Writing and Life: The Endless Quest

One of my favorite movie moments takes place in City Slickers (1991), a story of three buddies who go on a cattle drive to escape their midlife crises. One scene sticks with me: flinty trail boss Curly (Jack Palance) and urbanite greenhorn Mitch (Billy Crystal) bonding beside the campfire.

“Do you know what the secret of life is?” asks Curly, holding up his forefinger. “This.”

“Your finger?” says Mitch.

“One thing,” says Curly. “Just one thing.”

Sometimes, Curly’s face appears when I get ready to write. What is the one thing I want to convey?

True, sales messages often contain multiple points. Lots of sentences. Facts, quotes, examples. But the most compelling always flow from a single idea.

At first, Mitch didn’t get it.

“What is the one thing?” he asks.

Curly tells him.

“That’s what you have to find out.”

Commercial copy is like life: most meaningful when purpose-driven.

As a writer, I know the “one thing” is purpose. That’s easy enough. “Finding out” is the struggle. But it’s worth the best effort. Strength of purpose can make words powerful, even life-changing. What could be more important?

However, in writing, as in life, best efforts sometimes miss the mark. When that happens, what does a marketer do?

Get back on the horse and throw the lasso again. Eventually, your rope will find the “one thing.”

In the meantime, let out a good “Wahoo!” and enjoy the ride.

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