(I’m the One That’s) Cool

It’s not a big secret that I have a huge lady crush on Felicia Day. I mean, I have a huge lady crush on a lot of ladies — Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Christina Hendricks, Morena Baccarin, Jenna Mourey, Michelle Obama, Queen Rania of Jordan, and my friend Sarah are all on the “The only drink I’d need before hitting that is orange juice” list. But Felicia gets top billing.

Yes, Queen Rania. She’s beautiful AND SHE WANTS YOUR DAUGHTER TO READ MORE.
You know what that makes her queen of? My pants.

The short version, for the troglodytes among you: Felicia Day is a writer, actress, and musician who first showed up in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and co-starred with Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Not too long after that, she started her own (very successful) web series, The Guild; this eventually became a cornerstone of the YouTube channel Geek & Sundry, which Felicia — with her own lady friends — launched in April of this year.

The very VERY short version is that she’s the Queen of the Nerds. And I don’t want to say, necessarily, that we were separated at birth, because that might be a violation of my restraining order. But there are clearly similarities. SEXY ones? I leave that to you. (There are. There are sexy similarities between me and Felicia Day.)

Examples: I, too, am a translucent redhead (coughnotnaturallycough) who enjoys the dorkier things in life. I, too, carry tunes not in buckets, but in those purse-friendly tampon sizes (compact AND absorbent!). I like to be a source of comedic Schadenfreude. We both look pretty rad in elf ears.

It’s Us Weekly‘s “Who Wore it Better: Lord of the Rings Edition”!

But the thing I appreciate most about Felicia is that she’s self-possessed, diversely talented, and makes a lot of her own shit — with help from a dedicated group of very creative friends. She’s not a Hollywood Barbie doll fresh off the assembly line. She spends as much time in front of a keyboard as she does in front of a camera. And with nearly two million Twitter followers, hers is a big and important voice.

Right. So what the fuck does this have to do with copywriting, Charlotte? I hear you. Slow your roll, Sassy Sally.

This afternoon, as I was on my way to my favorite cafe to muddle my way through a growing pile of freelance, I put on the song “(I’m the One That’s) Cool” from The Guild‘s latest music video. An anthem for nerds everywhere, the lyrics crow about geekdom’s tightening hold on popular culture, and gets up in the faces of every “asshat jock who beat me up in school.” It’s liberating and it’s catchy as hell. But it also struck me as timely.

Riding with me is exactly like this.

I’m coming up on one year as a freelancer. It has been exactly as tough and nerve-wracking as everyone says it is, but it has also been immensely rewarding. I’m not tied to a desk five days out of the week. I get to juggle some technical work with lighter, more creative fare (my bread and butter. My heroin and dirty needle, really). And, most importantly, I’ve had time to make shit for myself.

Nothing I’ve made is going to win any awards. My one real success — and a drop in the bucket by internet standards — is months behind me. One project I felt very strongly about never saw the light of day. And a third project that I had great hopes for, and worked very hard on, was — if I’m being honest with myself — disappointing. Okay, fine, it flopped. It looked great. It just never reached the niche I wrote it for. C’est la vie. This is how we learn.

I’ve also taken some risks with my professional life. Not unprotected-sex-with-Lindsay-Lohan risks, but risks that made me nervous in my strongest moments and had me questioning my sanity in the weak ones. This very blog constitutes a formidable risk, and while I don’t hide it outright, I try not to mention it to employers unless I’m asked directly. You know. Like a cold sore.

And yet, this blog has occasionally earned me work; as I see it, it weeds out the weaklings and leaves me with the good-natured folks worth writing for.

Subj: Want to write for us?/Interest in side work…

“Hey Charlotte.

As you may or may not know, we have an active blog, and are always interested in our contractors being contributors.We thought about the idea of you contributing to a “series” for us.

I checked out your site and was welcomed by Ms. Spread Eagle. :-)

Caught me off guard for a second, that’s all.

You’re a great writer by the way.”

–Literally the greatest email ever written

Then there are the risks I took in pursuit of being a better creative writer. I submitted a story to Clarion West, for example, in the hopes I’d get to spend six weeks getting protips from George R.R. Martin and Chuck Palahniuk. I didn’t make the cut. Yet, in applying, I finished something of significance. I proved to myself that I can. And that’ll be good to know if I ever get around to applying for grad school. I haven’t yet decided if I hate myself that much.

I was also asked to contribute an essay to a memorial book for Anne McCaffrey — the day it’s printed will mark the day I am a real, published writer. I’m confident that my part will be complete garbage. But I wrote it anyway. It felt awesome.

I also got my first tattoo. It hurt less than writing the essay.

In the last year I’ve had opportunities to apply for, or to take outright, jobs that made my soul curdle. Technical manuals. Pretentious social media doublethink. I didn’t take them. I probably should have. But I’d rather be broke (and believe me, I am broke) and well-slept than slightly-less-broke with both wrists draining. In fact, I’d rather dance the Gangnam Style horse dance while singing “Call Me Maybe” OH HEY I DID THAT ALREADY.

So much of being a writer is fighting tooth and claw for tiny inches of ground. And when that’s all you ever do, it feels like you never get anywhere. Turning down jobs a two-dollar whore would thumb her filthy poop-encrusted nose at leaves my brain free to ruminate or rest as necessary — and when I do have to go to bat for an idea I think is worth defending, I feel less crushed when I lose the battle. By picking my battles before they’re even fought — by passing on jobs I know are wrong for me — I spend a lot less time feeling demoralized on the whole. So who gives a fuck if some suit didn’t like my headline? I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Other jobs to do.

Finally, I think the dumbest and most rewarding thing I’ve done lately is to straight-up ask for work.

Recently, I got turned down for a job I thought I was perfectly qualified for, one I was really excited about (which was, in hindsight, my biggest and dumbest error. The universe never gives you shit you think you actually deserve, or else how would you ever get in over your head?). I woke up on a Monday morning with a “Thanks but no thanks” email sitting in my inbox, exactly as terse and unsympathetic as you dread those emails will be. After crying for a few minutes and dragging myself, mopey and bare-assed, from the bed to the downstairs couch, I decided to quit being such a goddamn pantywaist and move on to something else. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I have to earn a living somehow.

I mean, at least it wasn’t THIS bad.

So I shot a tweet off to a guy I figured would laugh in my face. And what do you know — he replied almost right away, and a few weeks later, I had some work to do. Really, really fun work. Work that I’d probably be pissed off and jaded about after a few months or years, but work that, for now, tastes all the sweeter for my having gone after it myself. I’m like the anti-Charlie Sheen!

And all that’s to say that lately, I feel like I’m coming into my own as the cool kid. Paradoxically, I feel the most confident when the popular kids are hanging me up by my underpants — after all, nothing clears the mind like the icy burn of cotton biting into your anus. I think the Buddha said that.

I hope that someday I’ll have the kind of career Felicia Day built, something I hammered out with skill and stubbornness and my baddest badass friends, equally stupid in their unwillingness to take advice from people who supposedly know better. And then I shall be the feisty ginger leader of the nerds, but without all that talented violin playing and with much, much less sex appeal.

Shut up. It could happen.

My head. Jesus. Look at it.


Hyperbole isn’t just my stripper name.

A week or two ago, I found – I can’t recall how now – an article asking whether Amnesty International’s latest print ad crossed a line in the name of its cause. Here’s the image:

Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.

The image, of course, evokes the slow-motion, oppressive horror of the Japanese tsunami. And the question the author poses is, in essence: “Too soon?”

Personally? I don’t think so. And I’m not completely convinced the question here is really even relevant.

Imagine a copywriter and designer having this conversation:

“Okay. What we do is we show a picture of a brutal wave ripping an infant from the arms of its mother, its mouth frozen in its last cry, the woman’s eyes wide with the crushing impact of her futility in the face of their mutual doom.”

“Good, good… but what’s our tagline?”

“Reese’s: they’re not just good, they’re killer.”

THAT would be exploitative. Like, really fucked up. But who would actually do that (I mean, other than PETA)?

No one would have this conversation. A writer may think, “This event is relevant and impactful, and there are elements of it that we could use to convey a strong message,” but she’s not likely to be fiendishly rubbing her hands together at the same time.

“It’s not that it’s maliciously exploitative,” I hear you saying. “But it IS insensitive at best.” Is it? Is it really insensitive to acknowledge the horror of a tsunami, an earthquake, a terrorist attack? What’s so wrong about pointing to a picture and saying, “Dear God, wasn’t that awful? Let’s not do THAT again.” Or do we just object because money is involved?

I’ve written for megacorporations and small businesses alike. And it seems that no matter who the client is, they have each uttered some permutation of the phrase, “We want something different.” They don’t. Never believe a client who tells you this. They want exactly the same shit they’ve been selling for 20 years. They just want it in orange instead of teal.

But we — writers, marketers, businesses, people in general — often like to think of ourselves as “edgy,” as risk-takers. We’re genetically predisposed to want to be the prettiest peacock in the menagerie, and of course that carries over to our professional, corporate identities. And we’ve gotten really, really good at convincing ourselves that being earnest is the same thing as being interesting. How many times a week do you read, “This blog entry changed my LIFE,” or “This commercial I watched was the greatest thing I’ve EVER SEEN,” or “This agency’s latest campaign is EPIC.” It didn’t, it wasn’t, and it isn’t. They’re looking you straight in the eye, maybe, but that’s ALL they’re doing.

Well, if it’s an AMAZING content marketing infographic, I’d better prime my diddlefinger and prepare for a hot wet datasplosion!

So we tell ourselves we’re changing the world, we’re fighting the good fight, we’re representing a cause. We want to stand for something. We want to be charitable and do good works. That’s noble. But is it honest?

Think about the agency you work for. Think about the clients you take on. What are you writing about most of the time? Virtualization, probably. Ergonomic patio chairs. Full-tang knife handles. Mulch. You can probably kick around “ROI” like a Thursday stoner with a hacky sack. Maybe those clients are taking their profits and re-investing them in good causes, but that’s not what they were built to do. They were built to sell more shit. Our job is to help them do that effectively and without a lot of questions. That’s fine. It’s a (pretty) honest living. But let’s not have any illusions about what it is.

Thus, it strikes me as disingenuous when my writerly fellows try to convince me of their connectedness, their relevance, their cultural sensitivity… and then go completely silent when something legitimately important lands in their laps. The way some writers go on, you’d think my Twitter feed would be a glut of charities, nonprofits, and political activism. It isn’t. The actors, authors, and scientists I follow have an endless well of opinions and insights. The marketers and social media folk? The people whose JOB it purportedly is to shape our discourse? Silent. Crickets. They love to sell bullshit, but they appear to be dumbfounded by substance. Where’s the outrage, people? You retweet Mashable like it’s manna from Heaven, but our latest mission to Mars just doesn’t do it for you?

Copywriting and/or marketing writing and/or social media writing have become an ouroboros of self-congratulation. Every other press release, tweet, and LinkedIn status update is, “Look how WELL we’re doing! Look at all of the great THINGS we’re making! By golly, we’re changing the WORLD with our enthusiasm!” It doesn’t matter what they’re selling — a product, an idea, or themselves. Just keep it positive. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t crack that manic rictus.

So when I encounter skepticism over a piece of writing or imagery that is actually powerful, that was carefully, specifically crafted to be uncomfortable, you know what my response is?

Fuck you. Let’s see YOU do better, you fucking dipshit tools. You empty suits. You crazed, yippy little shitforbrains.

We NEED to be unsettled. We NEED to be uncomfortable. No, of course it doesn’t feel good to be offended. It doesn’t feel good to be reminded of the things that keep us up at night — or the things that should and don’t. So what? How is feeling disquieted any different than feeling happy or sad or pensive or horny? Disquietude can spur us to action. It can catalyze self-examination more effectively than any other emotion if we are brave enough to look past our own bullshit. The next time something offends you, ask yourself whether you’re offended for the right reasons. Ask yourself whether there’s something you should be paying attention to. And if there is, ask yourself just what the hell you’re going to do about it.

I leave you with this image by Norman Rockwell. It’s called “The Problem We All Live With.”

I saw this picture for the first time when Norman Rockwell’s work came to the North Carolina Museum of Art in 2010. It completely blew my mind.

It depicts, of course, the day 6-year-old Ruby Bridges was integrated into William Frantz Elementary School in 1960 New Orleans, escorted by four U.S. Deputy Marshals. It’s a simple concept elegantly executed. And it’s fucking awful. The first time I saw it, it gave me chills.

To be effective, Rockwell NEEDED to stir the audience’s sense of disgust. By putting us at Ruby’s height, by contrasting her white-clad, straight-backed proud innocence with the vicious chaos of the wall behind her, he absolutely, deliberately manipulates us into feeling repelled. Was he capitalizing on this event to make a point? Yes. Completely. But to do anything less would be to miss the point entirely.

Obviously there is a time and a place for grandstanding. And the line between “frank” and “shrill” is a fine one indeed. Don’t stir shit just to stir it; don’t be “controversial” as just another two-bit marketing tactic. But let’s not kid ourselves about our priorities. We’re copywriters. We’re paid to manipulate people. And if you ever get the chance to write for a cause you believe in, remember: you can be popular or you can be right.

And, P.S.? The arms trade IS a tidal wave of destruction. We should probably look into that.

In which I commit professional suicide.

To every employer who has hired me, fired me, or may hire me (and fire me) in the future,

This is a hard letter to write.

I think most people believe that I speak without a filter, that honesty is something I wield without reservations or fear of consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. I speak when I am most fearful. I gamble with my reputation because I dread insincerity more than I do censure. And I know I can’t demand of others that which I am unwilling to give.

So this is probably stupid. But here we go.

I am not a good employee. I know that.

I wasn’t a good student, either. It’s sort of always been this way. I don’t work any harder than I have to. I am easily distracted. I am abrasive. I have difficulty waking up in the morning and getting where I need to be on time. I daydream. I resent the authority of those I perceive to be less intelligent and more disingenuous than I am. In procrastinating, I often create more work for others.

I’m sorry for all of this. It’s not you. It’s not your business. It’s not the system. It’s me.

I’m especially sorry because I love to write. I love to be paid to write. I am a good writer. I take so long to write anything because I cherry-pick my parts of speech. I vacillate over comma placement. I begin to research your project and end up half a dozen Wikipedia articles deep into the wheres and whys of the thing that makes your project go, because the gears that drive the machine are so much more nuanced and interesting than their sum. I love to read. I love to learn. I am the only one in your office who knows how a semicolon works.

I don’t want to be a word robot. And I know. I know. This is the real world. Deadlines don’t wait for artists and prima donnas. Sometimes you need a word robot. You need someone who can produce great language and do it fast. I can’t. I don’t want to. And I’m so sorry, because I’m not going to change.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it is not good enough to merely excel at a skill. This makes perfect sense to me. Economies aren’t driven by earnestness and good intentions. Nature tends towards chaos and entropy – it is only through a concerted effort of Sisyphean will that anyone succeeds at anything at all. In cellular biology, this is called active transport: a substance that, through impulsion or propulsion, penetrates a cellular membrane into an area of high pressure – a little like shoving your way past a bouncer into a packed club. It’s the same sensation I experience every time I have to interrupt a lucid dream to wake up and make it in for a 9 a.m. meeting. I realize this is not your fault, either – what must be done must be done. But I am not good at doing it.

So I admire the single-minded gumption necessary to make a business thrive. It is not in me to navigate the niceties of commerce; I simply do not have the energy. The prospect of being a creative director, or a “senior” anything, makes me feel tired and anxious. Even my low-level peers seem to have a knack for doggedness that eludes me entirely. I just can’t put my head down and work all day. I don’t know how anyone else does.

But I am a good person and a better writer. I am intelligent. I take chances. I am insightful. At times I have been known to be pretty goddamn funny.

I don’t want to be stigmatized as a lazy know-it-all who doesn’t pull her weight. Okay, fine, it’s true. But I am so much more than that. I just need a little help.

Please don’t leave me to twist in the wind. Please help me understand what you need me to do. I want to have a job. I want to be an asset. I know that I’m a pain.

But when you say to me, “You’re a brilliant writer, but we’re just not feeling it” when I am feeling it; when you say, “You’re not happy here” when once I was happy, and could be again if you’d just take me off the fucking demos and let me write something brave and weird and new; when you presume to tell me what I should be instead of letting me be what I am – fierce and curious and funny and pedantic – then you do damage to me. You obliterate my trust in you. And you teach me not to strive for more.

You cannot make me what I’m not. But you can help me be a better version of what I am.

I am angry with myself for not working harder. I am angry with myself for not having more patience. I am angry with myself for my crappy time management. I am angry with myself for not being able to see the writing on the wall, time after time after time after time.

But I am angry with you for telling me to make bricks without straw. I am angry with you for withholding critical tools like information and empathy. I am angry with you for cutting me loose with phrases like “I’m sorry” and “This is hard for me, too.” I am angry with you for misrepresenting your faith in my abilities. I am angry with you for enticing me with a future you never meant for me to reach.

I am a shitty employee. But you are a shitty manager. We both could have tried harder. We both should have done better. I hope you have the wherewithal to ask yourself whether you did everything you were supposed to.

And yet, for all of that, I still really want you to like me. And I want to like you, too. We are not bad people.

I want to be the kind of person who can own her foibles – who can try to make the most of her shortcomings by turning them into something positive; or who, failing that, can at least exist without regret. Perhaps this is a deluded, unrealistic expectation. Perhaps I’m just gilding my albatross.

But for all of my failings, my optimism persists: I can survive as a creative writer in the right environment. I will probably arrive at 9:15 instead of 8:59 (and I will be proud of myself for not arriving at 9:30). I will use every last minute of my allotted deadline time (and I will want three days more).

But here are some things I can promise:

  • I promise to write my heart out for anyone who can get used to the sound of “I’m sorry.”
  • I promise never to give you words that I don’t believe in; I will agonize over them. They will pour out of me in a fever the last thirty minutes of Friday afternoon.
  • I promise to argue over my adjectives with any tight-assed, perfectly manicured project managers who think they know the first damn thing about writing—and I will gladly do so to the detriment of my reputation, because all that matters is the words, all that matters is being right about the fucking words.
  • I promise to make your clients say, “I never would have thought to phrase it that way.” I promise to hate you if you let your clients do my writing for me.
  • I promise not to take criticism personally if you can provide thoughtful and reasoned criticism. “Just because” or “I don’t like it” are not reasons.
  • I will go to battle for my words. I will go to war. Just tell me what to do, and then step back and let me do it.

I am weird and unpredictable and crass and forgetful. I am incorrigible. I am insufferable.

I am at your mercy. Let me write for you.

who should probably start practicing wrapping trout in old newspapers (whatever those are)

Vowel Movement: Sometimes the diamond in your mind is a floater in your toilet.

This tirade is brought to you by the fine people at Blue Nile, purveyors of exquisite jewelry and incomprehensible syntax.

The diamond in my mind? Oh my god, is it malignant?

It Starts With The Diamond In Your Mind.

You were chosen to perform an inimitable role… to be The Best Man. An immensely considered decision. There are no do-overs here. Do this well and everyone is lifted. How will you rise to the call, how will you surpass expectations? Summon your character, speak from your heart… and trust the diamond in your mind.

Can anyone — literally anyone tell me what in Christ’s cinnamon grundle this means?

A friend and former coworker shared this with me a week or so ago on the grounds that it is among the weirdest, most impenetrable writing ever and thus deserved systematic dismemberment. The problem was that I didn’t have the first clue where to start. The bizarre vocabulary? The inappropriate overuse of initial caps? The fact that there is no link to any page that may clarify even a smidgeon more context? What does being the best man have to do with diamonds? Why? WHY?

It’s like someone gave a thesaurus ipecac. And it is the surest sign that this was written by either a) someone with a marketing degree and a self-published book of poems no one will buy, or b) a freelance writer who wrote this under duress because the 15th of the month was coming and no, no, NO, they CAN’T make me write it, I WON’T write it, but damn it, damn it, damnitall that scotch won’t buy itself, FINE I’LL WRITE IT but I will NEVER put my name on it oh god how did it come to this.

Or maybe it was one of those guys who’s been in the country almost long enough to sound American.

(I know. Two Family Guy references in two blog posts. I don’t care for your judging eyes.)

Let’s start with the vocabulary. Apparently being The Best Man is an “inimitable role.” I don’t know what the shit this is meant to mean. “Inimitable” means “not capable of being imitated.” This is stupid. The only criteria for being a best man are a Y-chromosome and a pulse. You’re basically the guy the groom calls “bro” more than all the other guys.

Yes, “inimitable” is a very pretty word. And I get (I think) what BN was going for here: “You, sir, are one of a kind.” Fine. So then just say “You are one of a kind.” It’s concise. It’s self-evident. It appeals directly to the reader’s ego.

Here’s a litmus test for Big Fancy Words: replace the word with a less-fancy synonym and see if it still holds up. “Inimitable” means “matchless.” So what the hell is a “matchless role”? What about being the best man is matchless? The guy’s personality? The job itself? What does this have to do with diamonds? It sounds very pretty and it is completely meaningless.

And then there’s “An immensely considered decision.” This is the best-worst line in all of the catastrofuckery that is this piece of copy. “Immense” means huge, significant, vast. What does it mean to “immensely consider” something? Is it a thought process with the mass of a neutron star?

I think the word they were looking for here was “meticulous.” Or “careful.” Or “deliberate.” Let’s envision some scenarios in which any of these words are synonymous with “really really big.”

  • I love my interior decorator. He’s enormous.
  • We earned a Michelin star by selecting only the most humongous chefs.
  • My girlfriend is so ample, she’s impossible to please.
  • I have an incredibly selective penis.

…that last one actually kind of works. But you get the idea.

You can’t make words mean whatever the fuck you want them to mean. That’s why we have different words to encapsulate different ideas — and even synonyms aren’t perfectly interchangeable most of the time.

The payoff — “It starts with the diamond in your mind” — is its own special kind of bizarre. I get it, it’s a metaphor. Except metaphors only work when they’re actually analogous to something.

In his essay “Nature,” American writer and founding Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

“Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

Of course. It’s all so clear now.

Nearly two centuries of elbow-padded, smoke-wreathed scholars have not yet been able to puzzle out exactly what it means to “become a transparent eyeball.” Does it mean the internalization of the external? Some form of proprioceptive awareness relative to nature? The natural and divine working in concert to act upon the self?

I think it means Emerson was tripping on more than transparent eyeballs. And Blue Nile, while you make real shiny carbon, you are no Ralph Waldo Emerson. Non sequiturs are terrific in poetry, but they make for really crappy marketing. Your call to action should probably actually include a call to action; save the New Agey jargon for all the horoscopes I won’t be reading.

The worst part is that Blue Nile is a perfectly respectable brand with a product whose quality speaks for itself. They don’t need gimmicky shit like this, especially when the gimmick doesn’t even make sense. Don’t settle for douchey writing just because you think you can. You can’t. And you shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, ad copywriting does not always facilitate the pursuit of High Art. In fact, at its most clever and elegant, advertising is deceptively simple and broadly accessible — which is a far more stimulating and challenging exercise. Just ask the Old Spice Guy. Now there’s a man who knows a thing or two about diamonds.

This is a NSFW post about how advertising headlines should be subtle and not like your dong.

This is a story about a penis.

Not just a penis. Any penis. All of the penises.

I think we all know that penises are gross. The first time you see one — provided it doesn’t already belong to you — is a disarming, intensely weird experience. Them things just don’t look right. They’re not the same color as the rest of the dude. They move around independently, often in open defiance of their male-person’s wishes. Some of them look like they have a seam up the middle, which I guess makes sense when you consider that penises — like 80% of all of the advertising headlines ever written — were just sort of stuck on as an afterthought. The first woman to have sex with a penis did so just so she wouldn’t have to actually look at it anymore. At least you can’t see it while you’re getting the business.

Pretty much, only the skeeziest, most mentally deficient dudes try to woo with their mandangles. This approach, though direct, has an ROI of 0%. None of us ever voted on this. There was no memo circulated of which I am aware. Our species-wide understanding of penile godawfulness is innate, though this understanding diminishes infinitely the closer one gets to the Casual Encounters section on Craigslist.

So let’s examine some stereotypes of Sexy Hot Man Goodness. Offhand, a few adjectives that leap to mind: brooding, rugged, confident. Strong. Taut. Covered in ten gallons of oil. (Apparently manflesh is best when slow-roasted.) Think of every Harlequin romance novel you pretended not to notice, mocking openly with your friends while secretly fantasizing about absconding with one to learn whether anything so shameful and base would actually make you want to diddle yourself in the fifteen minutes your boyfriend takes to crap before coming to bed hang on what was I saying?

Oh, right. None of those covers have wangs on them.

Nor do beefcake calendars of the models someone hired to pose as your city’s Friendly Local Volunteer Firefighters. Nor do fitness magazines with pictures of veiny, scowling, hulked-out caricatures of male humans.

“I’m not satisfied until every vein is forced up against my skin. Look how vascular I am, Brian. If there’s one thing women love it’s a vascular man.”

ACTUAL sexy mags do not do this. Here. Here’s some butt cheeks. Here’s a pair of nice shoulders, those are pretty sweet, aren’t they? Here’s that weird area just below the hips and right above the actual peen, where you can see a little bit of the peen but ONLY SOME and it makes you kind of WANT to pull down his Jockeys to see the rest but not really because you know how gross that would be, don’t you, reader? Because you, you are cleverer than that. And because you’re so clever, you only have to pay us $24.99.

None of them expressly say to you, “Hey, ladies and some of you dudes out there. We’re all about sex, and we feel that only an image of a huge fucking phallis is going to convey to you how much about sex we really are.” You don’t need penis to understand sex. In fact, you’re better off without it.

There is a tendency in marketing and advertising for clients, and even for creatives, to litter the ground with chewed fingernails as they lament, “BUT WHAT IF THE CUSTOMER DOESN’T GET IT.” 30-second, high-level product teasers turn into bloated, unwatchable 7-minute product demos. A quick quarter-page magazine ad with a picture, a headline, and a few sentences inflates into the white paper from hell. “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is thrown by the wayside, yet another bloodied, violated victim of drive-by neurosis. Congratulations: you have now explained your audience into a coma.

By this logic, some of the most beloved slogans, logos, and headlines in advertising history would simply never have existed. Imagine:

Just do what?

“Just Do It”? But what is IT? Why are we doing it? Why should we WANT to do it? Legal says this sounds too sexual. Let’s just go with “Nike Makes Great Shoes for Athletes, But Also For Everyone Else.”

“Taste the rainbow”? Don’t be stupid. Rainbows are the result of sunlight refracted through atmospheric moisture. They are intangible phenomena. You can’t very well TASTE them. Did you even GO to college? This is why our kids are failing.

We don’t want to mislead our customers into believing the LAST drop isn’t good, too.

You get the idea.

It’s bad enough that advertisers are already widely thought of as whores. (Please forget that I may have gently alluded to that same analogy at some point in the distant, nebulous past.) We don’t have to ACTUALLY give up the goods on the first date. It’s never a bad idea to have a bunch of options, sure. Certainly you don’t want to go SO obscure — IN THE NAME OF ART, DAMN IT, ART — that people are more confused than they are intrigued. This is the tightrope we walk.

But I have always maintained, in my long, illustrious advertising career of five years, that we do not give our audiences enough credit. There is always time to spell things out for them later: on websites, in articles, with infographics and call-outs and blurbs and factoids and whatever other expository jargon floats your boat. The POINT of a headline is to draw them to the detailed information. Court your readers. Woo them. Enthrall them.


Only then, when they are thoroughly captivated by your mystery, inveigled into your arms by a slow smile, a turn of the head, and the promise of warmth unending — then, and only then, do you whip out your lovestick and give ’em what-for. They’ll love it. They’ll need it. They’ll BEG for it.

But they will never, ever, EVER ask to see a picture. Ugh. Put that shit away.

Vowel Movement: It’s your fault I suck

I know. It’s been a while. It’s not my fault – I got a job. Kind of. And then I got sick. But I’m better now. Kind of. Better AND I have money. Kind of.

I’ve also been procrastinating because I used up all of my writerly rage on those last couple of blog entries. I began to fear that I no longer had things to get pissed off about (or things about which I could get pissed off).

Then the internet sent me Amanda Chatel. Flying Spaghetti Monster be praised!

If you haven’t heard of Amanda Chatel, it’s because she thinks you’re a huge idiot and doesn’t want you to know her, plebeian. Yet, in defiance of all logic – not one of Amanda’s strong suits, admittedly – she would still really like you to read her SUPER HILARIOUS SATIRE, “What does a man’s pet say about his romantic potential?”

For tl;dr crowd: the usefulness and availability of a man’s dick is directly tied to his pet proclivities, which makes perfect sense if he’s regularly giving his dog the business, but not if you live in a world that wasn’t conceived for a rejected draft of Sex and the City.

Dear diary: today I felt a glimmer of remorse for my years of materialism and oppressive, unforgivable self-absorption, so I ate a man's face. All better! <3

So read it and bask, BASK in Amanda’s nuanced humor, which does not read AT ALL like the passive-aggressive diary of a bitchy, codependent megalomaniac from whose grasping, desperate vagina men’s genitals wither in self-defense. Her punchline is subtle – so subtle, you practically don’t even notice it. OKAY? Because she’s FUCKING SUBTLE.


So after this poorly researched (since when the fuck are ferrets rodents?) little slice of cliché did the rounds on Yahoo! and Fark, Amanda started getting some feedback from pet owners of both sexes, all of whom independently arrived at the conclusion that Amanda “Provocateur” Chatel is bursting at the ear holes with shit. They were surprisingly accurate for a bunch of humorless troglodytes who don’t know true genius when they see it.


See? This is YOUR FAULT, you fucking retards.

So naturally, not seeing ANY evidence that this was not, in fact, the brainchild of yet another two-dimensional, unoriginal caricature of a woman whose every mannerism was painstakingly cultivated between the pages of Us Weekly, I assumed Amanda Chatel really believes that any man who owns a pet snake “drives a Camaro and rock a Metallica shirt circa 1986,” and that if he wants me to, god forbid, watch him FEED the icky, scaly monster, I should “Run. Run. Run.”


And then she blocked me. It made exactly the same sound as a teenager screaming, “YOU DON’T FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME AND I HATE YOU” seconds before slamming her bedroom door and bursting into tears. I laughed. So much. So, so much.

Remember when I said, “You can’t make your audience do 100% of the work and still call yourself a communicator”? That wasn’t something I made up for funsies. I said it because there are people in the world who do this all the time. Glenn Beck. Ann Coulter. Every modernist poet ever (I’m looking at you, Wallace Stevens). It happens every time someone writes like shit and then gets their hackles up because we don’t understand them.

It’s natural to fear rejection, especially where creative work is concerned. Creating anything for an audience involves a lot of emotional risk. We come pre-programmed with defenses, justifications, and excuses to help mitigate an onslaught of criticism – because we don’t want to think that it is we, the creators, who are flawed. I have done this. Everyone has done this.

It’s not that being wrong itself is particularly scary. It’s that being wrong forces you to self-examine. AND THAT IS FUCKING HARD.

A few weeks ago, I posted an anti-homophobia video that was intentionally controversial – and though I felt very passionate about it, and prepared to stand by it no matter what, I braced myself for a wave of negative opinion. In fact, there was a moment where I strongly considered not posting it at all. What if this was a mistake? What if it was badly written or badly filmed? What if people hated it? Worse, what if people just didn’t get it? My own actors (and of course my mother) had reservations about whether people would understand that the piece is meant to mock abusive behavior. And when the consequences of failure could mean getting pelted by old fruit, soda cans, or Molotov cocktails, one feels, you know. A skosh concerned.

Luckily, 90,000+ views, a Huffington Post reblog, a Dan Savage retweet, and a few thousand Tumblr posts later, the only backlash has come from a smattering of trolls (I think I’ve rejected maybe five comments out of nearly 200) and the semi-literate bigoted douchenozzles themselves. I know that I have a legit success on my hands, of which I should (and do) feel rightly proud.

So on the one hand, it’s not a bad idea not to give too much of a fuck what people think, or else you’ll never make anything at all. Making that video scared me. Applying for jobs scared me. Writing this blog scares me. Asking for help or approval is no different than getting naked in front of someone for the first time. If you’re wrong, the damage could be irreversible. But if you’re right, the payoff could be huge. (And sexy.)

But if you DO fail – if your message falls flat, or if you’re in over your head, or, fuck, if you just not as talented as you thought you were – the only correct response is to ask yourself where YOU went wrong. You cannot delude yourself that you are a victim of some mass conspiracy to misunderstand you. The numbers are not in your favor. If you have to tell us what you meant, you didn’t say it well the first time. Get over it and just do better next time. Unless you decide to alienate your readership. Then there won’t freaking BE a next time.

The great thing about the Amanda Chatels of the world is that their attitudes are inherently self-limiting. They won’t get very far because they are neither adaptable nor introspective; they will inevitably be surpassed by writers who may fail, but who will see those failures for what they are: opportunities to learn and evolve.

All that said, I now present to you my take on Amanda Chatel’s article. I’m calling it, “What a man’s pet says about his romantic potential: Uppity Bitch Edition.”

In romance, first impressions are everything. Sure, you could always take a chance on someone and see where things go, but communicating is hard and anyway, your ovaries aren’t getting any younger. Why invest in a relationship when you could just make snap judgments based on completely arbitrary bullshit your embittered mother spilled out in one of her few semi-lucid moments between bouts of compulsive drinking?

That’s the great thing about pets. Because there are only, like, five kinds of men, you can learn a lot about a guy based on his choice of pet, especially since animals and people are pretty much identical. Next time you’re seeking a suitable means to satisfy your unquenchable vagina’s blackest cravings, suss out the mark’s pet and hope he doesn’t love it more than he loves buying enough shit to keep you quiet.

Dogs are big stupid slobbering shit machines, just like your boyfriend. They belong together. In fact, you’re probably better off having sex with the dog. At least HE’LL cuddle after, AMIRITE LADIES?

Cats are beautiful, sleek, and mysterious — in other words, competition. Kind of like your guy’s ex-girlfriend. And, like your guy’s ex, cats are also needy, standoffish, and best neutralized inside a flaming sack left on your heartthrob’s doorstep.

But not this guy. For God's sake, do not come between this man and his pussy.

The only time men and fish should be in the same room is if the man is a dentist. Check: is the man a dentist? If yes, have sex with him IMMEDIATELY. Take his wallet while he’s sleeping.

The great thing about parrots is they live a really, really long time, so that will be something you can take when you outlive your guy because he died of a heart attack or old age or the arsenic you put in his wine or whatever.

If your guy owns a rabbit, it’s ‘cause he’s cute and snuggly and can have a ton of sex and will make you so many babies you won’t even have to pretend you took your birth control when you really didn’t because you love him so much you just don’t want to lose him, why can’t he just understand that?

FACT: No one loved rodents more than Hitler.

This doesn’t really need its own category; unlike rabbits and rodents, ferrets and rodents are pretty much exactly the same thing, like sharks and dolphins. But it’s worth pointing out that the only men who own ferrets probably also do really weird things like play Dungeonmasters & Dragons and dress up like Star Trek.

It is fine if a man owns an iguana. It is NOT FINE if that’s what he’s named his penis. Unless it falls off as a defense mechanism. If that happens, you should breathe a sigh of relief because then you won’t have to pretend to enjoy sex or experience emotions!

Everyone knows that only one type of person likes snakes, and that person is the PERFECT MAN because he is probably a badass who drives a Harley and has tattoos and loves to watch The Big Game, which means he is made of testosterone. Remember, ladies: at least if he’s hitting you, he isn’t ignoring you.

Gag me with a radish: 4 words and phrases copywriters should know

So after the wild success of 5 bullshit words that make me want to hurt you (seriously, people REALLY liked that one), what I learned is that you people like lists of things.

…I don’t mean “you people.” That’s not what I mean at all. I mean, look, some of my best friends are you people.


Anyway, I’m not going to change my name to Listy LaRue or anything — not because I don’t like making lists, necessarily, but more because I think I would get tired of explaining to people that I clearly have no relation to Busty, and thank you SO much for calling that to everyone’s attention, you jerk, now I feel like crap — but I suppose it’s fair to offset my 5-point litany of negativity with a slightly shorter, but somewhat more constructive list of helpful words and phrases that will make you feel more writerly. And will possibly get you laid.

1. Ego Depletion

If I had to pick one phrase to describe the theme of this blog, “ego depletion” would probably be it. I think I stumbled on this one in a magazine article several years ago — no, seriously, an actual magazine — and for a week after, I kept finding little pieces of exploded brain matter in my carpet.

Ego depletion is the idea that willpower is a finite, quantifiable resource linked to our ability — and not just our willingness — to solve problems. It sounds like New Agey, crystal-rubbing bullshit until you think about it for more than 30 seconds. Which is what several scientists did.

They asked a bunch of people to skip a meal before conducting the experiment. The hungry test subjects were then sorted into three groups. The first group, the control, weren’t allowed to eat anything else until the experiment was over. The second group was put in a room with a bowl of radishes, which they were permitted to eat, and a bowl of chocolate chip cookies, which they were instructed to ignore. The third group was also put in a room with radishes and cookies, but were told to eat the cookies and ignore the radishes.

After snickering at the poor bastards through one-sided glass for an hour or two (I assume), the scientists had everyone solve a puzzle, which the participants were told they could quit at any time. Good thing, too, because the damn thing was unsolvable.

Spoiler alert: everyone gave up on the puzzle.

But here’s the thing: not only did the cookie-eaters persist longer than anyone else, the radish-eaters quit before the people who’d had nothing to eat at all. Their brains had already exerted so much effort choking down goddamn radishes that they simply could not deal with some bullshit puzzle. Presumably all the radish-eating participants just flipped the table over and stormed out in a foaming, obscenity-laden rage, while the cookie eaters looked on in baffled surprise, all, “What the hell is THEIR problem?” Then they ate some more cookies.

RADISHES? NO. That is where I draw the LINE. Hold me back, Peter. HOLD ME BACK.

Cookie-eating douchebags.

This is relevant to writers — to anyone who really works on anything at all, I suppose, but I’m not talking about THEM right now — because writing is already a laborious process of start-stop-start-stop. Your brain spins at a few thousand RPM for short bursts, winds down just before overheating, and then spins back up again. Even if all you do is sit in a chair all day, you go home feeling exhausted. This goes double for when you have a particularly thorny problem that needs solving, like condensing a 500-word script into 50, or searching for that one critical word you HAVE TO HAVE and just cannot frakking remember (fun fact: last night, I struggled for 10 minutes to remember the phrase “ego depletion”).

A lot of writers deal with this by trying to eliminate distractions like eating or taking a dump. Suddenly it’s 4 p.m. and not only are you tired, you’re hungry, bitchy, AND doing the awkward speed-waddle of the turtleheaded. You are no good to anyone like this. The copy you’ve been slaving over for the last five hours probably isn’t any better for your efforts. Get up. Walk around. Work on something else for a while. Eat a freaking cookie. Your brain will continue to work on the problem in the background, and in the meantime you won’t have a coronary in the middle of a cube farm.

2. Semantic Satiation

Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork fork fork fork fork fork fork fork fork fork fork.

Doesn’t even look like a word any more, does it?

Semantic satiation. Now you know.


3. Defenestration

“To defenestrate” is simply “to throw from a window.” Seriously. There is a word just for that. Apparently enough people have been murdered this way that the relevant Wikipedia article has an entire section on “Notable defenestrations in history.” TRY to read it without laughing. I DARE you.

It doesn’t have anything to do with writing, really, but it will make you sound cool at parties.

4. Epistemology

I use this one a lot, actually, and I realize that this places me pretty high on the Pretentious Scale of Pretentiousness. But it came up so often in my college English classes that eventually I was forced to cave to my professors’ evil whims and, like, learn it.

Put simply, epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. I can’t think or read about this particular branch of philosophy too much without slumping over in a stupor, but the concept plays a vital role in the life of a successful, well-rounded copywriter.

If you work in advertising, you are going to encounter brands and products you know jack diddly about. It is not at all uncommon to be asked to write about engineering, computing, or other highly technical bits of esoteric jargon you could have gone the rest of your life not knowing. Not only will you be asked to represent this stuff, it’s expected that you will do so with confidence and authority.

Now, you COULD do what you did when cramming for a test in college: go on a caffeine-fueled research bender, jamming as much data and background into your cerebrum as physically, emotionally, and mentally possible, then purge it all the instant the project is approved and you can safely wipe your hands of it forever. No one will be the wiser, and you will regain all the mental space you had allotted for more benign information, like what’s on TV Thursday night or how to chew your food.

You could do that. And sometimes, you will have to do so out of necessity (though probably to the detriment of your ego; see Item 1, above).

OR you could — stay with me here — actually try to hang on to that information for future reference.

No, I know. It hurts me too, Jackie Chan.

You never, never, never know when you are going to need to know anything about anything. Astronomy, biology, fluid dynamics, how to change a tire, what a monotreme is, the difference between latitude and longitude, em dashes versus en dashes, what “mauve” looks like, why Alanis Morissette doesn’t have the first clue what “irony” is. There is a reason why the most successful writers in the world have traditionally been some smart motherfuckers: excellent writers are excellent observers. Period.

But as important as it is to read, read, read, read, and visit museums, and watch educational television, and try a gajillion different hobbies, and go out in the world and just look at things for a while, sorting and retaining that information is so much easier if you have some idea of what knowledge is and where it actually goes. What knowledge do you use most often in your professional writing versus your personal writing? When and where did you learn how to write — how much is innate and how much is learned? How can you continue to evolve as a writer — what knowledge do you lack, and how will you know where to get it? Practice? Study? Failure? Do you ever find yourself emulating other notable writers? How flexible or intractable is your style? Does it change to suit each client, or do clients come to you because of what you bring to the table?

Whether you come up with any actual answers, the act of thinking about these questions — of thinking about thinking — can yield some very real insights about your identity and methodology. And when the act of thinking itself is interesting, going out and stuffing your skull with all kinds of random shit you may or may not ever actually NEED is just that much more rewarding. Plus, you know: I don’t think it’s a huge leap to say that vocabulary is directly tied to curiosity. More nuanced, engaged thinkers just have more shit to say.

So even if your next assignment is to sell a vacuum cleaner — no, not a Dyson, you’re not that lucky; I mean some random-ass, knock-off brand vacuum cleaner — try not to think of it as a chore (har har). Think of it as an opportunity to learn something new. You don’t have to get excited about it, that’s just fucking weird; it always freaks me the hell out when people splooge themselves over selling things. But try not to think of yourself as being above new knowledge because it seems trivial or useless. It’s good enough to pay the bills, after all.

And if you can’t manage that, go throw a radish cart from a window. Radish. Radish radish radish radish radish god what am I even doing with my life.

The Writing Process, aka I Just Shart a Vlog

I have been wanting to do this for a week now, but for an unemployed person, I have been busy as hell the last week or two.

Also, did you know it’s really, really hard to make a video when your only tools are Audacity and Windows Movie Maker Live on a 5-year-old PC? Because it is motherfucking impossible. Also, I didn’t eat anything. At all. I sat on my couch and toggled things, and dreamed about a world in which I had money and time and a program that doesn’t just arbitrarily decide my audio files don’t work anymore so let’s restart the whole thing and keep our fingers crossed it all cues up in the right order without any data lost because there is no EASY way to cut this or save this or do much of ANYTHING, in fact, and also, could I eat my own fingers? Would those be sustaining and delicious in the right sort of sauce?

…so anyway, I made this idiotic video. There’s like five frames in it where I’m making out with my boyfriend. I don’t know if that works for or against me here.

Even though I’m poking fun (poorly; so, so poorly) at the writing process, it does contain a grain of truth with which most writers will already be familiar: it is impossible to just sit down and goddamn write something good. Or even something bad. Or anything at all.

There are always distractions — especially if you’re the kind of person who has loads of interests and hobbies (e.g. “a good writer”). Sometimes you’re tired, sometimes you’re busy, sometimes you’re just fucking bored with the stupid assignment. Sometimes you just don’t wanna. The litany of excuses is long and glorious, but half-assed or not, they pose real obstacles to the process of actually creating something. This holds true whether you’re a freelancer or have a full-time professional writing gig: words come when they’re damn well ready, and if they’re not damn well ready, you have to drag them out kicking and screaming and digging their obstinate little meat hooks into the orbits of your eyes, your deadlines and desires be damned.

<pause to allow you to go read Wikipedia or jerk off or draw boobs on your meeting notes or whatever>

There is no telling what mood or frame of mind will be most conducive to writing. Obviously, everyone has their own rituals and preferred environments and so on, but sometimes your best efforts don’t amount to anything. If I get a week to write 500 words, you can pretty much count on them all spilling out in the last three hours of the last day of that week. But every once in a while, I’ll get a spark of something even when I’m not supposed to be writing anything at all, and if I’m feeling really diligent, I’ll set that idea aside, and have it ready at an opportune moment — in which case I will feel like a fucking superhero.

What matters is that you get your shit done, and that you at least leave yourself enough time to revise it enough that it doesn’t suck. For me, the second and third drafts of a project are much easier to manage and focus on: the angst is over, the ideas are on the page. Now all I have to do is organize and refine them. Piece of cake.

Your mileage may vary. But I suspect most of you are like me. Don’t be ashamed! We can all be fucked up together.

Now stop reading and go get yourself some ice cream or something. You’ve earned it. All that not-working is hard work, am I right?

Vowel Movement: 5 bullshit words that make me want to hurt you

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

–Mark Twain

I have often been accused of vulgarity for its own sake. I’ve heard, many times, from many people, that “Real writers don’t need to resort to obscenity.”


A real writer appreciates the texture, flavor, and propriety of each word at his or her disposal. The same way there is a difference between “there,” “they’re,” and “their,” between “simple” and “simplistic” or “sense” and “sensibility,” there is a difference between “making love” and “fucking.”

Write business-related copy long enough and one can very easily find oneself falling into the same linguistic patterns. Marketing jargon, like a virus, is insidious: even very intelligent people are susceptible. Why use a small word when you can use a big one? Why bother deviating from established language we all understand? So what if I should have used “thought” instead of “insight”? People know what I meant.

Except this:

You can’t make your audience do 100% of the work and still call yourself a communicator.

Words matter. If you’re going to write copy — for anyone, for any reason — and be taken seriously, you are going to have to do better than regurgitate from Seth Godin’s Guide to Enthusiastic Malapropisms (“Architecture in the acquisition of infrastructure and tools is one of the highest leverage pieces of work a tech company can do”? Is that ENGLISH, Seth? Does your mother keep your best sellers with your Kindergarten macaroni art?).

So let’s start with five common marketing words that make my eyes bleed. Use them if you must — but for god’s sake, don’t use them at all if you can help it.

1. Leverage

My disdain for this word is well-known among my colleagues, friends, and fellow misanthropes. That’s because it represents the worst, most frequent form of abuse in marketing/sales writing: swapping an existing word that works just fine for a bigger, more “professional-sounding” word that is hardly ever apt.

Let’s look at some definitions of this word, courtesy of the fine folks at Merriam-Webster.

leverage. noun. 
1: the action of a lever or the mechanical advantage gained by it
2: power, effectiveness <trying to gain more political leverage>
3: the use of credit to enhance one’s speculative capacity

leverage. verb.
1: to provide (as a corporation) or supplement (as money) with leverage; also: to enhance as if by supplying with financial leverage
2: to use for gain: exploit <shamelessly leverage the system to their advantage>

I am including the verb form only grudgingly. It kind of makes me want to stab my own face.

So. Acceptable synonyms for “leverage”: exploit; parlay; capitalize on; take advantage of. It does NOT simply mean “to use.” I don’t leverage a hairbrush to remove tangles. I don’t leverage a television to watch movies. And no matter how much I want to, I don’t leverage my fist to punish sloppy copywriters.

I am not alone here, by the way. Top Google search results for this subject: “Leverage is NOT a verb!“; “5 Words You Probably Misuse in Business Writing“; and my personal favorite, “Are you stupid enough to use leverage as a verb?” Even Forbes put it to a vote, and “leverage” is a finalist in their Jargon Madness matchup.

Unless you are specifically talking about inertia, stay the fuck away from the word “leverage.” I will find you.

Try these words instead: Use, employ, harness, utilize, apply

2. Architect

Okay, can I just say something here? Marketers? YOU CAN’T JUST TURN NOUNS INTO VERBS BECAUSE YOU WANT TO. I don’t food my lunch. I don’t car to the office.

There are 250,000 words in the English language. 250,000. Depending who you ask, that makes it one of the most diverse languages on Earth. The word you want exists. You don’t have to start mutating perfectly good nouns into diluted, half-assed verbs.

So. Let’s all agree that “architect,” like “leverage,” is a NOUN, and that using it as a verb makes you sound like a pretentious twat.

Try these words instead: Build, make, create, construct, form, manufacture, produce, fabricate, fashion, invent, establish

3. Ideate

My motion graphics editor boyfriend insists this is a perfectly cromulent word used by designers the world over. Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology Dictionary put its first use somewhere between 1600 and 1610. That’s as it may be. But whatever its origins, “ideate” has been hijacked by the marketeratsi (yeah, I can make words up, too) to describe any situation necessitating thought.

I have some pretty specific feelings about this, but I’m gonna go ahead and let Baratunde Thurston express my disdain for me:

Try these words instead: Brainstorm, think up/think of/think about, conceive, plan, envision

4. Actionable

Unless you’re in the CIA and you need legal authority to move on an internationally wanted criminal mastermind, don’t use this word where I can hear you. I don’t have any good reasons. I just goddamn hate it. It’s a stupid word.

Try these words instead: Useful, practical, usable, meaningful, workable

5. Content

This word has come to describe something so vague, you might as well just go ahead and use “stuff” or “things” or “crap.”

Usually when we see this word, it’s in a sentence like, “Are you making the most of your business content?” or “Compelling content will improve your users’ experience,” or “Architect actionable content to leverage your best ideations.” I just saw a tweet that went, “The best content isn’t contingent on time & place. Shelf life matters.”

I have no idea what any of this means.

“Content” can be damn near anything; there is no way to know what it describes without some kind of context. Is it writing? Design? Both? Is it a takeaway, a call to action? Is it an experience? I can refer to the content of a website as easily as I can the content of one’s character. “Content” just means “that which fills a vacuum.” This can be literal or figurative. Whatever it is, it HAS to have some kind of qualifier.

Otherwise, it comes off sounding like a 7th grade book report on a book you didn’t actually read. “I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time. Its content was very impactful. Especially the part where time wrinkled. I gave this book a B+ because it was very good but some of the content was not as good as the other content.” You can’t bullshit a bullshitter, you little twerp. Saturday detention.

Try these words instead: Theme, message, subject matter, essence, significance, text, meaning, purpose, intention

Crackwhores and Call Girls

I am only going to say this once, so pay attention.

Copywriters and social media writers are not the same thing.

One doesn’t really come to appreciate this distinction unless one is an out-of-work copywriter looking for a job in advertising. Obviously, I don’t know any of those people, and if you do, you should throw rocks and rusted cans and old glass at them. Do it. Do it until they cry. Out-of-work copywriters are literally the worst people alive.

But let’s say I knew one, or, God forbid – we’re just pretending, all right, this is a purely hypothetical scenario – I was one. I imagine a typical period of joblessness might go like this:

Me: Well, shit. Really thought I’d make it to five weeks that time. Oh well. Anyone need a writer?
Well-Meaning Friend: Oh! Oh! We do!
Me: O RLY?
WMF: Yeah! We just placed an ad for a Content Strategist!
Me: …oh.
WMF: What?
Me: Nothing, nothing. Tell me some more about the job.
WMF: Well, a Content Strategist collaborates with the marketing and branding team to leverage data mines culled from social media in an effort to facilitate more meaningful customer outreach and retention. AND – this is the best part – you’d be creating original content to evangelize the brand’s potential as a strategic solution that helps meet client goals! ISN’T THAT EXCITING? That’s EXACTLY what you do, right?
Me: I pretty much just arrange threesomes between nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
WMF: But content strategists also have to use words! And you use words! You have so much in common! —what are you doing?
Me: Oh, it’s just the potassium chloride tastes better with bourbon. I call it a “Sweet Release.”

Repeat ad infinitum.

Traditional creative ad agencies – yes, they still exist – will often utilize a mix of copywriters, art designers, and strategists. Writers create the copy of a piece, designers make it shiny, and strategists find ways to promote it/get more work to do. There is a bit of overlap: writers and designers are useless if they create for themselves rather than for their audience; strategists must have the creative vocabulary to understand why a piece, a brand, or a strategy is successful. Typically, however, these are separate but equal roles. I write the commercial, those guys film the commercial, and that chick uses our commercial to find us more commercials to make. What a well-oiled machine.

Thus, the core of a copywriter’s duty lies in coming up with words; any research or collaboration he or she does is in support of this work. As it should be.

Marketing and social media agencies are a different kettle of fish. They’re the kettle of fish where all of the fish are different, but they’re expected to know what each of the other fish do, and must be able to swap jobs with any other fish at any given time. They do a little bit of writing, a little bit of design, a little bit of prestidigitation. Essentially, a social media writer – or a content strategist, or a web content strategist, or an Metabrand Verbalization Ideator, or whatever the hell they’re called – bears a lot of resemblance to what was once thought of as a salesperson: they do not merely create on behalf of a brand, but actively advocate for it as well. They should know the brand. Be the brand. Make sweet, sweet love to the brand.

To put it another way: writers are all whores. But where advertising copywriters are sullen, vulgar streetwalkers who’ll accept drugs in exchange for a handie, social media writers are high-paid escorts who’ll look great on your arm, laugh at your jokes, and cuddle you after anal. Copywriters will do that thing your girlfriend won’t, but we absolutely do not kiss on the mouth. Just give us our meth money and we’ll be on our way.

Ooops! Tina dropped her typewriter! Tee-hee! (That'll be $200, perverts.)

But the crossover between roles that were traditionally distinct – “writer” over here and “salesperson” over there – is increasingly ubiquitous in a world where companies don’t merely sell to customers, they engage with customers. Being articulate, convincing, and relatable are assets to both copywriters and social media strategists. So it follows that if more marketers are expected to behave like writers, writers will be expected to act like marketers.

Except a lot of writers don’t want to be marketers. We do not relish the act of closing a sale. We do not subscribe to the Infographic of the Day. Our degrees are in English, journalism, or Traditional Chinese Theatre, not business administration. In the year 2012, admitting this fact can be the difference between getting a job and borrowing rent money from your parents.

As a result, a lot of very good writers are working miserable jobs in companies to whom they believe they’ve sold their souls – after all, what other choice do they have? By the same token, a lot of sub-par writers – and, let’s be honest, a lot of sub-par thinkers – are entrusted with representing projects, brands, or entire agencies. (But that’s another post.)

I am forced to admit that being “old school” is now the exception more than the rule. Many very talented, driven writers are working fulfilling jobs in social media and/or strategic development (and I can feel their resentful eyes on me and my generalizations). As traditional media and digital media intertwine, I suspect that this will become the standard path for many new college grads seeking careers in advertising. But should we all have to? Is it really so bad to love the craft of writing for its own intrinsic value? Can one legitimately argue that writing only becomes “great,” only becomes “effective,” if it is part of some greater strategy or scheme? What happened to the simple elegance of ethos, logos, and pathos?

It may be that, at the ripe old age of 28, I subscribe to an outdated ideology due for its timely exctinction. Perhaps I should be more adaptable. Perhaps creative writers can only be happy if they’re wildly famous novelists or not-as-famous-but-still-pretty-successful TV sitcom writers, in which case I don’t know why I’m not sitting on huge bags of money right now. But for all my skepticism, I hold out a little hope that there will always be a place for words – just words, and the love of them and all they have the power to do – in advertising.

If so, I will find that job, and I will own the everloving shit out of it.

If not, I’m looking forward to my bright, safe, sterile future behind the glass of a museum display case.