Chronicles of a Copywriting Intern. Part 1: Legerdemain

Written on June 10, 2015

Nobody has ever told me I’m good with my legs. I can jump, squat, pick up my undies, and kick ice cubes beneath the fridge, but nobody’s ever seemed to notice my foot skills. I’m not fishing for compliments here. The next time you see me, you needn’t feel compelled to congratulate me for taking the stairs or standing up to greet you. I only mean to point out that everyday use of our inherent faculties is nothing to celebrate. Celebration is only warranted where those faculties are honed, specialized, artful.

Movement, in and of itself, is not praiseworthy

But, a dance… a dance is evocative and playful, deft and thoughtful, knowable yet infinite. A dance, unlike, say, driving with your knees, can tell a story. As such, it becomes a medium, iron under our will, empty pages at our discretion, a virgin canvas naked for our history, anger, personality, our losses and lusts. The kicks, leaps, and turns we call choreography.  The out-of-body, perennial millisecond you weren’t in a chair watching dancers dance, but outside of time, tasting the softness of your first kiss, seeing the expression on your dad’s face when he found out, listening to the bullfrogs serenade the lake, we call that art.

Unlike my dexterity to brush my dog’s belly and rotate the bathtub knob to “juuust right” with my foot, my prose has garnered the spotlight my legs and feet seemingly failed to earn. Of course, the truth-value of friends’ and teachers’ extolment is always maimed and mangled by common courtesy. Artists: never entrust your friends to evaluate your work. It’s difficult for them to muster the courage to pretty much say, “Your mind sucks.” I eventually authored a blog, cherrypicked essay-based college courses, and started nonchalantly admitting, “I like to write” to girls I thought were cute, as if this was some sort of geekishly valid alternative to sensitivity, a good sense of humor, or having an ass that looks good in baseball pants. Worse still, I began thinking I was a writer. There are volumes to say about this, but for those who don’t know, being a writer is a long shot from glamorous. It’s a chaotic orgy of narcissism and self-degradation forcing itself into every emotion, analysis, and relationship you’ve ever had. Worst of all, I thought doing it from 8 to 5 would prove neat and efficient.

I’ve been an intern copywriter for 3 weeks now and already the “I’m a writer” identity crisis is cured.

As it turns out, thank heavens, I am most certainly not a writer, or at least, not a copywriter. Apparently, before, my words were merely unexceptional pedestrian movements, like holding elevator doors open with a brave foot or hopping from crunchy leaf to crunchy leaf on a sidewalk, because copywriting requires dance. I’m hard pressed to call my bosses ballerinas, but they are unimpressed with my Macarena-inspired slop. The wieldy command of my mental thesaurus, as it turns out, does not have them reeling back to the first time they camped out with their dad or the exhilaration of seeing their child born. My copy does not tell a story. It’s not artful. It’s not a dance.

Attempting to learn this art, thus far, has had me feeling eerily like Luke Skywalker or Neo from the Matrix

It’s like trying to unhinge my mind from the basic laws of creative physics in order to incept subtle, coercive seeds of influence within lines as simple as “Buy these cheesy dog snacks” and “Generic Lawn Service Company: With us, all your greens come true!” Thankfully, I wasn’t really tasked with harnessing some mystical energy in order to lift my spacecraft from a swamp or bend a spoon with mere brainpower, but there did seem to be a magic to the process. At first, I was thrilled at the notion of copywriting being magic because, well, magic isn’t real. Objects can’t disappear beneath handkerchiefs and if a magician causes a fake nose to wondrously appear from his palm as he “gets your nose,” then you’ve not witnessed real, live magic, but rather the disappointing alternative of meeting someone who literally carries a dirty rubber nose with them everywhere.

I say I was thrilled because if good copywriting wasn’t magic, then it must be achievable and I didn’t need to own a special edition, literary ouija board to accomplish it. However, while there’s nothing especially miraculous to the process of crafting clever, pithy copy, it is, I’m told, a trick. It’s all there in 2 or 3 words, but tells a whole story. It gets to the point but without sacrificing the element that evokes a mental smirk and an ingratiating little, “Huh… cute.” It leaves a perfectly planned gap between comprehension and imagination, small enough to be simply understood yet wide enough to require vision, rewarding you with a brief “aha!” for solving the riddle. It’s a diversion. It plucks your heart strings or tickles your humor, connecting you with  emotion, all the while intending for your subconscious to swallow those reactions and absorb them into your learning, memory, and behavior. It looks like one thing but does another. It is, and to really embrace the art of pun here, a sleight of hand.

The truth is, almost anyone could do this job.

Almost everyone wrote papers for english class and almost everyone still writes mother’s day cards to their moms. Almost everyone can put words on paper. But not everyone is a writer. Everyone can dance, but not everyone is a dancer. Anyone can do this job, but not everyone will do this job. And maybe that’s what makes art really happen – is how badly you want it to, how willing you are to suffer the burden of calling yourself capable. This is the best and worst part of art. There is no definitive moment which certifiably declares you an artist. You just are if you think you are. Every dance requires dancers and every dancer requires a mind that believes they are one. It’s that belief which turn steps into box steps, turns into twists, or simple phrases into tag lines. But the real tricks aren’t those of the trade itself. The real trick is never recognizing you’re an artist, lest the real art created within the verve of proving yourself is without motivation, hunger, fire, or incentive. As for me? I don’t recognize myself as a copywriter. Not yet. Hopefully not ever.