No surprise, this: Words were my first love. If there was ever a time that I didn’t seek to express myself in those mysterious combinations of symbols, to magick them into images, I can’t remember it.

I studied dictionaries and encyclopedias the way other kids read story books; I did it because that’s where the stories waited, if only one could be clever enough to sort them out.

An odd thing, then, that advertising became my career.

Wordcraft is respected in those halls of commerce. Sort of. Much (okay, sorry:) lip service is given to the ability. Creative directors everywhere bemoan the lack of quality writing talent.

And yet, we kill the things we love.

I remember a—shall we call it—spirited discussion with a less than bright account exec who insisted that I take the word windfall out of my copy. She didn’t know what it meant. Documents in this industry are rife with graceless prose, with awkwardness’s and incoherencies. Some of the “talent”, freelancers especially, seemed to have picked up their language skills via offshore correspondence courses. Superiors with more authority than talent live to hammer language into a myopic, narrowed vision, pulled down to the levels of their own limited abilities. Some clients actually have internal teams in place to make sure that the writing isn’t too advanced.

And time to get that writing done? Folks, I’m not talking about weeks or months to think, to tease the perfect combinations of words out of stubborn air. I’m not talking about days. I’m talking about hours. Advertising is, more than ever, owned by pimps. Those who create the very thing that ad agencies sell are treated like cheap whores. Lie down. Get it over with. Move on to the next. Traffic, traffic, traffic. We are not paid for our skills: We are paid for our body parts. Such is the state of the institution.

The fact is, in the daily tug-of-war between good writing and competent writing, most of these folks are pulling for the wrong side. The fact is, most of them can’t tell the difference between good and ordinary. Trust me, I’ve tested the theory.

One grinds one’s teeth a lot in this business. One stamps one’s foot. One learns how to be competent rather than excellent. One learns to pull in one’s horizons to being merely good because, truthfully, great isn’t going to get one anywhere. One learns not to give a flying fuck.

Let’s be clear. Advertising writing is not the same as “real” writing. Never was. Its shape and cadence and direction are different, as they should be. One does not expect these products of commerce to be as soaring as other writing. And yet.

I know what I’m doing on this playing field. No one needs to tell me how to persuade, to inspire. No one needs to make the work more “conversational: I have spent a lifetime learning to do exactly that.

On the front lines of smart mediocrity, I am a soldier weary of the battle. I rarely ever find joy in the combat, these days. I will give my generals what they have paid for—I will give them more, because that’s what I do. I place my body, my ability, in the sights of lesser men every day. But. In the Word Wars, consider me a mercenary. Great requires a fight. And right now, I am reaching for my white flag.

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