Copywriting: Creative Technique

[May 7, 2010]

As an agency copywriter in the heat of the moment, when assignments fly past your desk like gnats around a summer barbeque, it’s not uncommon to experience a touch of burnout. Suddenly, the simplest writing tasks can appear insurmountable—particularly if the topic in question is something you just can’t get into.

That’s when you discover the importance of creative technique. If, up until this point, you’ve been relying on sheer insouciance or chemical co-dependence, you’ll watch helplessly as all your stopgaps, fallbacks and go-to places start swirling down the drain at a pitiless pace. That’s the time to realize you can’t sustain a career as a writer in any field with raw talent alone.

You also need a dash of creative technique.

Now, I’m not talking about grammar rules, an ability to type 100 wpm or an eidetic memory for the Top 10 Foolproof Writing Tips That Really Work. I’m referring to the creative exploration of your own heart, mind and spirit—whatever those three concepts mean to you. To write well, day in and out, you have to be aware of, and honest about, your own inner life.

The block is you.
No use, in other words, pasting over your disaffection for the topic you’re writing about with a “can do” attitude. I assure you, that way lies madness. Acknowledging your disaffection for the topic is the first step to finding a solution, precisely because it gives you a little distance from your feelings.

In fact, in my experience, what we are pleased to refer to as “writer’s block” (when it’s not caused by clinical depression) is mostly due to misdirected feelings. As a Copy professional, your job is not to dwell on how you feel about a topic, but to empathize with the emotion it calls up for your audience.

If you’re coming up blank it may be because you’re dancing the words around without feeling the music. If the topic is diaper rash, let’s say, and you don’t have any kids, stop tapping the keyboard and think. Think about how your friends, your relatives the neighbors talk about their families. Talk it over with them. Tap into the rhythm of joy-frustration-aspiration-fear-celebration-heartache that accompanies everyday life as a parent.

Break through.
Then start writing. You’ll probably find it a tad easier because, instead of pushing words across a white surface, you’re wrapping them around a shared experience, a solid block of reality. Suddenly your inner wheels have traction again and—whoo-hoo—you’re back on the road.

But you’ll miss the whole point of the exercise if you don’t take it a crucial step further: Pay attention to your state of mind. Once you learn to recognize the telltale signs of mental readiness you’ll save yourself hours of head-banging frustration. Instead of trying to get creative when your heart-mind-spirit isn’t ready, you’ll put your efforts into getting ready.

And here’s a final thought. Whatever creative techniques work for you, make sure—insist—that every project you undertake is scheduled appropriately. Nothing spurs the onset of “blank-itis” faster than an unrealistic timetable for the amount of Copy you’re expected to produce—even if the topic’s one of your favorites. If your colleagues believe that all you need is enough time to type, the next technique to master is the gentle art of managing up.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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