Monday, December 24, 2012

Between pushing cement sales and causing a lifetime of tears

Between pushing cement sales and causing a lifetime of tears

  • By  Dilshan Boange
  • Sunday, 23 December 2012 00:00
Manoj Dharmawardhane Manoj Dharmawardhane
A pioneer of modern advertising David Ogilvy says that advertising is a business of words. Therefore writers are spinal to the industry that ‘creates’ communication for the purpose of selling products. The designation given to a person who writes lines for a press advertisement or scripts a TV advertisement is ‘copywriter’. The copywriter is a person who no doubt needs to bank on creativity to make the product appealing while knowing what facts need to be conveyed to the potential buyer.

Writing can be both for the purpose of art as well as commerce. A ‘writer’ who works as a copywriter surely can have a duality in this sense when he reaches inwards to tap his creative pulses and create expression that serves the respective purposes. “A good copywriter can, with a single line, sell a ton of cement. Still, a good writer by putting to words a chain of emotions can make a sensitive person cry a lifetime.” This was how the difference between the two roles of ‘scripting’ was illustrated to me by Manoj Dharmawardhane, a copywriter at Leo Burnett Solutions, who has worked as a copywriter for the past five years, but found his drive for creative expression that serves commerce, rooted in his passion- a writer, an artiste of words. Having worked at the agencies ‘Clinch’, ‘Cameron Pale and Medina’ and ‘Holmes Pollard’ before joining his present place of work, Manoj now feels that he is at a point in his career where the scope of exposure to brands and the diversity of experience in working with products are at a peak.

Having read Mass Com for his BA from Kelaniya University, Manoj also holds diplomas in journalism and electronic media and started his career as a journalist and has explored his inner passions to become a writer although he is yet to achieve the status of a published writer and qualify as an ‘author’ in the realm of literature.

“As school kids we have ambitions of becoming doctors, engineers accountants, but not many really think of a career related to an artistic field at that point. While I had those ideas I also had a dream of becoming a writer someday. There is that inner passion and dream in kids as they grow up to become a writer someday.” This was how Manoj spoke of his career choices. His passions to become a writer, in terms of fiction writing, propelled him to write short stories and make a submission in 2007 to the competition held by the Sri Lanka Writers Association. The result had been the first attempt and saw his short story ‘Ruhunu Kumari’ being nominated simply to be critically struck down by the judges as an example of what a short story should not be! Some of the observations made by the panellist had been as Manoj recalled that writers need not force themselves to find plots, because stories can be seen around us in the world we inhabit.
Manoj believes a writer must be attentive and sensitive to the world around and find creative ways to recreate the world through writing. Perhaps his senses were better honed afterwards because his entry ‘Nawathumakin arambi kathawa’ (The story that began from an ending) was adjudged the best short story by the Sri Lanka Writers Association in 2010.  A personal milestone surely in his journey in authoring, he said, he has presently a collection of short stories he has readied for publication, but still hasn’t set himself to the process of taking it from a manuscript to a book.

“No one specifically taught me to write in a certain way or how to become a writer. Our lecturers at campus shared their experiences and outlooks as writers, and that of course helped. The other thing is reading. I’m an avid reader. It’s almost like an obsession for me.” Russian, African, Indian, Latin American fiction has had an impact on him. Manoj believes that any writer, be if for art or commerce must diversify in reading, and see the difference of expression across cultures.

What marks the differences between a writer and a copywriter, seeing as how Manoj occupies both these spaces? His answer was that a writer develops and brings forth expression more philosophically as opposed to a copywriter who must look at aspects of psychology. “A copywriter’s work is supposed to offer a solution to a specific problem in marketing. A writer sees his writing as something that transcends the immediate present and looks to the future.” Manoj observed while giving an illustration to show how the thinking and output of a writer and a copywriter works. “A writer’s thinking and output is like what happens when light goes through a concave lens. It expands and spreads to a vast distance. The writer analyses intensely and elaborates. The copywriter gives a line for a campaign. He condenses and brings things to one crucial pinpoint. It’s like what happens with a convex lens.”

Listening to Manoj it was clear to me that what defines him is the pulse of the writer, more than the designation he bears. And he fully acceded to it. “We are all born with a certain stock of creative ideas. But it runs out at some point unless we regenerate it through new experiences. I believe it applies to both writers and copywriters. Watching films, theatre, enjoying nature is essential for this purpose. But I also believe that not every writer can become a copywriter while not every copywriter can be a writer.” There is in those words an indication of how the two roles serve ends that are moulded with different ‘character substance’, and decide the degree and limit of the ‘individual’s vision’ allowed in the final outcome.