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The Best Headline You Never Saw

Being a writer is no cake walk. In fact, being a copywriter might even be a curse. I admire people who can sit down and bang out a blog post, an article or even a headline. Me, I have a need — or desire — to wrestle with the Muse for an indefinite length of time. I don’t rush a new theme or headline because I can’t. Could be a few hours, could be a week of the cursor flashing impatiently. Blink blink. Or the whiteboard as vacant as a Sears parking lot.

You remember headlines, those big words that used to be on the page before Facebook ruled they can’t be more than 20% of the ad space and Google rejected them for containing numbers.

When the thoughts do break free and start to flow, the words are not far behind, and there comes an immense sense of accomplishment in the completion of the task at hand. Only then do I feel I have properly expressed myself. As much as I’ve read about the creative process, I don’t know the secret trigger. I just know the mouse has finally pulled the thorn from the lion’s paw, to borrow from the African folktale.

I might even stop and buy donuts for everyone, I’ll feel so good. Try to make up for the previous four days of brooding, walking around the office with my trademark scowl.

When you’re in the ad business, those ‘incubation periods’ are on the clock and often very unprofitable. But I’ve also learned that, allowed to fester, the end product can be very marketable. Or more important, very valuable to a client. A great headline will be more effective, sell more product, create more value. Those five or six memorable words can even make art directors look good; I’ve seen it happen.

You might image then, how dismayed I am when the long fought for headline is rejected by the client. A good headline has no history, no legacy of data to support its effectiveness. All you have is, “It will work, trust me.”

Best headline I ever wrote was for a, well, a non-profit foundation. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that underneath the all-is-well veneer of Holland, Michigan, there was a disturbing increase in spousal abuse. The proposed newspaper ad featured a headshot of a young lady with a black eye. The headline: “She Works in Holland, but Lives in Hell.”

They never ran it.

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