A Lesson on Writing from Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove

There’s no doubt that the highlight of last Sunday’s Mad Men episode was the fight between Lane Pryce and Peter Campbell. The “grimy little pimp,” as Lane called Peter to his face, definitely had it coming with his arrogant posturing and better-than-thou attitude.

However, I have to agree with Jen Chaney’s observation that the true winner in the episode was none other than Ken Cosgrove. Why? Because even though Peter supposedly snitched on Ken to Roger Sterling about his writing science fiction on the side and Roger made veiled threats about firing him if he didn’t stop with his “night job,” Ken didn’t stop writing. Instead, he just changed his nom de plume from Ben Hargrove to Dave Algonquin.

In the end, it’s because it’s none of Roger Sterling’s business if Ken Cosgrove wrote his stories, as long as Ken did his writing on his own private time.

Just Write

How many of us are like Ken Cosgrove, one who has been told to stop wasting time with writing and find a “real job”? How many of us did what Ken Cosgrove did – shrug their shoulders and keep on writing, even if it has to be done in secret? How many of us did as they were told and stopped writing altogether?

The lesson here is simple: If you are burning to write, don’t let anybody stop you from doing so. Just keep on writing no matter what other people say about it.

Writing is both a talent one is born with and a skill that one develops. If you don’t use a talent you were born with, you end up wasting it. If you don’t develop a skill you have, it becomes blunt and rusty. In the long run, both talent and skill will fade away with disuse.

And if you burned to write but listened instead to people who discouraged you from writing, you will end up with regrets.

Yeah, of course, your naysayers may have seemingly legitimate reasons why you shouldn’t pursue your writing. But the thing is you can always work around those reasons.

Your naysayers said you shouldn’t write because you need your day job to pay the bills and support your family. Well, you don’t have to give up your day job so you can write full time. You can just write on your spare time.

Ken Cosgrove didn’t go into hysterics and scream, “Screw you, Roger Sterling! I quit!” Rather, he told Peggy Olson in his mild-mannered way that he’ll “leave the writing to the writers.” Then he wrote his stories before going to sleep.

Your naysayers said you shouldn’t write because you won’t succeed in it anyway. Can your naysayers look into the future and tell you with certainty that writing won’t work out for you? Or are they just jealous because they tried writing for themselves and failed?

People who have watched Mad Men from Season One would remember that Roger Sterling tried to publish his memoirs but failed at it. Maybe he didn’t want Ken Cosgrove to be successful where he wasn’t.

You don’t have the time to write, your naysayers said. You’re too busy with all the chores and the tasks and the projects you have to handle on a day-to-day basis. You and I both know that’s not true. If you have time to watch TV after dinner or play Farmville on Facebook, you can spare an hour or two to write.

Your naysayers said you can’t write because you simply don’t know how to string words together to come up with a coherent sentence. Talent is nurtured and skills are developed. If you burn to write but don’t know where to start, you can begin by taking classes in writing. You can also read the works of writers you admire. Their technique and style will rub off on you.

If you’re dying to write, just do it. Write. Don’t let anyone else say you shouldn’t. Not even yourself.

I’m ending this post with a video of Lane Pryce and Peter Campbell dueling with their bare fists. Watching Lane beat the crap out of Peter really felt rewarding.


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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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