I’m a creative writer. On the weekends I write poetry and plot my debut novel. During the week, I work in digital marketing. What do these seemingly different activities have in common? Is there a place for creative writing in digital marketing? And what can digital marketing teach the creative writer?
For some, describing yourself as an author or a creative writer might come across as pretentious. Does it mean that I’m never seen without a gauloise and an espresso à la Camus? That I guzzle absinthe and in stints of paranoid delusions perform alchemical experiments à la Strindberg? That I never leave my cork-lined bedroom à la Proust? That I go for casual drinking sessions and end up downing 17 double daiquiris à la Hemingway? It surely must mean that I one day will kill myself or, alternatively, die of pneumonia. Right?
Not quite. As you might have noticed, neither of these statements actually have anything to do with writing per se. And writing is what I do. Not because I like rum or psychedelic drugs or unrequited love or to hunt in the Serengeti, but because I enjoy to write. I enjoy the process of sitting down with a blank piece of paper (or rather, an empty Word document) and articulating an experience, an idea, a metaphor. I like to finish the piece, put it down in front of me, see how it gets up on its own two legs, how it toddles towards the front door and prepares to leave. A minute ago it didn’t exist – now it does.
There is not much more to it than that. To be a writer doesn’t come with a set of behaviours, a way of dressing or an exceptional introverted view of the world. When creating and moulding this alternate reality that is materialising in front of me, I, more than anything else, like to use words. For me, there’s a truer connection between thoughts and words, than between thoughts and other forms of expression. It might just be that writing is a medium that happens to suit me because, God knows, there are hundreds of other creative arenas where I don’t rack up. I’m not good at drawing, or sculpting, or singing, or dancing. And so forth.
Words, however, are my friends. And because I like words, I like languages. Languages force me to learn new words, which in turn make new ideas pop into my head. The more words I know, be they English or Russian or Chinese, the further I can think. Videos, being based on script, also have a place in this word-centred environment – the only difference being that they requiring an interpretation and materialisation before standing on their own.
For me, to be a creative writer is not about being ingenious or unexpected, but to be simple and exact and choosing the best possible perspective for the situation. Creative writing, no matter how fictional, is all about telling the truth, in whatever context that might be. And there is just as much truth in showing a fire breathing dragon as in describing someone lodging his tax return. It is true in the way it’s recognisable and profoundly human (or dragonesque).
Imagine an athlete who’s really good at what they are doing: Roger Federer on the tennis court or Usain Bolt on the running track or Annika Sörenstam on the green – don’t they make it look like what they’re doing is the easiest thing in the world? Are they even breaking a sweat? Instead of doing more than anyone else, they move more clamly, are more focused, more in control. The same goes for creativity and writing. To be good at something is to be direct and communicative. To be simple. It’s not about turning yourself inside out or to exert all your energy at once, but about being precise and to do the right thing at the right time.
Which brings us to where we started – digital marketing. Just like creative writing, digital marketing comes down to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These shoes might be Camus’, sipping his coffee in Marais. It might be a single mother’s, indecisive if going for the inbuilt harness or the crotch buckle pram. Or it might be Roger Federer’s, chasing down and turning around a 0-6 tiebreak into a Grand Slam title.
It’s not magic or mind reading or a highly developed empathic quality that makes the perspective believable, but a show of respect for the truth and the world around you. More than anything, it’s about authenticity and honesty.
I’m not saying it’s easy. To observe the world requires years of training. And this is exactly what creative writers have gone through. They are exceptionally qualified in the power of seeing. They also know that to write from someone else’s perspective isn’t to be untrue to yourself. You are one entity; your creative writing is something else.
The digital platform, compared to traditional marketing, offers the creative writer all sorts of new challenges. First of all, it provides an opportunity to practice your skills in a range of different forms: from articles and blogs to text messages and tweets. On the web, there is room for it all.
Most of all, though, the writing takes place in a multimedia landscape that’s so varied and exciting because of a constant process of transformation. What the digital dimension looks like today is not what it will look like tomorrow. This means that the words you write don’t stand by themselves, but are part of a flow of connecting texts, video clips, podcasts and games. That is, until the situation that we know is flipped and the boundaries are pushed by new applications and new devices. Knowing that the storytelling remains the same through all of this gives me, and probably most other people too, a sense of security.
When I write prose and poetry, I look at the world around and inside me and try to see it. When I work with digital marketing, I look at the product in front of me and do the same. I ask myself: what is its essence? What is its place in the world? The beauty of it is that I don’t have to make anything up: all I need to do is to aim for the truth and start to paint that true picture using words I love. With that, the enthusiasm for me is automatically there. I dig deep and look for a narrative drive. With respect for the readers, knowing we are in this together, I reach out to them to create an interest.
What I do is to use techniques I know from the art of creative writing to tell a story. I tell a story that is so true, so belonging to this world, that it gets up from my desk and starts to pace the room. And it’s at that time I only have one more task to carry out: to step up to the front door and open it. And that’s it. The story is alive, and now it’s out there, on its own, wanting to be read.