The Writers’ Waiting Room

In last week’s poll 35% of respondents revealed that if they did not work in advertising, they would like to be an author.

I’d imagine this is partly explained by the fact that the readership of ITIABTWC skews somewhat towards the copywriter, but even so it highlights an interesting phenomenon:
From Fay Weldon and Salman Rushdie to Indra Sinha and James Patterson, the connection between copywriting and book writing goes back a long way and has produced some of the greatest authors of the last century (and James Patterson).
On the surface it seems like an obvious relationship: aspiring author needs to pay the rent; gets writing-based job that allows him or her enough free time to churn out a novel, often amongst other like-minded people; novel side of things takes off; copywriter drops ‘copy’ from job title.
So far, so simple, but what it doesn’t explain is why the same is not true of art directors. I don’t know of any aspiring artists who choose to pay the rent via the creative department of an ad agency, yet the process of creating paintings/sculptures/messy beds must be similar to that of a novel.
Perhaps writers are encouraged by the fact that the path has now been well-trodden by a decent number of Booker- and Pulitzer-nominated scribes (and James Patterson), removing any stigma for a would-be author, and indeed leading them to consider a few years cranking out DPSs at Ogilvy to be a credible first step on the road to greatness.
The same historical route to success does not exist for artists, most of whom seem to find three years at Goldsmiths followed by the application of one’s tongue to some part of Charles Saatchi’s anatomy a sufficient foundation for a career.
So the line continues (Indra Sinha, winner of three D&AD writing pencils in the eighties, was nominated for the Booker last year), and as it does so, another generation of hopeful writers sees the way forward through a few years of writing copy.
But I wonder…
Aren’t things just a bit harder and more competitive than before? Not so long ago the would-be novelist could coast his or her way through a couple of 25x4s a month, leaving many free hours for the magnum opus. Nowadays, however, the creative’s time is consumed by 360-degree, fully-integrated, holistic marketing campaigns that spread their withered tentacles over more media touchpoints than Salman Rushdie had brown underpants. Chilling to the tune of 1000 spare words a day just doesn’t seem as feasible as it once did.
So will this have an impact on the number of great novelists who start as copywriters in the years ahead? Only time will tell.
And until we find out, there’s always James Patterson.