Herein lies the fundamental difference between Bob and The Boss:
“My name, it is nothing. My age it means less. The country I come from is called the Midwest.”
– Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side”
“Me, I walk home on the same dirty streets where I was born.”
– Bruce Springsteen, “Used Cars”
Springsteen is the quintessential write-what-you-know writer. In the gospel according to Bruce, you don’t have to be a poet to find poetry in real life. There’s beauty and meaning in every shotgun house, dead-end job, back street and back story. Yes, you yearn to escape these places, but the music is in that yearning – not in the escape itself.
Dylan, on the other hand, embodies the escape itself. He is the avatar for those who wants to be more than the sum of their parts. From Bob’s own lips in the Scorsese documentary No Direction Home: “I was born very far from where I was supposed to be. I’m on my way home.” That sentiment is the backbone of his writing. You are more than where you come from. You are whatever you yearn to be. (Pretty solid fodder for social change.)
So what does any of this business have to do with advertising? It all comes back to that old piece of advice: write what you know. A good idea. But if you’re writing ads, you often don’t have the option to write what you know. You have assignments, some of which have no obvious relevance to you at all. Your job as a writer – the job of any writer – is to find the truth behind the subject.
Write what you believe in.
It’s where Bob and The Boss meet. One of them couldn’t have written a meaningful song about his hometown to save his life; the other would never come up with a line like “you used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat.” But they both believe wholeheartedly in their opposing truths.
The crazy thing about writing ads is that it helps to be Bob and The Boss. Sometimes you get to write what you know – which is fun – but you can’t be afraid of the alternative. You should be willing, eager and able to explore what you know you don’t know, too. The key to either, the answer every time it seems, is truth as you see it. Write something you believe in and, whether it speaks to somewhere you came from or somewhere altogether new, it’s always true.