How Do You See What You’re Missing?


Trixie keeps an eye on my work as a copywriter, but she’s not much of an editor or proofreader. In fact, she can create her own typos just by walking (or sleeping) on my laptop. I appreciate her watchful care while recognizing that human eyes are still better at detecting a misused word. Such as formally vs. formerly.

There’s more to editing and proofreading, though, than word choice. A creative product comes through a mental route of ideas and ends at a certain look or feel. Perhaps “ends” is not the right word. Let’s say “comes to rest.” Because until the creative product has been sent, printed or published… there may still be changes or corrections yet.

So, anyway, that route of ideas comes to rest with a certain product. You know in your head what you’re trying to say. This is the message you’ve created. You show it to someone else, and you sometimes get input you didn’t expect. That’s the point. Because if you expected this input, you didn’t need it. The other person tells you what you missed.

I remember a lesson I began learning as a young copywriter that only took hold over time. I had written a Halloween ad encouraging people to bring their children to trick or treat at the former Montgomery Mall. My headline was: Bring your little monsters to Montgomery Mall.

In my 20s, I thought my idea was great. The pun fit the occasion perfectly. A graphic designer developed a mock-up ad featuring a trick-or-treater in a monster costume, and it was presented to the client. Surprisingly (to me at least), her response was: “I don’t know… I’m not sure parents are going to want us to call their children little monsters. Should we go with something else?”

I was disappointed that the headline was rejected over a silly little thing like the fear of insulting customers. It had been such a perfect pun. But back to the drawing board (or the word processor). I came up with something less memorable (which I can verify because I don’t remember the second option).

You could probably measure my maturity as a copywriter by my acceptance over time of the client’s point of view: parents actually might not want us to call their children little monsters. Why take that risk when you can just write another headline?

As a copywriter, I try to be alert to the unexpected offense or unintended insult. In my own work, I might not see it at first (or at all), but sometimes I start to feel a kind of discomfort and can’t be at peace with the product until I make a change.

For clients, I’m often their second set of eyes. It’s my job to look out for their best interest – at least in terms of the words in their piece. I’m here to help them see what they missed. But this is important too: I try to be diplomatic in how I say to the ones who pay me, “You might want to rethink this statement …” Because, it is possible – and I really hesitate to say this, but – it is possible I could be wrong.

This reminds me that most of us are convinced that are own thinking is on point. Our thoughts seem so much like who we are they might as well be a hand or foot. But they’re not. Or they don’t have to be. Thoughts and perceptions can change. Therefore, pulling back for a clearer view – or seeing a blind spot from a different angle – can be quite helpful. Veils are lifted and hearts are changed as scales fall from our eyes and a more accurate truth emerges.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 39