Writing Resources

Penby Neil Holmes

The blank page (or computer screen). My daughter and I both face it everyday. She is working on another school essay, and I have to write my fourth car spot of the week. So when she asked where I get the ideas to generate new approaches to the same old advertisers, I answered “experience.” Her skeptical look meant she needed more information. “Surround yourself with the useful, the obscure, the bizarre,” I said. “And then let yourself go.”

“From the obvious, on my desk are a couple of dictionaries (I have three for English alone) and a thesaurus or two. I also include a book on Spanish translations, a quotation dictionary, and a children‘s dictionary for simple definitions. (The pictures are a bonus.) I also have a couple of reference books on proper English and syntax. After all, writing is a powerful tool, and we should use the proper English, even when we’re relatable. Stiffness and tone depend on the audience.”

“I’ve got a couple of books on doing everything right; they help generate relationships between my client’s product and the listener’s real life. I have a book of Christmas stories so I don’t generate the same tired approaches to holiday spots (or Valentines, Memorial Day, birthday giving, etc.). I have a dictionary of Real Estate terms I’ve used to explain and complicate, depending on the client. Some of my favorite resource tools are books on laws, correlations and observations (like Murphy’s Laws). I also have a bunch of local advertising mailers called Smart Solutions Magazine. They are really meant to deliver print advertising, but I save them because they contain tips on everything from housecleaning to barbecuing and more — all the things that listeners do that can become relatable in a spot.”

“Of course I have a bunch of radio trades and RAP magazines for other tips and suggestions, mind altering puzzle books and several For Dummies books on everything from websites to Jazz. I even browse my collection of home improvement magazines every once in a while; ideas from the ads in there, plus day dreaming about my next home repair, often bring new approaches to copywriting.”

“My walls include a bulletin board with a picture of my Grandmother. Talk about ideas. The tales she used to tell have inspired many a commercial,” I told her. “I have pictures of our family, gifts I’ve received, even your writing from when you were eight. It is so simple and so vivid. “The Tree, the Rose and the Daisy” is a wonderful single paragraph short story. I also have a map of the USA in plain view, and a world map on the opposite wall. An Atlas and some field guides are also within reach. Thinking about other cultures often inspires a dialect and a fresh approach.”

“In a file folder… hundreds of ideas. Some of the (stuff) forwarded email to email like the politically correct “Little Red Riding Hood,” some good jokes and stories, and unfathomable newspaper headlines. I’ve got stories of idiot bosses, ignorant employees, and indistinguishable owners. The file also includes spots I’ve written that got killed by different clients afraid of standing apart from their competition. The goal is to have different points of view. You never know what will move your thought to an effective commercial.”

“Of course, I deal in sound, so I have a lot of CDs just for inspiration, from current mainstream artists of various formats to Classical and Jazz. I’ll randomly flip to different tracks on CDs with movie clips or sound effects for ideas.”

“Then there are the online resources. The client’s website is one of the places I’ll usually research. Plus, my web browser links include major US news sources, international news, sports, technical and business news. I have links for online dictionaries and thesauruses, encyclopedias and demographics. Links for maps, comics, and crosswords. And links to links for so much more.”

“Don’t overlook the silly for inspiration, like my collection of plastic alien cups, stuffed cartoon characters, and old microphones.”

“Enough,” she said. “So you have a lot of information at your fingertips.”

“Yeah, I do. But there’s more. You have to practice your craft everyday. Read a lot. (Try Stephen King’s On Writing) And you have to learn to handle criticism.”

“Still, the key is relating the client’s message to the listeners’ lives, your audience — making the commercials about the listeners, not the client. Inspiration comes from your life. Look around. The view out the window changes when you stand on your tip toes or lie on your back. Or to borrow a quote from James and the Giant Peach, ‘Try looking at it in a different way.’”

I just have a bunch of stuff around that helps me do that.

(I’ve listed a bunch of links online, too for anyone. Just go to www.voice creative.com/Copywriters_Links.html.)

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