Nine Pages

On any given day, I go down to my cave at 7:00 a.m. and do not emerge until 6:00 p.m. When I do, my wife goes through a litany of everything she accomplished in that time. Then she asks: “And what did you do all day?”

My answer: “Nine pages.”

I admit that this is an unsatisfactory answer. It pretty much kills her attempt at conversation. It’s worse, though, if she asks the question in front of a new acquaintance. Then the answer sounds very close to: “I sat around all day in my recliner, crumpled up pieces of paper into balls and shot them at the wastebasket, took a nap with the dog… Oh, and I managed to type a pitiful, pathetic-sounding nine pages.”

It sounds like that because it was that.

“Good grief,” the new acquaintance thinks, “the poor thing is unemployed.”

I watched the classic Hitchcock movie “North by Northwest” the other night. Halfway through the climactic chase and fight-to-the-death scene played out on Mt. Rushmore, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are clinging by their fingers to the rocks, dodging gunfire, when she asks him why his two wives divorced him. He, an ad man by trade and only an accidental spy, drolly replies, “They found me and my life too dull and boring.”

Dull and boring. Sounds like me and my life. Unless you are the one birthing those nine pages, I think it’s impossible to find the doing of it interesting.

Writing is one of those things that’s interesting only to the writer. That’s why there are lots of TV shows about firemen, cops, trial lawyers, even people sitting around in a coffee shop and talking about going on dates with firemen and lawyers. But there are hardly any shows about writers. Yes, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was sort of about comedy writers. And in “Newhart,” in addition to being an innkeeper, Bob’s character wrote how-to books. But at the end of the day, the fireman, the tree trimmer, the bartender, and the cab driver have stories to tell about what happened during their day. The writer has nine pages.

The other night on CNBC, they had a show on start-up entrepreneurs. They spent a full 15 minutes at a cupcake shop. They showed the making of the batter, the elaborate, artistic icing, the packing and wrapping of the boxes. They showed customers coming in, the little bell above the door dingling, and the ooh-ing and aah-ing over the cupcakes.

Imagine them coming and filming me producing my nine pages. I don’t think so. Even my dog is uninterested. She comes down now and then, confirms that I’m at my desk, steals a crumpled ball of paper to chew on, and leaves. Watching squirrels in the yard is much more interesting than watching me write. I don’t blame her. I prefer watching the squirrels too.


Last month, eight pages of marketing copy I wrote brought in about $300,000 for a client, making me a nice 3 percent royalty of $9,000 on top of my original fee. How many cupcakes do you have to sell, do you suppose, to put $300,000 in the cash register? Or even $9,000?

Of course, the rewards of my profession are just as private as the work itself. You can take people to see your cupcake shop. You can’t take them on a tour of your royalty checks.

Believe it or not, this really bothers a lot of copywriters — the inability of anybody but themselves and, to some degree, their clients to appreciate what they do.

Professional speaking (something else I’ve done for 30 years) is quite different. You get immediate, direct feedback from your audience — laughter, applause, a standing ovation, requests for your autographs, and a stampede to the back of the room to buy your book or program or whatever else you’re selling.

Speakers get picked up at airports in limousines. Copywriters do not. Basically, copywriting is about nothing but the writing. There’s nothing else to it. So you’d damn well better derive great satisfaction from the doing and the done.

An artist or photographer will have his work framed and hung. No one’s going to frame your neon green postcard with the 700 words of immortal copy you wrote about the revolution in vacuum cleaner technology. Certainly not your spouse. When you write a book, there is, ultimately, a book. And that will find its way to a shelf at Barnes & Noble. Not your sales letter. Writing copy is almost always a personal, private, unheralded, uncelebrated thing.

I actually prefer the solitary confinement and anonymity that is mine as a copywriter. That preference fosters productivity. (Usually, to be serious, I put out more than nine pages in a day.) But a lot of people who move to this from a normal workplace feel separation anxiety. They long for socialization, human contact, busyness around them. For this reason, some can be found trying to write at a little table in Starbucks.

Most copywriters I’ve known, though, are content to withdraw from society for days or weeks on end. For us, the nine pages is enough. We are not “people who need people.” That can be disconcerting to others — but, mostly, we won’t notice.

[Ed. Note: Dan Kennedy shared his million-dollar insights with American Writers & Artists Inc. members at the 2009 FastTrack to Success Copywriting Bootcamp and Job Fair.

If you couldn’t make it, you’re in luck. They recorded every word of Dan’s presentations (and those of all the other expert presenters), and included them in this year’s AWAI Bootcamp Home-Study program. And for a limited time, AWAI is offering ETR readers a special 50% savings!]