Recent conversations have gotten me thinking about my origins as a writer. A real-on-the-page, take-your-five-paragraph-essay-and-shove-it writer.

As I’d mentioned in my post on revising my latest work-in-progress, I started journaling in my single-digit years. Yes, gaps of time crept in, and the content split all too cleanly by the boy of the moment. The good news is that I kept going. I knew I’d have an audience of one – my future self. So I wrote. But no – I wasn’t a writer then.

In college, I studied design at the University of North Texas. Students in their Communication Design program follow two ultimate paths: graphic design and art direction. Graphic designers create logos, corporate identities, and artful printed pieces – lovelies that define the term “pored-over.” Art directors take an ad from concept through production – more like a flash burn, yet no less intense in its creativity.

It was sophomore year, and it felt almost accidental. I discovered then that I’d start every design project with writing. That’s how my brain found its way around the assignments. Soon, my professors would introduce me to a little something called the “target market profile,” an essential part of market research. Some call it a “persona.” Whatever. I was in love.

Here was a chance to create a person, as living-and-breathing relatable as you could make them, by which to measure your ad concepts. If your “persona” wouldn’t give two hoots, you had it wrong. I made a sport of creating the most realistic person to talk to with my work. That’s how I want advertising to relate to me – so it only seemed natural.

Here’s an excerpt from a persona I wrote for a spec ad campaign in college (leading to the sketch at left). It’s no masterpiece, but rather a snapshot of a new love affair:

I get so interested in other lifestyles that I forget my own. (I’m 29 and getting less self-centered by the year.) If you could only see my furniture… my stuff is very 867-5309 and it sickens me. Most of my friends say I have a cool place. I agree, sort of, but I could use some updating. It makes a difference when your home is your office. It’s got to be beyond livable, with an extra degree of comfort that only sometimes happens in a living space. I don’t know – with all this new “huggable technology,” it’s hard to believe that advances are still being made beyond “will this Bondi blue plastic influence our consumers?” Maybe I have a strange generational take on computers. I’m web-savvy now, but I’m also from the Weird Science generation. I can remember wishing those kids could have made a nice cross between Tom Cruise and Richard Gere instead of what’s-her-name…

Looking up from that printout years ago, my college professor asked, “You ever considered being a writer?” Right then, my audience doubled. Why stop there?

When did you first feel like a writer? There are as many right answers as there are writers. Let me know yours in a comment below.

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