The Writing Desk | Joanna Wiebe
Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of this quirky and esoteric feature I’ve started here and welcome to The Writing Desk. We’ll be talking to writers, copywriters, poets, designers, marketers, makers, photographers and all sorts of creative folk.
Now, imagine I’m about to introduce you to an auditorium, filled with the smiling faces of folks fuelled by caffeine and an eagerness to learn. What would I say?
“Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce…
Joanna Wiebe, the original conversion copywriter and the creator of Copy Hackers, where startups learn to convert like mofos. Joanna is also the founder of the brand-new writing platform, Airstory.
Here’s the part where we’d sit down and try and look comfortable next to the microphones. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…
Can you name the business book that’s always on your desk? (I’m talking about the one that’s covered in pencil marks, coffee stains and has turned down corners…)
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Well my favorite headline is from the old ad, “They all laughed when I sat down at the piano – but when I started to play!” And a very cool ad campaign today is the Skittles one – that shit’s crazy and gutsy and so well executed. But maybe my favorite ad campaign ever was Volkswagen’s “Lemon” campaign because it broke the mold.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
It’s a cliche, but writing for yourself – and I’d add to that, writing for your innermost self. Not the self you think you are or pretend you are, but that very strange, hurt, funny and strong person deep in there.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Don’t worry about what other people are writing or doing, and don’t worry about what’s selling and not selling. The things you think are weaknesses that need fixing are actually your unique strengths – so embrace them and let them lead you.
I’d read Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. Then I’d find all the Gene Schwartz swipe files people are selling online, and I’d study those.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Silence. Until the silence becomes a distraction. And then music I know well on ultra-low – Modest Mouse and Bjork do the trick very well.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- Snow White by Donald Barthelme
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
My “breakthrough” short story in my first creative writing class in university was called, “There’s a Hole in My Boat.” It turned everything around for me. My prof was very encouraging after he read that; he became a great mentor for me in undergrad. The story just finally showed me that all the mimicking I’d been doing of other people’s stuff was bullshit and I needed to – and could – write something really different successfully.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Quad grande latte at Starbucks.
Who was your teenage crush?
Damon Albarn from Blur.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I think the point is not to describe it but to experience it, isn’t it? I’m shit at descriptions. The ones I like best are, like, Nabokov when Humbert Humbert is describing Lolita: “she smelled brown.” The best meal I’ve ever eaten tasted sex.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
hahaha – what’s a tipple?! I’ll say Pimms because I understand it’s a Brit thing. 😉 My fave is a medium-cold New Zealand sauvignon blanc served in a big red wine glass.
If I were to give you a private jet, David Attenborough as a tour guide and a month off work – all expenses paid – where would you go and what or who would you write about – and why?
Tuscany. We’ve got plans to go there – finally – this summer. I’m dying to.
What’s in your pockets?
An Advil. Cherry Chapstick missing its label.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Keyboard and screen! I even jot down notes on my iPhone Notes app. Writing by hand has NEVER been my thing. The first thing I remember writing that I really liked was written on my nana’s electric typewriter.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on your desk and recycle?)
I used to, but I’d beat myself up for my lack of success as a creative writer. So I stopped. Now it’s all novels with a tiny side of how-to-write-well non-fiction.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Coffee. Strong coffee.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I don’t – my mug has one requirement: that it not be “big.” I have this strange reaction when I see a huge cup of coffee – I don’t want to touch it. I drink my coffee in narrow mugs and tall Japanese tea cups. I never thought of that before you asked me. Seems kinda weird to drink it from tall cups.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Amelia Bedelia! When she put potato chips in chocolate chip cookies, I recognized my soul mate on the pages.
Also Ramona Quimby and the Hardy Boys.
Your favourite word?
Is it wrong to say “fuck”?
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
I love browsing real-life bookstores. But I also love browsing Amazon and Abe Books. My love for books is untethered to bricks or pixels – anywhere I can get ‘em, I’ll take ‘em.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“Though none go with me, I still will follow.” It’s from I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. I love the idea of making a decision – consciously – to follow Jesus even if no one else will. It’s so moving. Few of us consciously decide on anything – and most certainly not if it will lead to our isolation. So many of the best people in the world do that: look crazy and believe in something unprovable.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Well the song Come On Eileen – no question. I’m up.
Beyoncé is also a no brainer.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I like to block off Saturdays to write. Getting up at 8am, grabbing a latte and writing for a few hours? Better than sex.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
A story about a woman who meets her double. Last night, I realized how I should tell it – so I feel like I’ve just about found my way into the story. Once the pieces come together in my mind, it’ll be unstoppable – three solid months of writing. That’s just how I work. Lots of quiet thinking for years… and then a huge purge.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Do you have room for a thousand words?
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
The seventeenth attempt at starting my next novel.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Don Draper. Doesn’t matter if he’s a misogynist – Mr. Darcy wasn’t perfect, either.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
American Beauty because Alan Ball just gets me. My favorite TV series of all time is Six Feet Under, which is also Alan Ball. That is completely accidental. He just gets me.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
The Sellout – I’m loving it.
I’ve actually got a stack of seven or so next to my bed. But The Sellout is on the top of the pile.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Who is your favourite artist?
I don’t have one yet.
Where do you like to work best – is it at a desk, in an office or in a coffee shop? And would you send us a picture of where the magic happens?
At my desk.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?