Are You Running on Empty?

Bob Sands here with my final installment of The Writer’s Life this week. In this series, we've been looking at how to free the writer within. For my last message, I want to talk to you about running on empty.

Have you ever run out of gas? I haven't, but I've come close. Fortunately for me, my car lets me know when I'm almost on empty. When I get that low, I’ll be honest; I worry if I have enough gas to get to the station.

Writing on empty is a lot like that. You are stressed, irritable, and often don't know which way to turn. In fact, you may be looking for an out. Here's our principle for today: you can't write from an empty well.

As writers, we have to dip into our internal well of creativity often, and if it gets too low, we just scrape by. A lack of fresh ideas means mediocre copy. Just as the reservoir needs a continuous supply to keep it filled, so we as writers need constant input so we can keep up with the outlay.

Here are a few suggestions to help you keep your writer’s well full.

First, invest in yourself continuously. Attend seminars and go through programs that will improve your marketing and writing abilities. There are so many opportunities to learn from experts. Through AWAI, there is no shortage of online programs, self-study courses, Bootcamps, memberships, and forums. Ratchet up your input and your output will be phenomenal.

Second, become a copycat! It's been said that "imitation is the highest form of flattery." That's true!

I’m not encouraging plagiarism, but rather literally copying the work of an expert in your niche for you own educational benefit. I have retyped or rewritten sales letters, speeches, and ads others have written. Why? It helps teach me the structure, cadence, and style of good writing. Many famous authors have learned to write well by copying the work of others. It is a time-consuming task but one that reaps huge rewards.

Third, build that swipe file. All good copywriters have one. When you spot something that has worked for others, use it to create a formula, and then apply it to what you are writing.

I first learned this idea from Dan Kennedy. I have often used his formula of Problem-Agitation-Solution whenever I need to produce copy. I will lay out the problem, describe how it can get worse, and then state the solution, which is usually some call to action. It gives me an outline on which to hang my thoughts as I begin to write.

You can also use a swipe file for headlines, copy, autoresponders, just about anything you write. Maintaining a swipe file is easy. When you see something that strikes a chord, save it either on your computer or in a file folder. I keep all the workbooks from seminars and Bootcamps that I’ve attended and will often go back to those to refuel my tank when necessary. A good swipe file is the empty writer’s best friend.

Remember, just as the engine in your car won’t run for long on empty, even more importantly, your copywriting business can’t draw from an empty well. Keep it fresh by using these techniques so that your creative perspective will always remain fresh.

I would love your feedback. What do you do to keep your writer’s well full? Share your thoughts and ideas below.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: April 20, 2012

4 Responses to “Are You Running on Empty?”

  1. Thanks for contributing this brilliant article, Bob. You are right on the mark.

    Keeping a file is useful. You should return to that file every now and then.

    The key is to find what works and what does not work. Key words: synthesis, synergy and integration. That is what leads to creative breakthroughs.

    Seemingly disparate elements can be combined to produce a novel play on words and ideas.

    Again, it is necessary to be able to focus on the outcome. Cheers.

    Archan Mehta

  2. Bob, I use all these resources. Great suggestions for refueling your creativity. But I think cutting to the core, you need to nurture your brain. That's why I take frequent breaks to exercise and do more physical work as you suggested a few days ago. I've written about how exercise nourishes your brain right here:

    A great week of suggestions!

    Guest (Sarah)

  3. When writing's just not working, I take a bubble bath. Honestly, it works. Something about the hot water releasing endorphins or some such. It also releases creativity or some such. I keep a notebook by the tub. This has worked for me so many times I've lost count. This works, of course, only for freelancers at home; don't try it in a corporate office. Wishing you all a swell week.

    Guest (Linda Byam)

  4. What helps me a lot is talking to other people. Critiques of my work help me to think up new and different ideas. No man or woman is an island.

    Guest (Karen Carson)

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)