What Steven Pressfield learned writing TV commercials for Benton and Bowles.

Written by Cole Schafer

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Before Steven Pressfield became the legendary war novelist behind books like The Tides of War and Gates of Fire, he worked a series of odd jobs, one of which involved him writing copy for the New York advertising agency, Benton and Bowles.

While today Pressfield claims that he absolutely despises advertising, he was quick to share on The Tim Ferriss Podcast how writing for this particular medium made him a better novelist.

He points to a few examples, but one that really stuck out for me was on the basis of “brevity”, a skill he learned writing tv commercials.

There is an unwritten rule when it comes to TV commercials…

Two words per second.

To keep an audience fully engaged, a TV voiceover actor must read at a pace of two words per second.

So, a 30-second commercial can’t have more than 60 words in it.

Pressfield wasn’t aware of this starting out.

He’d take a long-winded commercial he wrote into his boss’s office, read it and his boss would point to the door and tell him to…

“Cut it down!”

After doing this again and again, he found that he could say the same thing in 25 words that he had previously said in 250 words.

It was in advertising that Pressfield learned brevity, which he’d later apply to his war novels.

Today, the spines you see on the shelf of a bookstore are about 50% the size of Pressfield’s original drafts.

By Cole Schafer.