The loneliness of the long distance copywriter

The Guardian ran a Q&A session yesterday (5 April) on copywriting as a career. I ended up feeling like a sole voice in a sea, nay an ocean, of emptiness. The posts were full of the thoughts and aspirations of young (I imagine) men and women desperate to be paid to pick up a pen and write lots of long copy.

The voices arguing against writing needlessly were few and far between; my favourite question, when asked to write a brochure for someone, is Why? Why add to the whirlpool of text in the world? If less is more and small is beautiful, why the rush of blood to the head when someone says "write lots"?

The connection between copywriters and poets is something of an old cliché, I fully appreciate that. And it was alluded to yesterday as if it was some kind of affliction, or indulgence. But the two are closely related, because they're about compression, reducing to the bare minimum. Fancy? Not a bit. Here's Cyril Connolly in 1938, in "Enemies of Promise", the book that coined the phrase "the pram in the hall", arguing that poets take up jobs as copywriters at their peril:

"... there is something about copy-writing which so resembles the composition of lyric poetry as to replace the process. When in order to satisfy a corset manufacturer in search of a slogan, a writer has to think of the rousing or the lapidary phrase, the assonance of vowels and consonants, the condensation of thought, the inflections of delicate meaning at his disposal, he will be in no mood to write anything else."

Copywriters who have not learned about this connection with poetry, or who refuse to learn about it, don't deserve to be called copywriters, in my view. They can still be writers, of course, and very good ones: you can take compression too far - War and Peace in two lines? It might be clever, but it somewhat defeats the purpose of a thing called a novel.

But we work in the commercial world. I don't see why we should proliferate words for people, when they'd be much more grateful to you for brevity. And brevity is still the soul of wit. Thank goodness.

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