All my best lines are stolen
I was struggling with a brief recently. I couldn’t come up with the line I needed. It was a deflating but familiar feeling.
Sometimes when I’m spinning my wheels like this, I’ll flick through the old portfolio. Not the usual PDF portfolio that every copywriter uses to sell that oft-neglected product: themself.
The other kind, the truer kind, that I carry around in my head.
If I could show you it, you’d see some stuff from the PDF version, but you’d also see the stuff that never saw the light of day. Some of it, deservedly so. (The failures that haunt you.) Others, they could have made the cut – should have! But it wasn’t to be.
Then there are the behind-the-scenes lines. The ones that never made it to a printed page or an H1 pixel, but they cracked a positioning or a strategy, and made everything else slip into place with a satisfying click. The lines that were the idea.
So like I say, I was looking back through this realest of highlight reels, looking for inspiration, for anything.
What was it that made that line work? How can I do it for this project I’m stuck on today?
Then it hit me.
All my best lines are stolen.
This isn’t me doing the whole “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” thing. I’m not talking about drawing on other brands or campaigns I admire.
It’s a confession that my best lines are stolen from the people I like to think can trust me implicitly: my clients.
And a realisation that it’s okay, because those clients don’t pay me for original thinking anyway – not entirely.
Whether they know it or not, they’re paying me to do something that’s harder than writing.
They’re paying me to listen.
“Wait, say that again…”
There’s a reason why the input and research process we do here at Beneath is so laborious. It can run into literal days’ worth of hours – of talking and reading and thinking and writing and forgetting and walking and rereading and relistening and scratching and despairing and remembering and writing and joining up and deleting and undeleting.
The reason is simple. To paraphrase Willian Gibson, your story is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed yet.
When you come to us looking for a new story, know that it’s inside your company already, in some raw form. It just needs to be picked out in the clamor, or viewed from the right angle like a piece of anamorphic art.
The creative part we play is spotting it, connecting it, processing it into something a little different – familiar but surprising.
Or just repeating something you say in passing, and telling you we think there’s something in it, and getting to work.
So when I can’t write a great line, I don’t worry about it. Because if I can hear a great line, I’ll be okay. (Back to the Zoom recordings I go…)
Which is why my own best line is usually: “Wait, say that again…”