I was watching Mad Men last night and was struck by a line from Don Draper. Before the trippy labor scenes, Don was being admonished by the new British owners of the advertising agency he works for. The new owner was going off on nickel and dime expenditures from Don’s creative department, threatening to crack down on expense reports and frivolous use off office supplies. After his new boss made a joke about his creative department taking afternoon naps an exasperated Don replied:
“You came here because we do this better than you. Part of that is letting our creative be unproductive until they are.”
It was a rather startling line for me. You don’t often hear that side of the creative process voiced so well or so succinctly, if ever at all, and it was especially surprising for a show set in a spot-on (so I’m told) buttoned-down 1960’s Madison Avenue. You wouldn’t expect the head of any department in that atmosphere to acknowledge that his staff is quite often not being productive.
Yet there it was.
Did the writers of the best show on television just have the greatest creative head in New York (screw you Duck) tell me that it was okay to go take a nap whenever I don’t feel like writing?
I mean, he’s right. A huge part of this process is me sitting here at my desk doing nothing that even remotely resembles writing so that when, and if, the juice does start to flow I’ll be ready and waiting. But it’s just too easy to go sliding off in that direction and convince yourself that you’re being productive when you’re not and then it’s next summer and you’re still on chapter one of your book.
No, sadly I have to take Don’s words as those of a good boss, not as personal advice to me as a creative type. Maybe giving his creative team a long leash turns out well at Sterling Cooper, but I’m sure they also have strict deadlines in place and I doubt letting one of those slide is allowed.
When you’re on your own you have to be boss and worker, creative and management and unfortunately more often than not that means forcing more words out than you’re comfortable with and to hell with the nap.
It’s still a great line though.