Creativity. A trait we often ascribe to Stephen King or Steve Jobs. However, many lesser-known people also possess it—and, in today's world, many jobs require it.
Creativity is not for the faint of heart, however. It can be frustrating, mind-bending, and, well, hard. Creativity in copywriting is no exception. Copywriters know that creativity doesn't always come right when you need it.
Here are four common causes of creative block and some ideas for overcoming them.
Threat 1. Neglecting Inspiration
When's the last time you remember feeling truly inspired and what caused it?
A common mantra of writers is that you can't just wait for inspiration to strike. But that doesn't mean you can never seek it. Writers need inspiration to keep writing. The key is seeking it regularly, not just when your creative pool seems to be running dry (as Ann Handley discusses in her Everybody Writes).
Where can you find regular creative inspiration?
Develop the habit of consuming some type of creative inspiration on a regular basis (daily, weekly, etc.). Some ideas:
- Connecting with other creative people
- Reading articles related to a topic you plan to write about
- Researching the creative process itself
You can find inspiration from anywhere. As British author Neil Gaiman says, "You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it."
Case in point: Suzanne Collins stumbled across her inspiration for Hunger Games while watching TV.
Threat 2. Keeping Your Thoughts in Your Head
The biggest crime you can commit against your writer's self is to not write. If you hit a creative dry spell, don't just wait it out; write it out.
The physical act of writing uses the left side of your brain (the analytical side), which frees the creative right side of your brain to, well, create. Rather than waiting for a creative spark to strike before writing, write something first.
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There are various methods for getting your thoughts out of your subconscious and onto paper, but these are some of my favorites:
- Write with the app Flow. Sit down, set a time limit, and write for the entire time. No editing, just writing. The app Flowstate helps you do this by setting a time limit, then forcing you to keep writing without stopping. How? By deleting all your content after five seconds of inactivity! Once you reach your time limit, the app saves your work and lets you edit it.
- Brainstorm with mind-mapping. This popular brainstorming tactic can be done by hand or with an app like MindNode. Mind-mapping begins with choosing one key word, which you then break down into categories and sub-categories, grouping similar ideas together. This method can provide you with a nice outline to use later.
- Outline your content. Outlining before you write will help you know where you're going and how to get there. Your main points and sub-points will serve as guideposts, keeping you on track. A thorough outline can help you achieve solid structure, identify good stopping points, pick up right where you left off, and ensure your writing is cohesive.
- Use basic tools for smaller brainstorming sessions. For example, if you're trying to create the right sound for your headline, the online resource RhymeZone can search for rhymes, related words, poems, and more. For those times when your mind is stuck on one adjective, and you can't think of any equally good ones to use, the handy online word bank Thesaurus.com can give you a list of similar words.
Threat 3. Obsessing Over Perfection
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to creativity is the desire for perfection. It's especially dangerous if you want to achieve it in your first draft. The problem is, you may not reach perfection even in your last draft, much less the first. Award-winning writer Margaret Atwood said, "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word."
Your desire to get the words just right on your first attempt will slow you down more than it will help you. Your first goal should be to get words on the page. Only then can you justify spending any time on editing.
Even as you edit, a fear of imperfection can hold you back. Remember that your writing isn't just for your clients or boss. It's for you, too. Don't base the success of your writing solely on how pleased your client is with it; some of the success lies in how much you personally grew through it.
Threat 4. Refusing to Let Your Ideas Change
As you begin to bring your idea for that next landing page to life, you may experience the phenomenon of watching your idea morph before your very eyes, as if it's developed a mind of its own.
Your subconscious may be trying to create copy that will amaze you if you would just give it a chance. As counterintuitive as it may be, don't force yourself to stick with your original plan.
Changing your mind about which direction to take your copy is not an insult to your original plan's intelligence. In fact, one of the most intelligent people who ever lived, Albert Einstein, declared that "the measure of intelligence is the ability to change."
Stumbling over your thoughts is an integral part of creativity. As cartoonist and nonfiction writer Scott Adams said, "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
Take the Risk
You never know what you'll miss—personally or professionally—by allowing fear to keep you from creating, and sharing your writing.
In the end, creativity is not your final stop. It is the beginning. So give it the chance it deserves to take you where you want to be.