Anna Mitchael on capturing those Big Ideas.
So this is the thing. We didn’t actually start out writing a hilarious book about a twenty-something young woman searching for herself in the halls of an advertising agency. At first it was going to be mystery with a male hero who goes looking for a troupe of dentists that kidnapped his pet walrus.
My co-author and I outlined the idea, then took it into an ad agency and we were like ‘HEY GUYS!’ (We screamed because it’s always really loud in ad agencies. You think it’s going to be quiet because, after all, aren’t these people being paid to think? But thinking only takes up 2% of every hour. The other 98% of the minutes are the preparation for thinking — the stretching of the legs, the shooting of the shit, the playing of the ping pong. Loud stuff.)
No one paid any attention to the shouting so we tried Plan B which was to steal the ping pong ball along with all bobble-head dolls in sight and scream again.
Then I jumped on a desk and said, ‘If you want your prized possessions back, you’ll follow me.’
In the conference room I pulled down the white dry erase board because anyone who’s worked in advertising knows a dry erase board is a necessity for a Big Idea. These coveted Big Ideas come along on a daily basis, most often while showering. People by the water cooler are always talking about the Big Ideas they have. But the tough part is capturing them.
So at the top of the dry erase board I wrote ‘Dentists steal walrus, man chases them.’ Then I turned around to the misfit group amassed there and I said, ‘I need you to make this idea into a best seller.’
‘What if the walrus is actually a horse?’ One guy said.
‘Oh yeah, like a cute horse? Like one of those pie horses on YouTube?’ A girl answered.
‘I think you mean pygmy, not pie.’ The first guy said, then he turned to the wall so he could roll his eyes without getting kicked from the room.
The first and foremost rule in a brainstorming session is that you can never tell a person they have a bad idea. Or that they are wrong. Even if they think a pygmy is a pie.
My co-author gave me a look and I nodded my head. The ping pong ball and bobbleheads went into a trash can. ‘They’re all getting doused with gasoline then burned to a plastic crisp if you don’t come up with something better than a horse in the next five minutes.’
And in five minutes the crew came up with the idea that a guy wakes up a normal guy but then looks out his window to discover the world has been changed, and he is the only one who can make it the way it used to be. ‘Guns! Chase scenes! Maybe sex?’ was written in the margins of the white board.
As my co-author passed back the toys I thanked them all for having helped us outline the plot of a Vin Diesel movie. After they filed out of the room my co-author looked at me and said, ‘I feel so confused. Like I came into the ad agency looking to affirm my creative potential and yet now I feel drained and exhausted — like it’s going to be up to us to come up with something that might make a difference in the world.’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘We could always write about that.’
- All names, events and prized possessions in the above story have been changed. Copygirl by Anna Mitchael & Michelle Sassa is also a work of fiction written to illuminate often ridiculous, mostly entertaining and usually obvious truths in life.
Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada in this lively debut about a young woman working at the hippest ad agency in New York…
So. You want to work in advertising. The glitz, the glamour, the cocktail-fueled brainstorming sessions and Xbox breaks. Sounds like a dream job, right? Wrong. The reality can be a nightmare. There are five simple rules for succeeding in the ad world — and I think I’ve already broken every single one…
1) Never let them see you cry. Even if your best friend breaks your heart. And posts it all over social media.
2) Be one of the boys. And, if you were born with the wrong equipment, flaunt what you’ve got to distract them while you get ahead.
3) Come up with the perfect pitch in an instant—or have your resumé ready to go at all times.
4) Trust no one. Seriously. If you don’t watch your back, they’ll steal your ideas, your pride, even your stapler.
5) Most importantly, don’t ever, under any circumstances, be a CopyGirl.
Trust me. I know…
Anna Mitchael is a Louisiana-born author who now lives and writes on a ranch in Texas. She is the author of Copygirl, Rooster Stories and Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am. For five years she has been a columnist about the country life for Wacoan magazine.