Brendan Behan, the famous Irish playwright, woke up every morning at exactly seven. He then wrote steadily without a break until noon. That’s when the pubs opened. Roald Dahl started at ten and stopped every two hours, regardless of how well he was going. He attributed much of his success to resting his mind with these regular breaks.
Some people consider commercial copywriters less creative than novelists or playwrights, but I think that’s nonsense. A writer creates his or her own style, regardless of the client or eventual publishing medium. Having a set creative routine is as important for copywriters as it is for any other sort of writer. In fact, for those of us that write for business, it might be even more important to find a way to maximize personal productivity.
The Internet is packed with how-to articles offering to teach you the correct way to be productive, but I’m not convinced that there’s any single perfect method. Like most important things in life, a creative process is a uniquely individual thing. A schedule that works wonders for one writer might leave another one completely cold. The important thing is to experiment until you find what works.
I’ll give you a few suggestions, but first let’s look at why you need a process in the first place. Why can’t you just write when you feel like it?
The Importance of Routine
In some ways, copywriting is different from other creative pursuits. We don’t often have the luxury of waiting days or weeks for inspiration to strike. We aren’t supported by government grants or wealthy benefactors. If we don’t meet deadlines, we don’t eat. Sometimes we have to write so much, so fast that it’s impossible to craft every sentence like Hemingway.
In this demanding environment, taking a lackadaisical approach to scheduling can be fatal. Copywriting is a job, and it should be treated as such. Starting and stopping at the same time every day can help you quickly find “the groove”—that coveted mind space where the words flow and the work moves quickly. It also allows you to draw a firm line between your work and your life. If you’re always stressing about the jobs you’ve been procrastinating, your mind will never have time to relax and recharge.
Once you’ve decided to create a routine, the next step is to figure out what sort of process works best for you. Again, there is no perfect answer—but there are some helpful questions.
When do You Have Good Ideas?
My best creative thinking always happens in the shower. It never fails. When I have a problem, I turn the water up hot and try not to think about it. By some magical process, I almost always have a solution by the time the steam clears. Other people do their best thinking while running or cycling. Others drive.
One thing I’ve noticed is that very few people do their best thinking behind a monitor in a cubicle. Your routine doesn’t have to be routine. Study your day’s work, then go somewhere or do something to get your creative juices flowing. Take a shower, take a jog, do whatever it takes to open enough cracks in your frame of mind to let inspiration shine through. Then pull your ideas out of the ether and get to work.
How Much Distraction Can You Handle?
Once you’ve got a rough idea of how you want to approach your writing for the day, you still need to get the ideas out onto paper. As you well know, this can be a tiresome and labor-intensive job. I used to listen to music as I wrote, but I’ve found that I write much faster and more clearly in silence. I don’t do well with distractions, so I tend to sequester myself a bit.
It’s important that you create an environment around yourself where you can work comfortably and effectively. Freelance copywriters especially struggle to find space like this at home, but the problem extends to those who work in offices as well. Do whatever you can to make your workspace conducive to clear thinking and creativity. This might mean avoiding Twitter for a few hours, (but let’s be honest; probably not).
How Driven Are You?
Roald Dahl could take a 30-minute break every two hours and still get back to work. If I let myself get off on a tangent, however, I sometimes struggle to find my way back. Inspiration is an elusive creature. You can’t ride it until you find it, and if you let it go, there’s no telling when it will appear again.
Some writers can pound through pages and pages of material in a few hours. I often wonder how they do it. I think the secret is actually desperation. Looming deadlines can turn anyone into the writing equivalent of the energizer bunny.
However, we aren’t always beneath the slave driver’s whip. If you struggle to find motivation, as I sometimes do, you might need to create your own pressure. Set short-term goals for yourself to help you stay on track. Limit your bathroom breaks. Do whatever it takes.
Where Do You Draw Inspiration?
You can’t wring original material from your brain if you aren’t feeding it properly. Take the time to pause occasionally and treat your mind to something inspiring. I firmly believe that good writers start out as good readers. Find which authors have a style that resonates with you and devour everything they touched. Don’t feel bad if you don’t end up reading the classics—you can learn as much from mommy blogs as you can from Euripides.
Take long walks on the beach if you must, or paint or watch good TV. Any activity that resets your mind and leaves you with new perspectives or ideas is an investment in yourself. Too many writers try to increase their output without first taking in more of the material that inspires them. You can’t write if you’re starving for inspiration. It’s like trying to donate blood when you’re anemic. It just doesn’t work.
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, you should have a fairly clear idea of what you need to be productive as a writer. Take what you’ve learned and incorporate it into your daily routine. As you become more disciplined, you’ll have ideas faster and write more efficiently. You’ll be a better writer. And a wealthier one.