Regardless of what kind of writing you do, says a study from the National Writing Project of Louisiana, three key components seemed to have the biggest influence on how creatively productive you’ll be. What are those components?
1. A More Consistent Working Environment.
Almost all of the writers in the study had a designated ‘place’ where they did all their best writing. Simply being there gave them focus. I concur. I can write almost anywhere — but I prefer dark, quiet spaces. I travel a lot, but have a designated spot in each of the five spaces I typically find myself in during a given year.
I also need certain “supplies” to get going. A long yellow legal pad or a tab of French graph paper. Black Bic pens. My ever-present Macbook Pro.
Environment includes sound, of course. Personally, I work best with dead quiet. Or sometimes, music. But anything with lyrics is poison. I know many other writers – including copywriters — who agree.
Classical or jazz. Bach Cello Suites or the Goldberg Variations. Chopin Etudes. Beethoven’s piano sonatas. “Kind of Blue” or “Some Day My Prince Will Come” by Miles Davis. Old Coltrane (but not the crazier, more recent stuff).
(Caveat: I know at least one brilliant copywriter who keeps the TV droning on in the background! I couldn’t do it. But it works for him.)
2. A Set Time For Working.
If you’re a freelancer, working outside of an office environment, this might be a hard truth to face. Yet, almost all the writers in the study said they wrote better if they did so at a certain time, the same time, every single day.
And best of all, if you write in the morning. I know, I know. I sympathize with anyone who says they prefer to work at night. I used to be one myself. But having young kids, who don’t understand why Dad won’t come away from the computer, has changed that. And for the better.
Not only am I much more productive when I get good work done early, but I’m happier too. And yes, all the best copywriters I know also get started early. And not just early, but make sure the first thing you do is start working on your largest project, too. No e-mails. No phone calls. Writing first, trivial stuff later.
(Remember when there was no e-mail? Could you imagine wasting two hours a day sending and receiving faxes with your buddies? Of course you couldn’t. Just because e-mail is more automatic doesn’t mean it’s any better for you.)
And then there’s the intelligent use of deadlines, as long as we’re talking about time for writing. Even daily deadlines. It’s the pressure — the end goal — that makes you move more quickly. Consider the famous Eugene Schwarz story. Every day, to get himself started, he’d set his egg timer to 33.33 minutes. Then he sat down to write, even if it just meant staring at the blank page until beads of blood formed on his forehead.
3. Last, Rituals that Boost Confidence
This last component — writer’s behavior rituals — was the broadest category of observed creativity patterns.
It’s critical to how productive you are. Unfortunately, it’s the most ambiguous.
For instance, some of the rituals writers had in the Louisiana study didn’t seem to have anything to do with writing at all.
Sharpening pencils. Wearing lucky sweaters. Using a certain coffee mug. The theory was that the consistency of the rituals bred confidence, and helped melt away potential “writer’s block” anxiety.
That may be true. What seems just as true is that some rituals manage to mildly distract your senses so your subconscious can get to work.
Walking, for example, seems to work for writers. The next time you’re feeling around for an idea, fast track it by filling up your mind with information about what you hope to sell… and then stepping outside for a stroll.
If not that, then a drive. Or a shower.
4. Bonus Tip
You say you’ve tried all that and you’re still stuck?
Try re-working your diet. The January  issue of Science reports a single protein in the brain – SCN – that controls your entire ‘master clock,’ allowing you to feel awake or tired, hot or cold, bleary or focused, etc.
Just two days of tinkering with eating schedules in lab rats threw off the SCN balance in the brain.
Eating a light, protein-centric breakfast can help you stay focused on anything. Lunch, on the other hand, should be light or even skipped. A lot of people claim they can think better on an empty stomach (yours truly included).
I hope all those ideas help.
Okay, some more last minute ways to get jump-started — most of them, a rehash of ideas we’ve talked about in past issues. Ready? Write out ideas on index cards. Talk ideas into a tape recorder. Sketch out the pages of your promo, even before writing a single word. Copy a strong lead paragraph two or three times. Go to bed early tonight. Study the outline behind your last great promo. Start re-reading your pile of research from top to bottom. Good luck!
This article appears courtesy of the Copywriters Roundtable e-letter of direct-response copywriter John Forde. John specializes in marketing financial and health information products. His copy has generated—directly and indirectly through junior writers—hundreds of millions of dollars and resulted in tens of thousands of subscriptions.