My secret weapon for writing

Recently a co-worker asked me in the hallway, “So I wanna write a book. I’ve got this idea. Maybe sometime we can sit down and you could give me, like, your main piece of advice?”

I surprised myself at how quickly I gave him an answer, right there in the hallway. But it’s the same answer I’d give even now, having had some time to think about it.

“The best way I know to write a book, actually the only way … is to be obsessed by it. Once you’re obsessed by a project, you do it. In fact, you can’t stop from doing it. That’s the way it works with me.”

I also know it’s not this way for everybody. I’m aware of plenty of famous authors who succeed simply by clockin’ in with regularity; by sittin’ down at the same time every day and diligently applying themselves to the task. For most of the writing projects that cross my desk, personal, work, or otherwise, I too write with this nose-to-the-grindstone workaday approach. But not for the big projects.

That’s probably a good thing, I figure. If all writers had to wait for obsession to drive them on every project, I think our libraries and book stores would be boarded up. Yet when it comes to the lengthy task of writing a book, I generally have to wait for an idea I like so much that I am obsessed by it.

Obsession is how I wrote my first book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. No, it’s not exactly art, but without obsession, my advertising book would still be just the speech notes it started out as. But once it dawned on me that there were no good textbooks for students to learn how to create a decent ad, I was spot-welded to my computer. It was over.

I was at Fallon McElligott at the time. I wrote in between projects for Lee jeans or United Airlines.  But as the obsession grew, I found it interfering with my work. Since I was being paid to work at Fallon, not write some stupid book, I had to ask a colleague to actually come to my computer and (while I wasn’t looking) encrypt the whole project. I told ‘im, “Okay, now no matter what I say, don’t give me the code for two weeks.” That trick worked until near the end when ideas for whole new sections would occur to me and I could start a new file. It was kinda nuts.

Obsession is also how I wrote this new book, a memoir about growing up titled Thirty Rooms To Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic. It was just one of those things I couldn’t not write. I think it’s pretty good, but you can be the judge of that when it comes out on July 3rd on amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Blurb.com. There’s a “trailer” for the book on Hey Whipple’s YouTube.

5 Comments

  1. As Luke’s office-neighbor and occasional AD partner during the writing of “Whipple,” I can confirm his obsession with writing the book. When it came time to work on actual ads, he was even more of a pain in the ass than usual, and I remember him locking his manuscript in a bottom drawer, then “hiding” the key from himself. What do you get when you add “delusional” to “obsessive?”
    Luke.
    Thank God.

    Reply
  2. I’m glad to find that I’m not the only obsessive-compulsive writer.

    Reply
  3. Luke!
    I can’t wait to read your book. I will buy it, buy it, buy it!
    You haven’t left for Savannah yet have you? I would love to have lunch or coffee before you go. My treat. Austin will miss your brilliance and inspiration.
    xo,
    Stef

    Reply
  4. As creative director on several of the ad projects you ditched while obsessing on Whipple, I always resented that ridiculous project–especially when I wound up having to play copywriter on several of the ugly duckling briefs that seemed to slide right off your desk in those days. Then you go and immortalize yourself by releasing the most lauded book on advertising since Ogilvy–and featuring a couple of those very projects I did for you in Chapter Five, “Examples of Shitty Work” no less!

    Having just devoured an advance copy of Thirty Rooms to Hide In, I finally feel somewhat vindicated. This new one makes Whipple look like the complete waste of time I always said it was. Either your writing’s gotten deeper, funnier and more nuanced, or you’ve finally focused your energies by giving up all pretense of doing your day job. Either way, good as I grudgingly admit that first one was, the creepy funny mansion book is better. So much better, I stole one of your moves and read it on company time.

    Reply
    • Dear heywhipple.com readers: I do not know this person, Mike Leskarbo, and I resent having trolls like him crawl out from whatever bridge they live under and spew their vitriol onto a family-oriented blog. I am having I.T. look into blocking emails from this @CLYNCH.com address, whatever that is.

      Reply

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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.

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