Failure Can Be A Smashing Success

Many of my literary heroes are failed copywriters. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, in particular. Recently, I Iearned that Jim Harrison, author of Dalva, Legends of the Fall, and several other important books, also gave it a go.
Jim Harrison in his memoir, Off to the Side:

After a long day and evening designing a sample ad campaign for BBDO I had narrowly missed by a single other candidate getting a good position as a copywriter. It later froze my soul to think of what emotional trouble my verbal abilities would have gotten me in at a big ad agency. It seems so much of good luck and bad are accidental and that the chance meetings that Pasternak had been criticized for in Zhivago are in fact the core of life.

The message here is be careful what you ask for. Like Harrison in his struggling to keep it together period, I too, turned to advertising. I faced a mountain of rejection at first, but stuck with it for some reason, and finally got the break I was seeking from BOWG in Salt Lake City.
Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Harrison had mercifully short runs in the ad game. Mine run has been more like a half-marathon. At any rate, I consider myself a failed copywriter. I’m not down about it. In fact, I’m psyched. Not because I’ll someday achieve literary success. That still seems as far off as ever. But my failure as a copywriter will continue to drive me to excel in other areas.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.