I’ve spoken at a many Career Days at my old high school, and the main question I get is “How did you get started?” I usually direct student to this page which tells the story.
Way back when I decided seven years working in a steel mill was enough (steel? yes, steel). I had always wanted to write professionally, but it seemed like an unattainable pipe dream because structural steel tubing was my reality.
One day I went to a street fest with a group of people, and I met a friend of a friend. We hit it off like peas and carrots and were cracking each other up all day. Almost off-handedly, he asked,“Have you ever thought of being a writer?”
“Whaaaat?” I choked as I spit some beer out of my nose. “Yeah, dude,” he continued.
“You’re pretty funny. Ever thought of being a copywriter?” I had never even heard the word copywriter, but I was intrigued.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’d love to be a writer.” He reached in his pocket, pulled out a card, and handed it to me. Below his name, it said Creative Director. I had no clue what that was either. “Come to my office on Monday.”
I showed up at his office on Monday morning. He explained what a book was, showed me his, and set me on the path to creating my own. He also gave me my first ever writing job working on a furniture client of his.
For my book, I picked a variety of products across different categories, wrote some ads, comped them up to the best of my minimal artistic ability, stuck them in a fake leather binder and started my very naive job hunt.
Most CDs who saw it probably laughed to themselves, “Are you kidding me? You’re surely kidding yourself. Go back to steel.” If they had them, most were kind enough to keep those thoughts to themselves. A witty cover letter led to lots of interviews, none of them successful. My self-doubt exploded. My self-esteem tanked. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the security of that steel mill to follow my dream. Perhaps I’ve made a colossal mistake with my life.
Then came a call from the powerhouse digital agency Razorfish.
“Can you drop off your book? We’d like to take a look at it.”
Fast forward two years to the occasion of my promotion. The ECD who’d hired me sent an email to the entire creative group telling them the news. “When Dan came to Razorfish, he had the worst book I had ever seen.” Ouch. Really, the worst? Thanks for sharing. Her follow-up:
“I hired him on the spot. While not much to look at, each page spilled over with raw talent and passion. In less then six months, his work was winning awards.”
I’m not ashamed to say her words moved me to tears. I am forever grateful for her willingness to take a risk and give me a chance. It started me down a path that has been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined.
Do you want to be a copywriter? It doesn’t take much. Just trust your talent, practice with passion, and carry a crappy book.
I have many others but I’ll spare you. Thanks for stopping by.