Four Ways Email Copywriters Can Fight Writer’s Block
Summer is winding down, the kids are back in school, the white shoes are in the back of the closet until next year.
Labor Day might be behind us, but it’s those next few days that can feel like the real labor days.
After 3 (or 4 or 5) days away from the email-writing grind, it can be hard to get back in the habit of writing copy again. Whether you write 3-sentence e-commerce emails or a mile-long daily political newsletter, it’s never easy for email copywriters to start up again. It always feels like you came back from vacation, but your creative mind didn’t get the memo.
There’s no magic way to snap your brain back to reality, but there are ways to make the back-to-work transition a little easier. It all comes down to keeping your creative mind in shape. With these habits and writing exercises, you can make it easier to churn out content when you get back to work. Even when you’re still on vacation mentally.
1. Start by building a habit: practice daily free-writing.
What does it mean to “free write?” It doesn’t mean writing you don’t get paid to do. I mean, you probably won’t get paid for it…but it will definitely pay off in its own way!
Free writing just means sitting down and, well, writing. Free-form, uninterrupted, stream-of-consciousness writing. That practice can make all the difference. With just 5 minutes a day devoted to a little unstructured writing, email copywriters can build a habit that helps you get your ideas down on paper when it really counts. It can be a good way to make sure those first days back to work after a holiday are relatively pain-free (you know, minus the hangover).
So what do you free-write about? Free writing isn’t writing about anything in particular. It’s not writing about email marketing, it’s not about content, it’s not even thinking about how to carefully respond to that awkward email you just got. It’s whatever comes to your mind. Open your notepad or notepad app and just start making words appear.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, this advice is vague and unhelpful!”
Well, write that down. That’s a good start! Take whatever thoughts come to mind, and put them on the page. If what you’re thinking is, “I’m writing about what I’m thinking,” start observing the things around you and write about them. Write about what you hear, what you see, what you smell. Okay, maybe just go back to what you hear.
If you’re having trouble getting started, put your iPod on shuffle and write about what you hear in the songs. If a lyric makes you think something, jot that down. If they’re instrumental, write about what you think they could provide background music for.
Still stuck? Try writing about something that happened to you today. Somebody upset you? Write about it. Someone cut you off in traffic on the way to work? Write what you’d say to them. They don’t all have to be that angry, but if that’s what it takes to get the ink flowing, go for it. Better to take it out on the paper than the people, right?
Whatever you can find that inspires you, write about it.
It might take a few tries to get the hang of free-writing, but those 5 minutes a day can save you hours in unproductive writing time if you use them to build a writing habit. By setting aside the length of a couple commercial breaks each day, you’ll make it easier to get moving after a few days of mental stagnation.
2. Change it up: try practicing other forms of writing.
No matter how much you love writing, if you’re tasked with writing the same stuff all the time, you might start to feel stuck. The monotony can zap you of your creative zeal. You might start to feel discouraged. Then that discouragement makes it hard to write, which only makes you feel worse, and…on and on. Ad infinitum.
Before you fall into the death spiral of discouragement, try breaking up that monotony by writing something completely different. Whether you write in a new format or even change up your writing voice, trying a new way of writing can get you out of that funk.
Writing in a different style allows you to build confidence by keeping up your writing habit, but it also keeps things interesting. That helps you to not feel so drained when you come back to writing content. You can also draw creative influence from these other styles. It’ll be more fun for you to write, and your readers will probably thank you too.
So what does it mean to write in a new way? It could be almost anything, as long as it’s not a marketing email.
For instance, writing something funny is a great way to keep writing exciting. Have you ever read a satirical article and thought you could do better? Then do it! Ever left a quick joke comment on a friend’s Facebook? Keep going. Take that funny thought and expand on it.It doesn’t have to be long. You don’t have to set out to write the next Great American Novel. It can be the Great American Limerick. Or even a haiku, perhaps about Writer’s Block:
It doesn’t have to be long. You don’t have to set out to write the next Great American Novel. It can be the Great American Limerick. Or even a haiku, perhaps about Writer’s Block:
Staring at the screen
No words; deadline imminent
No no no no no
As far as writing in another voice, you can try just emulating the voice of another author. But you don’t have to go straight to David Foster Wallace; you can try Dr. Seuss. I know we have a strict no-marketing content rule going here, but it might even be a fun exercise to take the last piece of content you wrote and distill it into a few Dr. Seuss worthy pages. It can help you practice writing concisely, and it’ll be a fun excuse to rhyme ROI with “borrow pie.” Or “car o’ guys.”
3. Branch out: pursue other creative avenues.
Still, no matter how much you change it up, eventually any kind of writing becomes a chore. Take this tweet from Bill Lawrence, a television writer responsible for, among other shows, Spin City and Scrubs:
Just enjoyed writing for 11 straight minutes. So that’s 11 minutes out of 26 years.
— Bill Lawrence (@VDOOZER) November 30, 2016
“But Scrubs is one of the funniest shows of all time! How could you not enjoy writing for that show?"
The secret about writing is that even plenty of people who “love” writing actually kind of hate it too. That’s why it’s important to find other ways to channel your creative energy. Like writing in a different style, devoting your brain to an entirely different activity can help you with your work writing. It keeps things interesting, and it can also develop mental muscles that may help you become a better writer.
For instance, a group of journalists at Reuters decided to take up drawing. It was a fun way to de-stress from work, but it also made their work better. After a few classes, these journalists were able to more clearly organize their thoughts around a particular subject, which helps when you have to write about that subject.
If you’re only using your brain to write marketing content, it’s like going to the gym and only working one bicep. Working the visual parts of their brain made them stronger writers and more balanced thinkers in general. As they said in the article, it’s like “cross-training for your brain.” That’s the best kind of cross training: the kind where you don’t have to get up.
When you’re only used to writing, working with a visual or physical medium teaches your brain how to solve spatial problems in different ways. That can make a world of difference in your writing. Not only will it force you into places of your brain you don’t normally use, you might just be able to turn the whole experience into a great story for your next email or blog post.
4. Fuel up: you have to consume content to create content!
Ann Friedman writes a popular weekly email newsletter, aptly titled the Ann Friedman Weekly. Each Thursday, she blesses our inboxes with a collection of thoughts and articles. She obviously reads a lot of articles, but it’s not just so she’ll have something to link to each week.
As Friedman says, “I subscribe to the garbage-in, garbage-out philosophy. If you’re not consuming interesting things, you won’t produce interesting things.”
If that’s the guiding principle behind such a great newsletter, it’s worth considering.
Bottom line, to output content, you have to input content too. After all, you can’t keep the content machine going if the machine’s out of gas. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to read miles of marketing content. Let’s face it, marketing content is, well, marketing content. It’s hard to draw inspiration from it when that’s what you look at for 8 hours a day at work. That’s why you need to branch out.
Fortunately, this is the fun part. “Consuming content” is usually as easy as consuming the things you normally enjoy. From TV shows to movies to movies about TV shows, you probably already consume a lot of content. Now, all you have to do is think about it a little harder. By taking a critical eye to what you take in, you can draw inspiration for your own writing. It’s also a great excuse to spend a Saturday with your favorite show.
Pick a show you’ve seen (or even one you haven’t) and watch an episode or two, this time taking note of the tiny details that drive the show forward. Whether the dialogue or the camerawork, paying attention to the mechanics can help you with the mechanics of the things you create. You can do the same with today’s newspaper, books, comics, or even video games.
If you make it a point to take away tiny insights from the things you consume, you ensure that you’re consuming content productively. Like with the Ann Friedman Weekly, it gives you something to talk about, but it also helps you to talk about those things more effectively. That’s why content consumption is important.
That, and if someone asks why I spent all day watching reruns of NewsRadio, I get to proudly say that I was doing work.
Despite the near-infinite number of “writing hacks" articles out there, there’s no silver bullet for consistently creating better content. The only answer is to just keep creating. Whether you try out these ideas or find success with your own routines, the key is to Always Be Creating. Ultimately, developing habits can help you stay creative, stay productive, and make sure you get enough email writing done to earn that next vacation.
Editor, PostUp PlayBook