Copy by Clint

Musings

A Season of (Writing) Growth

The first day of spring seems a fitting time to mention a couple of major updates on my career. First, I’m writing a non-fiction book. Second, my day job is no longer straight marketing. In the former respect, I’m writing what I know, for a built-in audience. In the latter, I’m doing something I know next to nothing about, in an attempt to finally contribute—and I’m really excited about both opportunities to grow.

The book? A 33 1/3 volume on Pearl Jam’s Vs. If you know anything about me, you also know that my proposal being selected by the series’ publisher, Bloomsbury, is a huge honor. Though I’m contractually obligated to deliver the book, it still feels more daydream than reality. Me writing about a band I’ve loved since high school? Yeah, that’s a dream. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t major challenges in the work (not the least of which is carving out time to pen it), and it doesn’t mean my Vs. book is going to be a love letter. No, this is not fanboy stuff; it’s what I hope readers will agree is compelling scholarly reflection on a record that made a legendary band what it is today. It’s going to take a while, but I believe it’ll be worth the wait.

Speaking of waiting, I’ve been wondering how I might use my one solid skill to truly better others’ lives for years now. (Not coincidentally, the thoughts began nagging me shortly after my dad’s passing.) I’ve loved writing marketing copy all along, but selling social features and cell phones and investing tools and restaurant menu items was cultivating diminishing returns. So: now for something completely different.

Today I started at Health Perspectives Group. It’s a patient advocacy organization that helps people with serious health conditions make better-informed decisions about their pharmaceutical options. At least, that’s how I understand it after one shift. There’s a ton I don’t know about what they do, but it’s clear that they care about people and their well-being. And my contribution—consultation scripts, email, print materials—could help some of those people live better lives. Maybe that’s romanticizing it a bit, but HPG’s mission is one I believe in, and I hope to give patients who engage with them simple, clear information about their options… while I learn a whole bunch myself.

It’s going to be a busy spring. Here’s hoping there’s a bountiful harvest in the months and years that follow.

It's the Small Things: Hops, Daydreams, Tweets, Quatrains
Oumuamua Milk Stout

Last September, I clicked through a tweet to read about Hired Guns Creative, a boutique agency that designs craft beer (and other libation) labels. I was blown away by their work, and intrigued by the mention of the label “love story” they wrote for every Driftwood Brewery release.

I’m a writer who loves beer, you see. This wasn’t the first time I’d daydreamed of crafting copy for bottles and cans, but Hired Guns’ work impressed me enough to daydream in public. I tweeted the story myself, praised the agency’s artwork and design, and noted that I’d be thrilled to write beer label copy.

Then I went on about my day.

My phone interrupted me a bit later; I’d received a direct message on Twitter. From @HiredGuns. Whoa. I swiped straight to it, eyebrows high and hopes low.

They’d seen my tweet, and, as serendipity so rarely would have it, actually needed someone to write their Driftwood “love stories.” Was I interested?

I couldn’t respond fast enough.

The brewery preferred poetic, evocative blurbs on their bottles. Was that okay?

Holy crap, I was obsessed with prose poetry in college!

This beer label concept centers on an unknown object in the solar system, and we’re imagining it carrying beings that created the human race. Can you work with that?

Are you kidding me? Aliens is my favorite movie!

Yes, I was jazzed. (I’m still jazzed; I’m employing exclamation points!)

And now that beer, Oumuamua Milk Stout, is out in the world. Presumably hundreds (thousands?) of bottles are in cold cases and on shelves bearing words that I wrote. Bearing a damn sci-fi quatrain (which hints at the beer’s qualities) that I wrote.

Sure, it’s a Canadian brew, so I won’t find it at the local bottle shop, but it’s real. It's beautiful. (And there will be others!)

The only thing that would make this story sweeter: my dad holding a bottle and reading the shimmery little all-caps rhyme that his son wrote. He would grin. He would shake his head, just a little bit, in appreciation. His eyes would gleam.

He wrote and loved beer, too, you see. Prose. Poetry. Dark stuff. Hoppy stuff.

So I’ll raise a glass of this special stout to Dad. I’ll tell him he’s sorely missed, and thank him for believing in me.

I’ll keep daydreaming, too.

 

Forever caressed by blackest space, the hurtling megalith returns—

Earthlings' prodigal creator in dense, velvet-wrapped disguise.

Its secret pilots seek adulation, sweet desolation, eternal cold burn;

Sapiens' myths rewritten when revealed the cosmic truth inside.

Note to Self (and Maybe Other Writers): Know Your Voice

I write a lot. For work, for fun, for somewhere in between. Marketing. Fiction. Journalism. Employing different voices for different outlets. Tuning tone one way and another like the knob some of us used to twist on the stereo. For nearly a dozen years I’ve been at it, growing more adept at that twisting and shifting, feeling increasingly better about my work.

Clearly I have a handle on my own voice, then, right? Well, turns out no. I hadn’t put a lot of conscious thought into that until, in a recent job interview, I was asked the question directly: How would you describe your writing voice, Clint?

Oh, damn.

I nearly began this paragraph with “Needless to say…,” but the fact that I’m writing this ditty proves that it does need to be said. (Speaking for myself, anyway.) We writers aren’t just magical passive conduits who channel words from some other plane. Rather, we’ve already collected the words, we keep them within arm’s length, and, blessedly, somehow string them together to fit the right place at the right time. But we each do that differently, don’t we?

The way I’d write about a smartphone, an investing method, a musician, myself, or your standard toothpick likely wouldn’t read anything like your piece. We might choose completely different adjectives and verbs. You’d emphasize one aspect while I highlighted another. Our sentence structures wouldn’t align. Our punctuation would be a Rorschach study in placement (and I’d use more em dashes). Your work would be memorable and persuasive, and hopefully so would mine. For, most likely, very different reasons.

That’s the beauty of writing: there’s no singular perfect way to compose any given headline or ad or email or story. There are best practices and proven approaches, of course. But being a successful writer requires a unique application of those ground rules, a distinctive fruition of education and instinct. In short, being good at it requires having a solid voice. A voice you can describe, refine, and describe again. A voice you can be proud of.

So. Excellent question, interviewer. Next time I get it, I’ll have an answer as well thought-out as everything that I write.

Vintage knob image from w2dtc.com.

Writing About Legends (Sort of) Writing About Me

A couple of months ago, I decided I wanted to write a piece on Matt Vaughan, owner of Seattle's Easy Street Records. I felt I had to share how he's a legend in the local music community and one of a handful of people responsible for Record Store Day—and, because of that, responsible for the resurgence of vinyl records. Thankfully, Matt was up for it and Northwest Music Scene agreed to publish the story. So I had the honor of hanging out with the man in his shop, the site of so much history that's precious to this music nerd. It was the best kind of surreal.

The story—"Thank Easy Street Records' Matt Vaughan When You Spin the Black Circle"—quickly got a lot of social love (even from Matt himself), which was nice. And then Pearl Jam tweeted a link to it, which was just plain effing awesome. (I've been a fan since high school. The piece's title is a nod to the band, if you didn't know.)

Color me grateful. And a little smarter. I learned that sometimes, when you chase down a writing idea, things can work out quite nicely. It's the little things; they can actually be huge.

Frightening Comma Usage

Given the time of year, and that I have a 4-year-old, here’s something that’s been bothering me lately: the comma in Scaredy-Cat, Splat! I’ve not only spent a fair amount of time reading this book aloud the past few weeks, but I’ve been worrying at its title when I should be doing other things (like reading a book I want to read).

Did author Rob Scotton put that comma there to create a pause before the hero’s name? This is the only semi-reasonable purpose I can see here, yet it doesn’t grammatically justify the punctuation. So why, why, WHY is it there?

It’s making me nuts. I can’t figure it out.

The only potential conclusion I’ve drawn is a troublesome one: the comma is emphasizing “scaredy-cat” as an adjective. It’s doing something that really should not be done on/in a kid book. It’s highlighting name-calling.

The comma is both creating and forgiving the missing address of a longer, complete title: You’re a Scaredy-Cat, Splat!

Yeah, it’s lighthearted, and Splat is a “loveable” goof of a cat. The author’s not making fun of him. The other cats (and the spider) aren’t insulting him. Splat comes out a lauded winner in the end, as you'd expect. But man, that comma. It’s leveling a finger at him. 

Am I overthinking this? I think I know the answer to that.

A Work in Progress

Perhaps you were expecting more? A full-on blog, maybe? Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, if so. The days of regular posts are behind me, I'm afraid. 

My goal for this page is to share occasional thoughts on copy and creative out in the world. Headlines and passages. Good and bad. Print and online. And maybe talk a little about my jobs and process. Maybe.

Spare time's hard to come by, though. So we shall see.

Thanks for reading!

Clint