Don Draper’s Guide to Fantastic Writing

There’s no doubt about it. Mad Men is a must-watch TV show if you are a creative individual.

Don Draper is the most creative alpha male on TV. Well, some might say Harvey Specter is pretty ingenious too, but… Don is something else. Dark and moody and mysterious, but also a genius when it comes to sipping whisky and crafting the perfect slogan.

He makes it all look freaking cool…

All of them do. Peggy, Don, even Roger, who does nothing these days but loaf around and spit out hilarious one-liners.

It’s not just them. It’s their work.

They sit around thinking up the perfect ad.

Then they convince their clients to spend a ton of bucks on it. Millions of people fall all over themselves to buy the product, shifting consumer culture, spawning billion-dollar industries, becoming household names.

And they do it all with nothing but words. How cool is that? Don’t tell me you never fantasized about your words changing the world?

I know, I know. It’s just a TV show. It’s not real life. But, contrary to what you might think, there are some great principles being presented in this show, principles that apply to great writing and great blogging too.

The big idea

“A slogan’s nothing when you have a good idea.”Peggy Olsen

There are two kinds of writers in this world:

There are writers who enjoy procrastination more than anything else. They are also avid collectors of excuses. They can complain about their lack of inspiration, lack of time, lack of energy better than just about anyone else.

And then there are those writers who consume so much of the world around them, that connecting the dots is easy. They practically hoard ideas. They are always reading, listening, and watching for the next big idea. They are well aware that once they find it, packaging it is easy. They can wrap it up in a slogan, headline, or a domain name in a matter of minutes.

The first category of writers go about things in the opposite way. They worry so much about their domain names and headlines and slogans that they never get around to come up with great ideas.

The truth is, all of those things are just wrapping paper. It’s the gift inside that counts.

Focus on finding the big idea, and the rest will take care of itself.

Rummaging for inspiration

“A new idea is something they don’t know yet, so of course it’s not going to show up as an option.”Don Draper

Where do great ideas come from?

It’s tempting to come up with the tired answer that everything’s already been done. Everything’s been said. There’s nothing new.

I bet Steve Jobs didn’t feel that way when he invented the iPod. Or the iPhone. Or the iPod.

Great ideas aren’t just lying around, waiting for you to use them. You have to search for them.

You have to read books. You have to listen to people. And yes, you can even get inspiration from watching movies and TV shows.

The key is doing the work. The ground may be full of buried treasure, but you have to be willing to grab a shovel and start digging.

Sure, it’s hard, but if you’re willing to do it, you’ll never have a shortage of great ideas. Really, there is an ocean of them down there, waiting for you to tap into.

Doing nothing

“I’ll never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you’re doing nothing.”Roger Sterling

I’m all for the hustle and all that, but creative work is not just about working hard all the time. As a matter of fact, it can be sitting by the pool and reading a book.

Sure, it’s relaxing. Sure, you enjoy it. Sure, you might feel a little guilty about it.

But if you stop, what happens? I’ll tell you: your creativity will dry up, your work will get stale, and you’ll lose your edge.

So, stop being ashamed of it.

Yesterday I spent a few hours reading about Constantinople. Then a few more reading on copywriting, online marketing, guerrilla marketing, and writing.

I do not watch television, I do not read the news. I do not spend time giggling at cute cat videos on Facebook. I am careful of what I put in my mind.

I spend at least 3-4 hours per day reading books, listening to podcasts and motivational speeches, TED talks, or watching interesting seminars on NLP, Psychology, Hypnosis, and stuff like that.

I also walk around my house like a mad man thinking about stuff. Just thinking. I talk to myself, with myself, with some part of my personality, or some fictional character.

It doesn’t look like working, but that’s what it is.

A bit of fear can help you

“Fear stimulates my imagination.” – Don Draper

Unless it forces you into the fetal position while crying your heart out, fear is actually a good thing. That’s why, as a particular deadline approaches, you become a lot more creative.

If you’re afraid, it means you’re working on something important. If you’re afraid, it means you’re stretching yourself and learning new things. If you’re afraid, it means you have a reason to act.

How many stories have you heard of entrepreneurs who were dead broke and had to build a successful business or they would starve to death? It’s not a coincidence.

Burn the boats, and you take the island.

When it’s do or die, you kind of want to do anything so you don’t die.

If there’s no gun to your head, then you’re probably going to put things off as much as you can.

Sure, it’s painful. Sure, it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s scary.

But that’s what makes it so powerful.

The red velvet rope

“You wanna be on some people’s minds. Some people, you don’t.” – Roger Sterling

Have you thought about who you want reading your blog?

And perhaps more importantly, have you thought about who you don’t want reading it?

You probably know that you can’t please everyone, so you shouldn’t even try, and while that’s true, this takes it a step further.

Smart writers and bloggers don’t just ignore bad prospects. They exclude them.

They publish posts intentionally designed to annoy them. They ignore their emails. They respond harshly to their comments.

To some extent, it’s about focusing your attention on the people you can help. But it’s also about shaping your tribe. No one wants to be a part of a group anyone can join.

By excluding the wrong people, you make the experience more precious for the right people. No, it’s not always pretty, but that’s the way we humans work.

The product people can’t stop buying

“People were buying cigarettes before Freud was born.” – Don Draper

Pop quiz. Which is better:

  • A) Starting a blog about a topic you are interested in, and then convincing the world to listen to you?
  • B) Starting a blog about a topic the world is interested in, and then convincing yourself to write about it?

If you chose B, congratulations. You chose correctly.

Without even realizing it though, most people choose A. They start a blog about a subject they want to write about, and then they use every psychological trick in the book to get people to read it.

And sometimes, it works. If you’re a good enough marketer, that is.

But why go through the trouble?

People don’t buy cigarettes because of the marketing. They buy them because they’re addicted. Cigarette companies are obliged to finance millions of dollars on marketing campaigns to convince people to stop smoking, and yet they continue to make billions of dollars anyway.

Yes, it’s terrible, but it’s also smart business. The best type of product is the one people can’t stop buying.

Can you say the same of your blog? Is your content so important they can’t stop reading?

Relationships

“You’re not good at relationships because you don’t value them.” – Roger Sterling

I always say that those traffic figures that show up in your stats aren’t just numbers. They’re people.

You have to value them.

The next time you sit down to write a blog post, envision a stadium full of people. See yourself standing in the middle of them. Feel the anxiety in your stomach, as you get ready to perform.

And then ask yourself: what can you possibly say that would be worthy of the attention of more than 100,000 people?

Whatever it is, that’s what you should write. Nothing else.

Happiness

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” – Don Draper

The U. S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it.

So what do most people do? They pursue it. And they fail. Over and over again. And it’s like this cat and mouse game they play.

Shift the focus around. Forget about yourself for a moment and focus on making your readers happy.

Sure, writing killer content is a part of that. So is building relationships.

You might even say selling people products that improve their lives is a way of delivering happiness, too.

But it’s easy to lose sight of it. You can get lost in sharing your expertise, tinkering with the technology, or writing something you enjoy.

All of that’s important, sure, but none of it’s going to turn people into raving fans, faithfully reading and talking about your blog for the rest of their life. To get that kind of reaction, you need to write posts that touch people.

Give them a reason to laugh. Give them a reason to cheer. Give them a reason to keep fighting, even when they feel like all hope is lost.

Do that, and you won’t have to search for readers. They’ll search for you. You’ll boot up your computer one morning to find thousands upon thousands of them waiting for you, ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to launch into action.

And that’s when you’ll realize: you’re not just a writer anymore. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, you’re changing the world.

Maybe you’re like Don, lying on a couch, sipping a glass of bourbon, or maybe you’re not. Either way, you gotta admit…

It’s pretty freaking cool.

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16 thoughts on “Don Draper’s Guide to Fantastic Writing

  1. This is the best blog post that I’ve read all day. I agree with you on all of your points. I am glad to see that I am not the only person who avoids Facebook and the news. I agree that inspiration is everywhere, including in random TV shows. I also walk around my house just thinking and talking to myself about my writing. My children are now used to it, and don’t look at me like I’m crazy anymore.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Awesome post….I love this:

    “And then ask yourself: what can you possibly say that would be worthy of the attention of more than 100,000 people?

    Whatever it is, that’s what you should write. Nothing else.”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. MAD MEN is and will always be my favourite show and I think it’s a home run to tie its creative bona fides with the thing it stood out for : writing and diversifying it as a form of judicious expression on the part of all writers.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting analysis. You see the characters you have quoted… 2 guys 1 girl. They are characters to a phenomenal fictional construct about creating fictional constructs.
    What about the writers behind the scenes? The time for a man to be the face of trust is over. It’s time for a woman to headline the fucking show.

    Like

  5. My first job out of journalism school was in advertising as a writer. The dean of the school told me I was going over to the “dark side.” It turned out to be the best place to refine my writing skills. The ad agencies I worked in were full of creativity and great mentors. Of the many tips I learned was to envision yourself sitting across the table from your reader and having a conversation with them. “Make it personal; nobody wants to hear someone just talking about themselves and how great they are,” my creative director once told me. “Think about what matters to the customer, not the company.” Thanks for the great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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