As Hunter S Thompson once put it, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Of course he was whacked on amyl nitrate and Chivas, but still, sound business advice. Before I closed down Photoshop and opened Word, I was an advertising art director, which meant that I had the hide of a rhino and a functional drinking problem. Working as a creative in advertising meant you had to have a few things in your wheelhouse, aside from a shallow knowledge of everything and the ability to think quickly, because at the end of the day (a popular advertising idiom – now popular among Earthlings) you’d better have a lotta ideas up on the wall with the knowledge that most of them suck.
As an art director, you worked under the guidance of your Creative Director, the defacto pro, who was a diligent dissector of bullshit and also a functioning alcoholic. This guy’s job was to kill every one of your ideas. Every last one of them. Going six to ten rounds on campaign ideas was common. Now, in order for this ad agency unwritten contract to work, you had to have trust and faith in your Creative Director because he was going to tell you things that you had to take to heart, even if you thought he was wrong.
You had to believe in the advice giver or be eternally fucked.
That’s right. Either you took the onslaught of criticism with gratitude (thank you sir, may I have another was a good retort) and learned from it or got shit canned down to a direct mail piece on hocking adhesive bandages to seniors with skin rashes. You took the advice of the pro you trust and worked with it. Once you obtained the ultimate level of condescending but accurate direction, you were now able to put together comps for client approval.
This is level five of Dante’s nine circles of hell.
Yep. It was time to put the work before the client and much like your Creative Director, they’re looking to tear shit apart. They did this out of fear of looking ignorant and being a pushover and because they didn’t want to be the one who greenlit the ad campaign featuring the talking colon. Needless to say, many, many awful and loathsome comments spewed forth from client’s mouths. All kinds of heinous shit, the running gag being “Make the logo bigger,” spilled out onto the conference table and you as the lowly creative, had to smile and take it. Even better, your Creative Director would slide you under the gas truck by looking at you as if you walked in with the idea ten minutes ago.
This was not an exercise in trust, but rather one in spotting a good idea, because every now and then, the clouds parted, and God’s eternal light of joy shone down on the client, who actually had something of value to say. If you were smart and could shove aside your ego for five seconds, you’d take in the advice and see how it could make your creation better.
Make your creation better. That’s the whole point.
That’s why we work with the pros AND learn to recognize a smart suggestion. We want our shit top notch. It’s on us, as creative types – and at this point, we can now assume the mantel of writer – it’s up to us to seek out good people and LISTEN TO WHAT THEY TELL YOU. You can question them about all kinds of things. Why make the dwarf a blonde? Should you phonetically write the lisping cop’s dialogue? But you should never question the credibility of the advice. You should never question the expertise of the personYOU sought out to help make your work better. It’s bad form and it confirms the suspicion of the pro you sought out that you in fact, are a dipshit with no intention of writing a better book.
What have we learned here, besides advertising creates a lot of alcoholics?
1. Take the advice of your hired pro as law.
2. Recognize a good idea when it slaps you in the face.
Unless you operate in a vacuum and hire the guy with the dancing unicorn on his website to edit your manuscript, be discerning about who you work with. Once you find the right person, whose advice you take stock in – shut up and listen. You just might walk away with a better book.