Hi. My name is Robert Warren, and I’ve been writing professionally now for the better part of twenty years, and it occurred to me that you and I haven’t been properly introduced. Welcome. Glad to know you. There’s some drinks out in the kitchen, please make yourself comfortable and let’s chat.
My god, you actually clicked it. You bought that. Consider yourself influenced by words.
If you’re reading this, then you are probably either:
- Looking around for a marketing copywriter, swept over here by a unique set of search engine terms,
- A former or current client, trying to figure out if I’m still writing telecom whitepapers and such (I am); or
- An editor or first reader, reviewing a story, article, or query that I’ve submitted to your publication.
The previous iteration of this website – a straight professional business site – had been up and online since about 2003, and it was WELL past time to finally give it a well-earned retirement. It was an anachronism, an artifact of another time, both of the Web and of my own life. I’m not that writer anymore. I still do the work, and in many ways I’m considerably better at what I do than that guy was. But it was time to do something different, and in a different way.
To explain the what, I have to explain the why.
I’d been headed there for a long while, but the Rubicon finally got crossed I think at the end of 2016. Things, well, sort of happened. Things that made me step back a bit and rethink my assumptions about the power of the written word, and the responsibility of those who write them. I set my pen down for a few months, did other stuff for a while, and set out to understand my place in a world that I was no longer comfortable in.
I did a lot of reading, taking comfort in knowing that nothing, really, is new. We’ve all done this before, and it’s been worse, and many others before me have done the same soul searching, and that took me to a rereading of George Orwell. I found some of the answers I was looking for in his essay collection, All Art Is Propaganda. If you’re inclined, I strongly recommend it. It contains gems such as:
In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.
His point was that in an era of politically charged debate, deceit, and “folly”, the front line of the war is language. Words get twisted to mean what they don’t mean. Everyone is busy weaponizing the commons, beating metaphor into swords, and if that means that language itself takes a beating.. well.. what matters is that we win, right? What matters is that words mean what we say they mean. Orwell saw that the act of simply writing clearly, and being honest about what you mean without trying to corrupt the language, was itself a revolutionary effort.
The real point in this book, however, that I took home was this: “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.”
I could go into a long, drawn out rant about some of the things I’ve seen, writing in the world of marketing. Some of it has been great. Some of it has been revolting. All of it, however, has been propaganda, words designed first and foremost to deceive you in some way, in an effort to part you with your money.
I’ve tended to be pretty picky about the work I take on, so in my own case, my deceptions have been fairly subtle in comparison to others. Speed up time; promote a certain image; use sensory manipulation to induce an exaggerated identity or conflict or experience. I’ve always tried to adhere to Churchill’s maxim about precious truth needing to be attended by a bodyguard of lies. Even so, I’m no longer convinced that it is possible to engage in the language commons in our time without getting your hands dirty. Not when everything is a lie.
So. As I’ve said at the start of this post, I’m still in the market for copywriting work. But expect me to be pickier about it, a lot pickier, because I’ve come to understand that there’s no such thing as art without agenda. We’re all in the war now, and even (as Orwell also points out) arguing that one’s work is “above politics” is itself a political stance. And if I can’t get behind your agenda, I’m no longer willing to sell you the rhetorical weapons that will help advance it.
If you’re in the former/current client category, fear not: most of you I’ve always been cool with. Call me when you need me.
And if you’re an editor, first reader, or (gasp) a general reader, please know that this is where I’m coming from. I hope you enjoy my work, and if you just want a good read and a nice break from the struggles of the day, by all means, I hope I can provide that for a few minutes. Lord knows we all deserve it.
I know I’m still writing propaganda. There’s no way around that. My hope, however, is to keep to the purebreed that we can still call art.