Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

War On Whitespace

Originally posted to justin.revision8.com on in Waverly, Iowa

Ad salesmen aren’t poets. They require an actor’s subtlety to direct a reluctant car dealer to the conviction that brings his inventory to tomorrow’s news and to restore the grocier’s faith despite an erroneous insert, certainly. But especially in smaller markets, they are also the arid copywriters whose best work still begs for some overwhelming piece of clipart or a coupon for the most thrifty of consumers. Enter the layout artist — a gross misnomer, given that any schmuck, with even the most primitive of page layout packages, can produce a sellable ad.

I am one such schmuck. Though, without fail, acquaintences think “I make ads” means I’ve a hand in the wordmaking, and infrequently catch my correction, “No; I do layout.” Responses vary little: “Well, they need some good writers,” and, “I bet you get to catch a lot of spelling errors, huh?” And so on.

Maybe it’s the English major. Most assumed I’d taken the practical path, Writing, rather than the useless-as-philosophy Lit concentration. They’re half correct; I do write. I enjoy what one poet called “the pushing of words” — revision is writing’s greatest reward. Poetry is my love: a labored verse, terse and nearly overripe with meaning, is for me a full emotional meal. A well-placed caesura, read with passion, can be like prayer.

But work is without poetry. I’m to make the bloody things look nice. Education and creativity — or a general sense of visual harmony — are, however, no match for the client’s notion of a well-made ad. He wants wall-to-wall Helvetica with no damn whitespace what the hell are you trying to do rip me off?! And every morning at my desk are the salesman/copywriter’s revisions, an infinite pile of, invariably, “Let’s make this a bit larger.”