Today, let’s talk about the pain of creativity-for-hire…
And then what to do when your writing turns into a hard slog.
Our starting point…
Copywriting is HARD.
Anybody that’s telling you that it isn’t is trying to sell you a magic pill. And magic pills may be pills, but they ain’t magic.
I still remember when I first saw Bill Bonner, founder of Agora, speak at an AWAI Copywriting Bootcamp.
He’d been hired to be the keynote speaker.
Which is supposed to set the tone for the entire event.
Now, generally an AWAI Bootcamp is an entirely optimistic and upbeat affair. You go to get fired up and feel good, and learn some things that will help with your copywriting career.
But here we are on the first night of the event, and
Bill comes out on stage and delivers a warning to all the copywriters in attendance…
I’m not sure why you’re here at all.
Copywriting is incredibly difficult, and painful.
You’re really better off doing almost anything else. Go get a job digging ditches. It will be a more comfortable life for you.
[Note from Roy: At this point, pretty much all the attendees — especially first-timers — were scooping up their jaws from the floor, as were the AWAI staff. I was laughing.]
If you really insist on working as a copywriter, here’s what you need to do first…
Get a fifth of whiskey, and put it in your left desk drawer.
Get a loaded pistol, and place that in your right desk drawer.
Then grab a piece of paper, slit your wrist, and bleed out onto the page — while being fully prepared, mentally, to use the contents of either or both desk drawers.
Bill was, of course, much more eloquent about this…
But the content was the same. I know because it really made an impression on me.
I’ve since heard that Bill frequently delivers this speech to copywriters. Sometimes in a way that is somehow both more graphical, and more discouraging.
And while I never took Bill’s advice to the letter, I definitely understand it in spirit.
It’s hard enough to write these essays.
It’s far more difficult to write someone else’s message, in their voice.
I actually enjoy the creativity. I enjoy solving the puzzle of what story to tell, in what way, that will resonate with the market.
I enjoy staying on top of the mood of the market, what’s working now, and how that might inform my next marketing message.
But sometimes, that process goes off the rails…
And it gets really painful.
I’ve been trying to nail down a narrative, and it wasn’t working…
I don’t want to go into too many details — for a variety of reasons. But here’s what I can tell you…
— The message is political, with economic undertones.
— I don’t agree with it 100%.
— And there was something about it that required a leap of logic to get to the selling message.
I could deal with one of those challenges. Probably two of them.
But the more I tried to make this message work, the more I could feel the creative blood draining out of me.
I stopped feeling it…
In this situation, one of two things can happen.
Either you can push through, or you can kill it and start over.
I’ve tried pushing through before. And I can develop that piece of copy to pass the review process, and get it into the market.
But there’s a problem there. Because ultimately, your prospects will make their buying decision based confidence in the message. And if you, as the writer, don’t have complete confidence in the message, it WILL come through.
It may be subtle. It may not be picked up in copy review. But it will be there, as an undercurrent, in all your copy.
And if you don’t have confidence, you won’t instill it in your audience. And if they don’t get it, they won’t buy.
Alternately, you can kill it.
Select all, then delete…
Not literally, at least not in this case.
I’ve got some decent stuff in there, that I may want to use in another draft.
But I did open up a new, blank document. And started there, without copying any copy into it.
A new idea.
A new story.
A new narrative.
The return to complete creative freedom.
It’s still in alignment with the client’s message. It’s still connected to some of the fundamental underlying themes.
But it’s got a brand new package, that I can actually get behind.
Instead of dread, I feel inspiration again…
I don’t need Bill Bonner’s whiskey and pistol.
I’ve tapped into good feelings. I feel naturally drawn toward the message and the copy, rather than pushed away from it.
And so it’s easier and more effortless to work on it again.
And I’ll note: what I’d written wasn’t BAD, I just wasn’t feeling it.
This actually taps into the power of your subconscious.
When you associate bad feelings with something, your powerful subconscious mind will do all sorts of things to sabotage it. But good feelings associated with that thing will engender cooperation from your subconscious.
And because your subconscious is actually more powerful than your conscious mind, you want as much of its help as you can get.
I know this is a scary idea…
How much time did you put into the work? How much work are you throwing away?
It can feel like a loss to give that up. But in actuality, you’re not giving it up. You’re moving forward from that point. You’ve learned things that will be useful as you go on.
And, the better copy that results will be more beneficial for you, your client, and the market.
I was talking to my client, a copywriter herself, about this, and she emphasized this.
When you’re not feeling the copy, it’s better to kill it ASAP. Because the end result of whatever you write next WILL perform better than the copy you weren’t loving.
It will be faster and easier to write, more enjoyable and persuasive to read, and generate more sales.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,