The Business of Writing and the Soul
Updated: Feb 8, 2019
It was my senior year as an English major with a creative writing concentration in poetry. I had a meeting with my Poetry 499 professor, the last before graduation. He was my advisor and also a famous poet. Intimidated, I pushed tentatively at his half-open door and sat on the wooden chair next to his desk. Without looking up, he grabbed a pencil and started scrawling names of M.F.A. poetry programs on a legal pad.
“Oh. I’m. Um. Not applying to master’s programs,” I said, as he kept scribbling. “I’m thinking advertising. The creative side. Copywriting.”
The pencil landed with a thud. The professor took off his glasses, stroked his salt and pepper beard, and looked at me with incisive, owl-like eyes:
“Advertising will kill your soul,” he intoned.
So, as you would imagine, I went on to become a soulless zombie. I mean, communications strategist and speechwriter. My first job out of school was as a copywriter in Washington D.C. grocery chain Giant Food’s in-house ad agency. I quickly learned that while I was promoting everything from frozen peas to one-hour photo, poetry was not irrelevant. A grasp of diction, rhyme and meter came in handy as I wrote, edited and produced everything from print ads to radio spots to corporate videos. The women who mentored and taught me did so with passion and integrity, and when it came time to move on, I went portfolio in hand and soul nourished.
As my career progressed, I continued to see how a writing career outside of academia and publishing could be meaningful and fulfilling. My work evolved to include speechwriting, and the symbiosis between poetry and business writing revealed itself further. Speechwriting, like poetry, is a spoken medium, so cadence and pacing are important. Voice is also key for both: when we write poetry, we inhabit the speaker of the poem, just as a speechwriter assumes the point of view of the person for whom they're writing. Poetry and speechwriting share the ability to communicate depth of feeling, as well. Poetry illuminates ineffable experiences and emotions. Likewise, speechwriting helps raise awareness and persuades people to do things that matter—whether it's embracing a shifting corporate vision, taking care of the environment, or advocating for disabled people’s rights.
When I built my firm 20 years ago, I chose to focus on clients and work that fed my soul. I still do. That guiding principle has allowed me to brainstorm and strategize with incredible leaders, write everything from ads to peer-reviewed reports to books, and sate my curiosity on topics too numerous and varied to mention. So, can you be a poet and a promotional writer? Can you create within a business setting and not compromise who you are? I think so.
I hope you experience satisfaction in your career path. And AWC is here if you want help with speechwriting, or any other communications service.
Alyson Gold Weinberg