That's what this job takes.
Write the wrongs out of yourself.
You want to be good? You want to produce great work? You want to be the writer whose writing they write about? You need to spend 10,000 hours doing the same thing. 10,000 hours ideating. 10,000 hours writing. Every iteration, every hour, makes you better. When you get to 3000 hours you’ll be horrified by the stuff that you’re writing now. When you get to 10,000 you won’t know how to write anything but good stuff any more. You will have written the bad and the average out of you. That's what this job takes.
Passion makes perfect.
In my craft or sullen art... so goes the opening line from a poem by Dylan Thomas, a poem about whom he wrote poems for. Look it up. You don't read poetry? Well, young 'un, perhaps you should pursue a career as an art director instead. Or, maybe even consider switching to finance (I shall ignore that momentary whine of rage from the Beancounting District). Poets are writers' writers. Words do new things in the stubby stained fingers of these obsessive, ink-bottle-djinns. So. Read poems. Read everything. Make your reading wide. Make your thinking deep. Give a damn. Love the words. Love ideas. Seek them out in poems and rap lyrics and dispatches from war zones. And yes, in advertising too. There is even poetry there. I am not going to tell you where to find it. Go and bloody find it for yourself. That's what this job takes.
The best ad you ever wrote was someone else's.
This is what love's got to do with it. When you love the best advertising ever made, you can quote it or refer to it without hesitation. The best work ever done over the last 10 years - and way beyond that. Think going back 20something years is tough? Ha. You should be familiar with work that was done long before you were born. Tough is going back 60something years. Tough is being able to see the crap that will be done well into the future. Besides, making sure you don't make the mistakes that have been made before is easy. Making sure you don't have the same brilliant ideas that have been had before, that, dear (wo)manwolf, is difficult. So. Immerse yourself. Till you learn to swim in a sea of brilliance. That's what this job takes.
Don't kid yourself kid.
You’re a good kid. You’ve got many excellent qualities. You could do well. You could go far. But you have to rise to the opportunity you have. Make the most of it. Give it your best. Give it your all. Your heart. Your soul. Your sweat. Your tears. Your blood. Even your damn toenail clippings. You won’t regret it. And it's what this job takes.
Here endeth the lesson.
And oh, in case you were wondering: Dylan Thomas wrote his poetry for lovers.
Gavin Barrett is Ideawallah atBarrett and Welsh, a Toronto agency where copywriting is critically important and where young copywriters are raised in captivity, fed a diet of milk, honey and great ideas and then released into the wild again.
The photograph is a rare portrait of 1913 Nobel Literature Laureate, poet and storyteller, Rabindranath Tagore, from the archives of The Hindu.
It’s been a loosely observed custom of mine to share, at this time of the year, some of the things I have stubbed my toe on as I gallivanted around the World Wild Web. After the initial swearing has subsided, my discoveries usually provoke in me some sort of ooh, ahh, oh! or huh? So here they are: my annual grab bag of tools, tips, trippy toys and other cerebral titillations. I hope they will do something for you.
The poem speaks. Classic and contemporary poems, one a day, read by poets and actors.http://goo.gl/CiSZyI
Nate Rabe’s Sunday Sounds. For music worshippers who sway to the beat of a different tabla, this Sunday service from scroll.in can be a religious experience.http://goo.gl/FcIWUx
How do we perceive the world? The search for the answer unites neuroscience, poets and artists — especially in these eight reflective videos presented by HarvardX’s Fundamentals of Neuroscience. http://goo.gl/yUzAih
If you believe that all data related to you is yours and you’d like to see the work and thoughts of others instead of ads, then you might want to go where the artists have gone. To Ello, the anti-Facebook. As they say, “You are not a product.”http://goo.gl/lsmaOR
It’s a jungle in there. The there being Cornell’s Macaulay Library, the world’s largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings. I like to start at the staff picks.http://goo.gl/ONsGBc
The seeker at the search engine. No, it’s not the title of a Paulo Coelho novel. It’s a naked portrait of curiosity. Google Suggest lets you see what others are asking when they search the web.http://goo.gl/JMYppB
Al Jaffee’s fold-ins for Mad magazine, from the 1960s to whatever it is we call where we are, in interactive form. You may lose yourself in hours of obsessive, repetitive play, especially if you’re with Mary Jane. http://goo.gl/tMXoqQ
No doubt you are mystified how a shaft of purely self-interested businesses (a collective noun of my own coinage) can masquerade as the “sharing economy”. Unsuck It is a powerful jargon-crap extractor, separating poop from premise with wit and wry self-awareness — or as they put it, unsucking your douchey jargon.http://goo.gl/mJTFH0
I’d like to finish with another candidate (a strong ender contender?) for BFF in the battle against bullshit. The BlaBlaMeter is merciless. Insert your prose. Click the button. Rejoice if it emerges with a BS-free rating. If not, rinse and repeat.http://goo.gl/4XLWhw
Gavin Barrett is Owner/Founding Partner + Chief Creative Officer, of award-winning Toronto agency Barrett and Welsh. In pursuit of big ideas he has: nibbled on pigs' ears (not on a live pig at the time); gone elephant-back in the Thai jungle (no elephants were hurt); gambled in a Macau casino (was utterly destroyed). His ads: have run in 35 countries, helped elect prime ministers, attracted the ire of the lawyers for Dolly the clone sheep, drawn an angry crowd in Lagos, have been studied in business texts in Canada and India and received derisive mention in a John Irving novel. His poems: can be found in Penguin’s anthology of 14 contemporary Indian poets, Reasons for Belonging. He cannot: sing.