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Inside the Writer's Studio: Melanie DeCarolis

What do real copywriters really think of Mad Men's Donald Draper? Is it gauche to lord your impressive vocabulary over the less grammatically endowed? And why did everything need to get done yesterday? The Hired Pens senior copywriter Melanie DeCarolis sheds some light on these and other burning questions. She also brings beer to meetings, but not all the time.

THP: Okay, ready to play "finish this sentence," Melanie?

MD: Ready.

THP: The thing most people don't understand about copywriters is ...

MD: We don't work at the patent office or Library of Congress. People hear the job title and think I stick that little (c) mark on intellectual property and protect it from being stolen.

THP: The ad campaign I wish I'd come up with is ...

MD: Probably in a subway station somewhere over in Europe. They get away with more over there.

THP: My favorite word of all time is ...

MD: Monkey.

THP: What matters most to your success as a copywriter? A good sense of humor or good hair?

MD: I'd say a good vocabulary, actually. I like to drop words like "balletomane," "wamble" and "dysania" in meetings because everyone respects that. It says, "Hey, this chick doesn't fool around. She knows big words; she must have one of those wacky deep thesauri. So she must be a real writer."

Of course, nobody wants to actually read those words in their copy, but that doesn't matter. It's like voodoo — people aren't sure what it does, but they don't want to get on the wrong side of it. Just to be safe, though, after I toss off a couple of polysyllabics, I toss my hair.

THP: If someone wanted to become a copywriter, what's the one piece of advice you'd give them? (Extra bonus point: How would you solve the grammatical quandary in this question?)

MD: I'd say, "If a young and hopeful lass like yourself wanted to become a copywriter, what is the one piece of advice you'd give her?" It's colorful, human, engaging. However, the client would edit the sentence to stay the same, or he or she might allow, "If someone wanted to become a copywriter, what is the one piece of advice you'd give him or her?"

For the record, that advice would be "Don't become a copywriter. Find something else to do. I've heard doggy day care is a lucrative industry. Doesn't it sound like fun, playing with puppies all day?" Because, quite frankly, I don't need the cut-rate competition!

THP: What's the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

MD: Don't listen to anyone who gives you writing advice.

THP: Why did everything need to be done yesterday?

MD: Because clients know that writers do their best work under the pressure of the absolutely insane deadline.

THP: Let's not spread that around.

MD: Right.

THP: And finally, who would you rather invite to a brainstorming session: Mad Men's Donald Draper after a three-martini lunch, or his secretary turned junior copywriter, Peggy Olson?

MD: Since I don't have cable to know how to answer this, I'd invite myself. At my last corporate job, I brought beer to brainstorms.


August 2008: Also in This Issue

Three Rules to Writing Conversationally

Writing Effective Marketing Emails, Pt. 2

The Grumpy Old Copywriter: No, I Won't Be Your "Friend"


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