My wife and I were driving to one of our usual restaurants a few days ago. Like most people, we fall into a daze whenever we travel along familiar roads. But about halfway there, purely on a whim, I turned onto a new street. And we both instantly perked up.
Along the way we discovered a beautiful suburban neighborhood, a quaint old bookstore, and a new restaurant where we had a fabulous meal. It turned a routine evening into an exciting adventure. These places were there all along, of course, but we would never have known about them if we hadn’t tried something different.
The same is true when it comes to writing. When you’re feeling like you’re in a creative daze, take a new path. Do something different. That’s one way to discover fresh ideas and energize your creative powers. Here are a few others.
- Learn your craft.
You can’t be truly creative in any field until you have mastered the tools of the trade. Robert Irwin, an artist and MacArthur Fellow, spent two years, working up to 15 hours a day, painting the same picture over and over again in order to understand his work better. You don’t have to be so extreme, but you should certainly read books, attend seminars, talk shop, keep up on your field, and get as much experience as you can. Knowledge is fuel for your creative fire.
- Get off auto pilot.
Robert Frost once said, “The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts the moment you get up and doesn’t stop until you get into the office.” It’s good to have formulas and rules, but we should never rely on them blindly. Question your own expertise and the advice of the experts. Stop looking for just one right answer. Don’t settle for the first idea. Set aside those pet techniques now and then. Banish those clichés. Borrow good ideas from others but try out your own, too.
- Stop avoiding failure.
Long, long ago, while still in high school, I took a driver’s education class along with a friend. With a death grip on the wheel, he sat bolt upright, swerved back and forth on the road, and slammed the brake at every intersection. He was so fixated on not making a mistake, he couldn’t concentrate on just driving. Likewise, if you build your writing life around the idea of avoiding failure, you will be unable to concentrate on writing well. You will certainly not realize your full potential. Instead of avoiding failure, strive for success and accept the occasional failure as part of the learning process.
- Focus on important problems.
My work involves writing marketing copy, which is often tested to see what works best. Recently, a business showed me test after test where they had changed a color slightly or modified minor copy points. “We just can’t seem to change our results,” they lamented. I could see why immediately. They were focusing on tiny, irrelevant issues! When you focus on trivia, you will generally get trivial results. And this will only discourage future creative thinking. Success breeds success. So tackle the big issues first. That’s where the real results come from.
- Find new uses for old ideas.
While analyzing copy for a fundraising organization, I concluded that people may harbor doubts about how funds are used. I knew from my work in advertising that doubts are often put to rest with a guarantee. So I suggested including a detailed guarantee about the use of funds. They hesitated, since none of us had ever seen a fundraiser use this blatantly commercial technique. But this old idea used in a new way helped significantly.
- Break down false barriers.
When it’s time to write a blog post, do you immediately start writing? Who says a post has to be just another post? Why not a video? Or a Q&A with another blogger? Or a series of photos with captions? Back up. Think things through from the beginning. What is your message? What would make it most interesting? What sort of post have you never tried before? False barriers blind you to alternatives. Ask yourself how you would normally do something. Then look for other ways. Often you’ll find them.
- Set the conditions you need to create.
For most people, this means comfortable lighting, pleasing sounds and colors, plenty of space to spread out and work, information and equipment handy, and no distractions. But the right conditions vary from person to person. Beethoven poured ice water over his head. Kant wrote in bed. Balzac drank cup after cup of coffee. Hemingway merely got up at dawn and sharpened 20 pencils. Find what works best for you.
I must admit that while driving along unfamiliar roads, I often get lost. But that’s okay. Because I always find my way again. And I always discover something new.
Dean Rieck is a leading copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in the U.S. and abroad. For more copywriting tips, sign up for Dean’s FREE direct response newsletter or visit Direct Creative
Photo by Thorsten Becker