Well, sometimes it starts with a rock-climbing nun…
Always Write What You Know.
If you are a writer, or trying to be one, guaranteed you will get that advice at one time in your life.¬†Multiple times. Until you can almost predict when someone is about to say it. Enough already. And¬†so, when people ask me about writing radio spots, I say, Take what you know ‚Äď and run with it.
I know the objections. What do I know about lawn tractors or baby shampoo? As a consumer,¬†probably some. As a landscaper or chemist, probably less. But as a human, you have untold resources¬†and stories to tap into. That’s the stuff you know. Your starting point.
You want to know more? Be a sponge. Soak up and remember everything you have ever done or seen¬†and most of what has ever been said to you. That’s the cool stuff writers write when they write from¬†what they know. The details. Collect them from all around and keep ’em safe. You never ever know¬†what will come in handy. Start with that. Then go.
The process we have always used here at the Ranch involves a key step ‚Äď brainstorming. After we¬†have gathered from the client everything we possibly think we need to know about him and his product,¬†and as a team answered some questions for ourselves, mostly to establish the emotional connection¬†between said product and the intended buyer, after all that, the fun part starts. We start to tell stories,¬†from our lives, from others, stuff we’ve read, characters we’ve encountered. We bring what we know to¬†what we know we have to achieve. Lots of sentences that start with ‚Äúwhat if‚ÄĚ and end with an anecdote¬†pulled from our own lives ‚Äď names changed to save our family from embarrassment, of course. Mostly.
My mother had a cousin whose name was irresistibly perfect for comedy, so I used it a lot.¬†It cannot be said often enough. Successful advertising tells a story. And the stories come from us.
Back in school in Houston I took a geology course one summer semester. Loved it. Loved it so much I¬†was seriously considering taking more. Part of the lab section included a field trip.
Yay, college kids¬†on the road.
Oh, yeah, college kids and a nun.
Well, two nuns, actually.
It wasn’t a parochial college, far from it. But there was a nun enrolled in our¬†class. She was part of an order that required she never leave the convent alone, so there was always a¬†fellow sister with her. I guess I sort of assumed that she would not make the field trip, so I was¬†pleasantly surprised when she showed up for the bus. She and her buddy.
Our ultimate destination was the oh-so-aptly named Enchanted Rock. Located between Fredericksburg¬†and Llano, Texas, Enchanted Rock is technically a pink granite pluton batholith. A gigantic¬†outcropping rising 425 feet above the surrounding terrain to elevation of 1,825 feet, it is the largest¬†pink granite monadnock in the US. (Yes, I had to look that up. Geo 101 was a long time ago.) A¬†mecca for budding geologists, and a lovely climb on a cloudless summer day in the Lone Star State.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Enchanted Rock Reserve. Our peppy 50-something professor who¬†was one of the reasons I loved the class so much herded our cranky hippy asses onto the trail and¬†toward the summit. I kind of lost track of the sisters, who were following at a small distance behind.
The climb was pretty arduous, for everyone except the professor, but when we got to the top, it was so¬†worth it. The kind of view they invented the word ‚Äúbreathtaking‚ÄĚ for.
The rest of the class followed our leader to the far edge to observe some geological phenomenon or¬†other. I hung back, and turned to look behind me. All I saw was this expanse of gorgeous pink rock¬†against that big blue Texas sky. All by itself, pretty awe-inspiring.¬†Then, rising up over that horizon, came the two nuns.¬†They were in full sister regalia. No hiking clothes for them. We’re talking straight out of Sound of¬†Music. Dark dove-colored habits with spotless white collars and wimples and veils. Whipping around¬†them in the strong high altitude winds. They walked slowly, in almost syncopated step. Serenely,¬†stately, absolutely no evidence of the physical effort they had just completed. I watched those two¬†nuns, against that rock and the blue heavens, come towards me, and I knew that image, funny and¬†moving and straight out of an Ingmar Bergman flick, was gonna stick.
Fast forward many years. I am brainstorming with The Ranch for some spots for a photo developing¬†service. Back when people actually needed photos developed. We were pushing the fact that you¬†automatically got a second print for free. We started throwing around places and events where you take¬†pictures. At family gatherings. At picnics. At old-fashioned, family oriented parish picnics.
Suddenly, I remembered those nuns climbing in their habits.¬†And they became the sisters (and brothers) of an order, dressed for Mass and frolicking at a picnic.¬†Tearing it up with the sack races, three legged races, the wheel-barrow relay. Sliding home in the¬†softball tournament. And later, trying to wrestle with the moral dilemma of whose relative gets that¬†second print. All with nary a wimple askew. The point is, I didn’t know squat about nuns. Certainly¬†not nuns playing softball.
What I did know was that amazing experience all those years ago on a¬†granite dome. So I took that and I went from there.¬†The spot was silly and fun and won a bunch during that award season. It’s called Double Talk and you¬†can find it on the Ranch site. You can also find a template for our client information form. It’s a handy¬†tool, especially if you are having a brainstorming session of one. You will always be surprised by what¬†you know.
And you don’t have to write it ‚Äď you just have to let it take you someplace new.