Accomplish the Unthinkable: Write Well Every Day This Year
Yesterday marked the beginning of 2007. Like me, you may have been thinking about what you can accomplish this year.
You are a writer. A writer with goals. Unless I have you mixed up with someone less ambitious, you want to improve your writing skills and make more money. Both are respectable, doable objectives for 2007.
In fact, let's make this a breakthrough year for you.
Let's talk about how you can do that.
I was inspired this morning by a piece I'd clipped from The New York Times a few weeks ago. The article is about Suzan-Lori Parks, a pretty, dreadlocked, 43-three-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who, in 2002, decided she would write a play a day for a year.
Think about that. A play a day for a year.
When it comes to goals (setting and accomplishing them), I consider myself to be a strong player. Before my 40th birthday, I met and surpassed all my business and financial goals. Since then, I've been knocking off other lifelong goals at a pretty steady pace – and many of them involve writing.
To me, writing a short story a month is a very ambitious goal. And although that's been one of my goals for at least the last five years, I've never quite accomplished it.
How is it possible to even imagine that you could write a play a day for 365 days in a row? And even if it were possible to imagine, how could it be done?
The New York Times article doesn't tell me that. It talks about how, after Parks finished the project, the manuscripts sat in her drawer for three years until she and a theater friend hatched a plan to produce all 365 plays. (The plan is very complicated, opening them a day at a time in 14 cities, using a network of hubs and satellite theaters.) And the article tells me her subject matter ranges from "deities to soldiers to what Ms. Parks saw out of her plane window."
But how did she do it?
Did she wake up early every morning and get to it and not stop until she was done? Did she work on other projects first (she is also a screenwriter and novelist) and then get to her plays at night?
And how much did she write? According to the article, some of the plays were "only a few pages long" – but that's still an amazing accomplishment. She gave herself an almost unthinkable goal … and went ahead and accomplished it.
But she did it smart. She didn't put a minimum length on each play. She let each one take its own length. That's a clever way to approach doing something great.
Perhaps you can do something similar in 2007. Set some unthinkably big task for yourself that, when completed at the end of the year, will have made you a much stronger and more highly compensated writer.
Let's think about some specific writing objective that would be similar to writing a play a day for a year. What could that be?
The obvious answer is to write a promotion a day – to complete, by the end of the year, 365 new direct-response packages. That would be an amazing accomplishment, don't you think? When you consider that even the most prolific copywriters write fewer than 59 packages a year, 365 seems impossible.
But it can be done by doing what Parks did: by narrowing the scope of the goal and focusing on quality rather than size.
In Parks' case, she defined writing a play as writing an effective dramatic presentation – even if that presentation was a single act that lasted no more than five or 10 minutes. In your case, you could define your copywriting objective as writing one effective mini-advertisement per day.
Here's how you can do it in a way that might also dramatically increase your income:
- Get on the mailing lists (snail mail and Internet) of six or eight direct-marketing businesses you'd like to work for. (Long-term AWAI members should have already done this.)
- Build a "swipe file" (that is, a borrower's library) of ads that these companies are currently using.
- Every day, before you do any other work, take out one of the ads from your swipe file and study it. Spend 15 to 30 minutes figuring out what the copywriter is attempting to do, evaluating how well he's doing it, and identifying other approaches that might work equally well or even better.
- Pick one of those alternate approaches and make that your daily assignment.
- Spend the next 30 to 45 minutes writing and editing a little ad based on the theme you've chosen.
- When you are done, file the completed mini-ad in a large envelope addressed to the CEO or marketing director of the company it applies to.
- Once a month, send out all those envelopes (each of which will contain one or several samples of your work). Include a letter that briefly explains who you are and why you are sending them this free copy. The letter should be some version of: "I admire your business and hoped that, if you saw what I could do, you might have a spot for me on your freelance rotation."
Don't spend any more than 60 minutes a day completing this task.
In the beginning, you will find that you will be able to write only a limited number of words. But as the weeks pass, you will see your speed improve dramatically.
You'll almost certainly double the speed at which you write. You may quadruple or quintuple it. And you'll also see that the quality of your writing will improve – which may surprise you, considering how much faster you are getting. You will have sharper, more tangible ideas. Your language will be crisper and cleaner.
The trick is to focus on quality, not quantity. So your daily objective will be to come up with just one good marketing idea – and then, when you have it, to write it as simply and powerfully as possible.
If you don't want to do this every single day of the year, make it a workday goal … which would mean you'd be writing about 250 little ads this year and sending them out to potential clients. That goal is plenty big. And it allows you two days a week to do something else first thing in the morning.
I am thinking about setting a goal like this to improve my skills this year. I'd like to challenge myself to write one good story every day. The story won't have to be long. In fact, the first 100 or so of them will probably be very short – but that's okay.
In addition to my "write one ad a day in 2007" idea, here are some other "unthinkably" big goals to consider:
- Learn a marketing secret a day.
- Scan an educational book a day.
- Contact a potential client a day.
- Recite a poem a day.
- Call/write a friend a day.
- Practice a self-promotional speech a day.
- Sing a song a day.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance
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