Quick piece of advice for struggling writers — never try to write while you’re tired.
Very simple tip, very much ignored.
It’s because the physical and mental mechanics of writing are not clearly understood by most people. Early in my career, I met up with bosses and veeps of marketing who demanded that writers working for them produce copy under ridiculous conditions that ruined any chance of real success.
Often, the guys in charge had never written a piece of copy in their lives, and never intended to. They regarded the ability to craft a sales pitch as something mysterious and magical… but not particularly special. It was just something the geeks with the typewriters did, and was not a talent worth any respect.
This kind of idiocy is rampant in business.
The worst example was a veep at a major agency I was doing freelance work for. He had two staff writers under his cruel command, and he insisted they work in a small, windowless room with their desks facing each other. No talking. Only one piece of paper allowed on the desk at any time. No photos on the wall were allowed, and when one of the writers brought in her own lamp to work under, he flew into a rage.
And he made it clear he wanted copy being written every time he stuck his head in the door. God forbid either of them got caught sitting back and thinking.
It was like a cell in a Stalin gulag.
No wonder they had to hire expensive freelancers like me. Those two staff writers couldn’t form a decent thought in that environment, let alone write brilliant copy.
Worse, though, was the way they were forced to show up each day at 8 a.m., with tie cinched (or, in the woman’s case, stuffed into panythose under a crisp dress)… and then slog away at writing until the scheduled breaks at 10, noon, 3 and then 5 were announced.
The writers were constantly complaining of feeling exhausted, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. How hard can it be to string a few sentences together, they were asked. Stop complaining. Write sales copy.
As a freelancer, I was under no restrictions to the way I wrote. All I had to do was meet the deadline… and, in those early years, I often wrote all night, and slept until early afternoon. I was experimenting with finding my groove, and I refused to force any writing at all.
David Ogilvy, the advertising legend who brought genuine excitement and classic salesmanship to Madison Avenue, wrote about the value of naps for a writer. He wasn’t referring to not being tired, but rather to using the power of your unconscious — his trick was to load up on information about a project… and then go catch forty winks, telling his mind to have something for him when he awoke.
It made sense to me. Your brain isn’t a muscle — it’s a complex beast different than any other organ on the planet. It can store, process, and create massive quantities of original material… whole worlds of possibility, vast universes of thoughts and ideas.
Western businessmen are loathe to try anything that smacks of mysticism, especially when the bottom line is at stake. They distrust anything they can’t physically control… so the concept of “allowing” the unconscious mind free rein with the sales pitch scares the hell out most of them.
And yet… it works. I’ve done it a thousand times (maybe more, over the course of twenty years as a writer). Stuff my head with info… and then go nap for however long my system requires it. Twenty minutes or two hours, it doesn’t matter.
And when I wake up, I make sure I’ve put a pen and paper nearby… because the headlines and copy will come gushing out. I seldom capture it all, but I’ve learned to get most of it.
While you’re awake — and especially while you’re struggling with ideas — you’re your own worst enemy. Our conscious minds can be stubborn things, mired in beliefs and protocols that handcuff real creativity.
Asleep, however, our deeper selves take over.
It’s the real “hidden genius” inside all of us — our unconscious mind.
You can do the stuffing of info while you’re tired. That’s more or less grunt work — read the reports, log the statistics, interview people on the phone.
But you should NEVER attemtp to do actual writing while stifling a yawn. For an experienced writer, being tired is a signal it’s time to take a long break, including a nap. Let things simmer, settle, and process themselves in your head.
For the inexperienced writer, however, panic often settles in. They just wanna get the thing written, and THEN they’ll take a break.
Tired, you will struggle with copy for three hours… and it won’t be anywhere near as good as the fifteen minutes of writing you do after an hour’s nap.
Even with morning deadlines looming, I never hesitate to crawl into the sack and fall into a dream. I still set the alarm for a few hours later, but I almost always jolt awake before it goes off — my brain is aware of what’s up. And it’s busy the entire time I’m snoozing, sorting through concepts and ideas and copy angles and especially headlines.
Doubt this advice if you must. Most of the struggling writers I meet are skeptical, and afraid to try it out. The Puritan “work ethic” has settled deep in our souls, and naps are considered a waste of time at best… and an evil cop-out at worst. I’ve had writers laugh at the suggestion. (Never the top ones, though.)
It’s not magic, kids. And it’s not being lazy (though I do consider myself mostly lazy… which is why I never hesitate to employ shortcuts like this).
It’s just using the tools you have.
Your brain is not a muscle. It’s more like a fantastic little city of libraries, warehouses, and think tanks. And every elf slaving away there is both smarter than you are, and yet dedicated to you completely.
Most of the writing you struggle to create while tired will have to be thrown away. It’ll be garbage.
Most of the writing I’ve captured after a “working nap” has stayed (with some editing) in my final piece.
Think about that.
Now, I’m gonna go curl up with the terrier and let the elves figure out another project for me.
Oh wait… almost forgot.
I’ve gotten a ton of comments about the seminar I’m starting to plan for this coming March. It won’t be just on copywriting. Right now, I’m considering the logistics of doing total marketing makeovers for all attendees — just roll up my sleeves and dig into each business as if they were actual clients. That means we’d cover the details of your Web presence (including your copy for Adwords and other traffic generation)… your entire marketing overview (which lists to hit, how to position yourself within your niche, how to mix in email with direct mail and other media, etc)… and, of course, your USP and specific benefits, promises and copy angles to take in headlines and body copy.
All specific and targeted to you, the attendee.
It’s a lot to cover, so if I do this, I’ll have to severely limit attendance. That also means the price might be a slight shock… but of course no matter what the entrance fee ends up being, it’s just a short-term investment in your future success.
If you’ve had a chance to read any of the testimonials from the folks who’ve attended my other two seminars (I so rarely give them), you know they go home on fire with ideas and specific plans. Not vague theories or stacks of notes that need “digesting”. Real, useable tactics and details that can be put in place Monday morning.
Plus, of course, watching me go deep with each project is a priceless education in “figuring marketing stuff out” — it’s how I got good at it in the first place. You can read every book on the subject, and even do it for your own biz… but the huge leaps in expertise only happen when you see the tactics applied to a whole bunch of different markets.
That’s why, in my first years as a freelancer, I immediately agreed to swap free copywriting for Jay Abraham in exchange for free run of his office. For several years, I never earned a dime from my work with him… but by sitting in on meetings and watching him consult and go through the process of taking raw material and turning it into actual marketing plans, I knew I was putting a fortune in the bank.
When I later signed on with Gary Halbert, I accepted the generous money he paid me (including the royalties)… but I would have done the work for free, just for the opportunity to see how he operated. It was utterly different than Jay’s method… and that’s why I bring something unique to the table. I had the benefit of being mentored by two of the most wildly opposite geniuses in the biz.
Most of the “guru’s” out there will try to tell you there’s just one way to do anything. It’s nonsense — once you have experience in the real world of business, you are free to operate without restrictions (or a net). Because, as the wise old pro’s know, there is ALWAYS a way to make a project work… even if the accepted methods fail.
The winners in any market are the guys with the deepest bag of tricks. The ideologues go the way of the dinosaurs.
Anyway, I’m not yet accepting reservations for the seminar. Don’t even have the exact date down — sometime in March, here in Reno.
More on this as I figure it out.
Being a sci-fi freak, I’m always interested in hearing what various experts have to say about “The Future”.
Mostly, it’s a useless exercise — the local weather guy can’t even accurately predict tomorrow’s temperature or rainfall. And I may be one of the few who actually remember what big-name political columnists insist will happen in any upcoming election… and, yes, they’re wrong so often they should be ashamed. And run out of town.
And that’s the short-term stuff.
Trying to predict how the world will look further down the road is pure imagination at work. I’m still pissed I don’t have the flying car and robot slave I was promised back in the sixties.
Still, it’s not a totally useless exercise… especially if your success is dependent on the continuation, end, or invention of something over which you have little or no control.
And there are people out there who get it right more often than not. They don’t usually get the big headlines and juicy talk-show gigs, though… because what they see ahead either isn’t very exciting, or isn’t very popular with the masses.
Remember — guys like Warren Buffett, Steven Spielberg, William Gibson, and even Steve Jobs were once ridiculed for their vision ahead. Laughed at. “Go for it, dude,” they were told, dismissively.
And behold, they were right on the money. And only afterward were they elevated to deity status. (In Jobs’s case, he made the trip up and down and back up again several times… each time being given the “final” thumbs down.)
So, one clue about finding good sources… is to not ignore the faint voices at the far edge of the discussion. Just because the talking heads of television and current media darlings say one thing, doesn’t mean that the truth can’t lie in the complete opposite direction.
That said… I want to relay two items about the possible future that you may want to think about.
First: The takeover of all media by the Web will increase to breakneck speed. Within months — seriously, it could avalance that quickly — your local newspaper could either go belly up, or become virtual, available only online. Same with your local cable television company. By next Christmas, most people will no longer sit down to watch television… they’ll be watching the Web.
Your phone book will become an e-book — if you want a copy to hold in your hands, you’ll have to print it out. The little racks at the grocery full of magazines will become monitors dispensing downloads. If you want a copy of Newsweek or Cosmo or The National Enquirer to fold up and take to the beach… you’ll have to print it out yourself.
And those publications will struggle to survive, even as virtual entities. Because they live on advertising… and when you can TiVo an e-newspaper and skip the ads, advertisers will seek other outlets.
I do not see any of this as an improvement on the way we live. I just see it coming.
And the reason I consider it relevant for marketers… is that a paradigm shift of culture-changing proportions will follow. Billions of ad dollars will have to go somewhere. For a time, there will be chaos, because almost no one is prepared for this.
If you’ve seen some of the increasingly lame (and even desperate) advertising efforts of large companies online, you understand what I’m getting at. The ad agencies handling those multi-million dollar accounts are just clueless.
The whole consumer culture needs a big damn shake-out.
Yet, it can be a genuine opportunity for avvy entrepreneurs. Because I’ll give you a hint, right now, on how the best will survive and prosper: By offering content. Real information and services through their Web pages, updated often. And lots and lots of personal communication.
Why? Because, as the old means of “culture communication” collapse, people will still crave information and a sense of being connected to the larger scheme. A tremendous need will arise for “Go To Guys” — essentially, Web sites that tell the truth, are generous with useful information, and help people stay in the mainstream.
That means your “herd” becomes more and more important — your house list of regulars. With the culture fragmenting, the more you can provide honest connection and a sense of community, the more indespensible you become.
Something to consider, as you forge bonds with your current prospects and customers.
We’re about to become tribal again.
Second: While the U.S. ecomony remains strong, and resilient… we are a total consumer economy now, and that means the rules have changed slightly from just a short time ago.
Our financial health depends on the ability of people to buy things.
And that ability has just reached an interesting point… because people have mostly exhausted their options for creating the cash to spend.
Most spouses are already working, so there are no “hidden” income opportunities left within families.
And they’re already working too many hours. Americans work more than any other country in the First World. There’s no room for a second job, or more overtime.
And, finally, the debt load has reached epic proportions. It’s not true, as some feared, that too many homeowners took out dangerous adjustable rate mortgages — most were sensible enough to secure locked-in rates at their historic lows.
But they have already taken out, and spent, their second mortgages. That means they’ve exhausted the equity in their homes… to buy new cars, or add on, or buy a second home, or — foolishly — to take a vacation. They’re tapped out… and if house prices tumble, they’re risking being upside down in their new mortgages, no matter how low a rate they snared.
This does NOT mean that wallets will slam shut across the landscape. The populace won’t suddenly go on a financial diet, just because the money’s gone.
But it does mean that the free-for-all party many markets enjoyed recently is over. The days of low-hanging fruit are gone for most marketers.
Who will win in the new paradigm?
Simple. Those who understand the secrets of classic salesmanship. When you’re dealing with starving crowds, you don’t have to be very clever or elegant hawking your Sloppy Joe’s. But when the crowd starts to consider every penny, you better be able to pull out your best salesman’s chops.
People will always need stuff.
But they won’t buy from you just because you asked nice.
Think about this as The Future gains on us. The changes will be fast and furious… won’t always be logical or predictable… and yet you can thrive if you’re flexible, aware, and able to persuade through a world-class pitch.
For some, what’s ahead will be a nightmare that shocks and crushes. For others — the smart ones — the future is gonna be a blast.
I might even get that robot slave I’ve always wanted.