Every few months, Ira Glass’s famous monologue about creativity surfaces on Facebook. You know the one, where he tells beginners to keep at it, even when they feel like what they’re doing is nowhere near as great as they want it to be.
Where was Ira when I needed him, back in 1989?
Fresh out of college, I moved to New York to become a writer. I answered an ad in the New York Times classifieds and within a few weeks was hired as a staff writer at a small Japanese trade journal that covered New York fashion, lifestyle, and entertainment.
That job paid the bills — barely — but the thrill of getting paid to write didn’t last as long as you’d think it would. It wasn’t good enough. I wanted to write for Spy magazine.
Spy magazine was my Everest. The pinnacle. It was the Saturday Night Live of magazines. Funny, cool, and exclusive. And I wanted it. So. Badly.
One afternoon, my coworkers and I lounged around the Upper West Side co-op that our boss illegally sublet as an office. She was out for the day, and we’d stuffed ourselves on our favorite $5 Chinese lunch special and expensed a stack of magazines. For trend spotting, of course. Vogue. Elle. W. Architectural Digest. Elle Décor. And Spy.
To this day, I have no idea what prompted me to sit down and write a letter to the Submissions department at Spy. Let me just say, I do not come from “horn tooting people.” I must’ve been high on MSG and perfume inserts — Calvin Klein’s Obsession, of course.
Possessed by freakish self-confidence, I poured my sarcastic, witty 20-something soul onto the page, sealed it up in a #10 envelope, and sent it on its way.
About a week later, I got a response from Spy: They would love to publish some of my work. Would I be so kind as to send them some pieces at my earliest convenience?
And here’s where Ira would have come in handy. Because, I never sent them any of my writing. Not one word. When push came to shove, I had zero follow through.
I wasn’t too lazy to write. I didn’t sit down in front of my comically gigantic pre-fingernail-sized-processing-chip computer and procrastinate the day away. I just went blank with fear. I had no good ideas. Who did I think I was? What could I possibly have to say that anyone would read other than to mock?
Life went on. I wrote for other magazines. I got married, moved to Boston, entered the realm of copywriting and savored the pleasure of being introduced as “one of our creatives.” (There, see, it’s real. I am creative! Because they said so.) I learned my strengths as a writer — I’m pretty good at making complicated things sound simple. And my weaknesses: “Dana never met an adjective she didn’t like.”
Copywriting was the perfect fit for me. I never had to worry about not knowing what to say. I had a creative brief, key messages, and concept copy right from the start. All I had to do was fill in the blanks.
I have made a career out of filling in other people’s blanks.
That’s not a complaint. It’s just an observation.
It’s been over 25 years since I got that letter from Spy. I have it in a box full of writing nobody’s ever seen. I’m going to take it out and put it above my desk. It can sit next to Ira’s encouraging words. Maybe it will remind me that I have my own blanks to fill.
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” (Mary Oliver)