Commonplace Book

Teddy Roosevelt on timing

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 5.02.37 PMThis is true and not something a literary education teaches you well. When you spend most of your time rightly reading books written long before you were born, you don’t see the point of a thought having value simply because it is recent. Compared to the great books, most things written recently aren’t very good, or won’t have relevance much past their date of publication. In the classroom, it doesn’t matter when something was said, just that it was said well.

In the battle of life outside the classroom, with wealth and reputation always on the line, the timing of a thought, phrase, or action is everything. We read the great books to remember them when we need to. And unless we speak up when we have to or act before its too late, having a wise thought becomes rather a curse than a blessing, because it becomes an occasion for regret. This is something Teddy Roosevelt likely knew from experience, both in regret and in victory.

On writing: Lyric copywriting v. long-form

To be a bore, one merely has to say everything.

-Voltaire

I’m not the kind of copywriter who tends to write short. I write business-to-business pieces, mostly, which are meant to draw you in, explain the world, and then explain why my clients make something or deliver a service that will make the world better, starting with you, the reader. I want you to read what I’ve written and sound smarter in the next meeting with your boss or client, and that takes time to do. 

When you’re about to spend $8 on a burger, shorter copy is better (“I’m lovin’ it”).

When you’re about to spend $2 million on a piece of industrial machinery, a three-word slogan just doesn’t cut it. The longer and more informative the copy, the better it tends to boost sales or reputation.

But even then, an economy of words is necessary. Every sentence has to balance on a knife’s edge of being informative or soporific. After all, the next sentence might be the one where you stop reading. 

It takes talent to write a short slogan, akin to singing a song or shooting a perfect basket from across the court. But it takes endurance and discipline to write long and not falter.

In the copywriting world, writers of short copy are the rockstars, poets, and abstract expressionist painters. But us long-form copywriters are the novelists, symphony writers, teachers, and genre painters. We are (and I say this affectionately) what Samuel Johnson called the lexicographer: “A harmless drudge.” Our superpower is endurance. Our spells take longer to cast, but are, in my opinion, more powerful for it. 

That said, I have this cartoon pinned where I can see it from my keyboard, to remind me never to overstay my welcome. 

From the Commonplace Book: Aristotle on the Purpose of a Paycheck

I plucked this from the endnotes of Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Societyan analysis of life in an age of continuous connection and unchecked positivity. I’ll be reviewing it later this month, but want to share this gem that Han pulls from Aristotle’s Politics:

“So some people believe that this is the task of household management, and go on thinking that they should maintain their store of money or increase it without limit. The reason they are so disposed, however, is that they are preoccupied with living, not with living well. And since their appetite for life is unlimited, they also want an unlimited amount of what sustains it.”

It’s Aristotle, but it could be one of the Sutras, and it is as relevant today as it was in the 4th Century B.C.

The choice is the same as it has always been. We can either spend our lives in the pursuit of perfect security, which is an illusion, or we can seek out the daily moments of spontaneous connection with the good and bad of life, which force us to spend  some of our time and vitality, and to know in our hearts that both will give out some day.

Even on those days when I wake with a clear mind and a sound body, feeling my best, I feel a moment’s unease, because I am confronted with the question of what’s really worth the use of my energy.

Pleasure? Service to others? Drudgery? Solitary reading? The pursuit of love? And that’s on days when I am fortunate enough to have the choice.

What’s worth it to you today?

From the Commonplace Book: Annie Dillard

Before private libraries and long before the invention of the search function, people used to copy important passages into notebooks called “commonplace books.” I’m not so old fashioned that I keep a written one, but I do have a tag in my files called commonplace book. I click on it for inspiration, so I thought I’d share some of the quotes with you, in the hopes you’ll be similarly inspired.

I read this quote years ago in The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and it has echoed in my mind ever since. It’s less of an inspiration and more of a challenge. We all carry a vision of our future selves with us, usually one that’s better off than we are today, one with more purpose from day to day, more money, more fulfillment, etc. And somehow the days we live, or are forced to live, never quite seem to add up to that future self, do they?

To me, this quote is about the small heralding of big things. Relationships are nourished and great ambitions are shaped one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

What will you do with the next one?

Quote from Joss Whedon on the use of creative writing

I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of. -Joss Whedon

After about an hour of reading, I slip into a trance in which the revelations of the story are capable of thrilling me. One of the unexpected joys of writing for me is that, after an hour or two of it, I get the same thrills but from my own mind. This happens whenever I am working on a complex project, whether it’s for a client or for me. After solitary work, I am a bit more the master of my subject, my mind, and myself.