I arrived in Buenos Aires this morning by overnight bus from Mendoza, after what was more or less three-day Malbec hangover. On this side of the Andes my diet has changed from quinoa, potatoes, and fruit smoothies to steak, steak, steak. So I finally ordered a salad for lunch. And I stayed in my hostel in the rain this afternoon doing a copywriting project for one of my freelance clients.
The work here consists usually of a single paragraph or two. It’s more substantial than writing headlines or taglines, but also very different from what goes into writing paragraphs in novels. If a novel is a symphony then advertising copy is a pop song. In a pop song there isn’t room to be too clever or poetic. You end up having to use some of the same words and phrases that other pop songs use. Accessibility is part of the craft. We were joking on one of my buses that every single Spanish love song contains the word corazon. But that isn’t far from truth in English either. In pop songs, as in ad copy, the sentences you write sometimes teeter on the edge of cliche. The difference is that a good writer can pull in the words just so, to make them sound familiar but fresh.
A small resolution for me in the coming months is to tell shorter stories, in fewer paragraphs. Stories that don’t merely read like they’re excerpted from a longer arrangement. These feed into the longer-form writing, just like the other way around, because the things you spend your time on become the things you’re interested in; you start by writing for others but end up writing for yourself.