I now understand why I have succeeded as a journalist, where I failed as an advertising copywriter. It has nothing to do with creativity or long form writing vs. punchy-quick slogans, and all to do with showmanship; a skill I do not have nor want, but treated my “lack of” for a long time as though it were a character flaw.
The new Susan Cain book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” showed me that a) I am not alone in my desire to not be a show pony and b) there’s nothing wrong with that.
I had wanted to be in advertising since as a little girl I watched Darrin Stevens on “Bewitched.” It took a year and a half after I got out of college to land my dream job, but I never got to exhale and enjoy it. I blame no one. I was just a square peg in a round hole. As an introvert, I was very happy to sit in my office with my art director and brainstorm, write headlines and body copy. It was fun. The fun ended when we would have to present, first internally to creative higher ups, then the account executives; last but not least to the client. Please don’t confuse what I’m talking about with stage fright. I was never scared to get up and talk in front of people. I just didn’t want to have to tap dance, a la Billy Flynn in “Chicago.”
The creative work was strong. The headlines and visuals were interesting. The assignment was on strategy. Why we just couldn’t hold up the ad, have them read it the way a consumer would and well, have that be that, I’ll still never know. Not only did we have to “put on a show” as one EVP Account Manager used to call it, we had to “convince” them with slide shows and music and promises of grandeur that often could not realistically be delivered. It was all too used car salesman for me. I was always thinking that, “If I wanted to spend my day arguing my case, I would become a lawyer.” I often ended up watching a more razzle-dazzle colleague sell inferior work because they just had the gift.
After my first child was born and I went freelance, mostly off site, things got much better, as I did the work from home and sent it back via fax or email. On occasion I still had to go in for presentations, that “must I?” cloud still hovering over me. But I had grown to accept that nothing is perfect and even a job you like had to put at least one thorn in your side.
In around 2003, I watched a movie called “Shattered Glass” about the journalist Stephan Glass, who made up all the stories he was supposed to be reporting on for The New Republic. This guy could pitch like nobody’s business. I, instead, identified with his editor, Chuck Lane, who was talented, yet mild mannered and when he’d have to pitch after Glass would open with, “Well, how do I follow that?” Still, I felt Chuck and I were alone in the world where the Stephans were valued.
Around that time, my freelance ad clients began to experience budgets cuts and when that happens the work-for-hire people are always the first to feel the blade on their necks.
While figuring out what to do next, I wrote an essay for the local newspaper, which was published, and a new career grew out of it; one that has brought success with an ease I’d never known in my former profession.
Please don’t mistake ease for easy. Writing, then getting my work published has not been a breeze, but with the song and dance taken from the equation, even the disappoints of having a piece not make it is less difficult for me.
The process of simply sending in the writing and having it live and die on its own merits, is this introvert’s dream.
I don’t regret my time in advertising, just my inability to recognize that certain aspects of it did not suit my personality rather than thinking there was something wrong with me for not knowing how to tap dance.
Causes Lorraine Merkl Supports
The Legal Aid Society
The Inner-City Scholarship Fund