Category Archives: copywriting

More about getting into a writing frame of mind

I’m still having a rest from writing the novel – and still feeling vaguely guilty about it. It’s made me think a lot more about the writing process: why I want to write, and also why sometimes I find it so hard.

Being ‘in the mood’ for writing is definitely a key thing for me – but as writing is a large part of my work as well as something I do for myself, I don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the mood hits me.

So how come I can churn out press releases and brochures to order, but not the next few chapters of my novel? They key is preparation or warming up. At work there are things I always do as preparation – but because they are things that I do at work, I haven’t been applying them to myself at home when I feel as if I should just be able to leap straight in. Here are a couple of techniques that I’m going to try to transfer from work to home:

The friendly Martian

At work, I often have to spend time explaining what it is that I’m going to write about to other people, usually to elicit information from them. But often the act of explaining is just as useful to me as the information that I get out of it because it makes me think it through carefully and maybe look at the project from other angles.

Of course, to apply it to my novel, I’ll either have to find a willing victim or perhaps write questions and answers.

Word association or clustering

This is like mental doodling – letting your mind wander and think through the problem. (It makes you look more efficient than staring aimlessly out of the window when at work, too.)


Clustering (a technique I picked up from Gabrielle Rico’s book Writing the Natural Way) also helps to organise ideas. It’s similar to mind mapping, but I enjoy the action of circling words and phrases, then joining them up to form a huge web of ideas.

It helps me to organise ideas as well as find new connections; I’ve already been clustering to help me organise the sections of the novel. But I’ve also noticed that my writing comes easier after clustering so I’m going to work through some of the exercises in Rico’s book, especially those on modelling and re-creating.

Know the subject

When I get stuck writing something at work, it’s usually because I don’t know what I’m really writing about. Some people can work their way round that and make the best of what they do know – I’m not like that. My writing is like an iceberg: what appears on the page is only part of what goes on to create it.

One of the hang-ups of the book at the moment is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next. The characters are moving towards a pivotal point in the book, and none of us know what is going to happen next. And I’m getting twitchy about not knowing enough about the court system in early medieval England. It’s in danger of becoming too much of an episode of The Bill or Inspector Morse because that’s more or less the sum total of my knowledge of criminal law…

Obviously research and asking questions is going to be the answer for this – but I’m also going to explore visualisation techniques too. The passages of writing that have been easiest and turned out best were where I had a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. All I had to do was describe what I saw in my head, and so it follows that if I can train my mind to rehearse parts of the novel in my head, writing it will be easier.




Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Middle ages, Motivation, Research, Writing

Cat and mouse

That’s kind of how it’s felt with time tonight – but I could easily have called this ‘Cat and Boy’. It seemed that as soon as I’d got Josh settled, and sat down to write, the cat wanted something. And as soon as I’d got the cat happy, Josh would be calling out because he couldn’t sleep.

I can understand it because it is hot in his room – but he doesn’t help himself by getting out of bed and making up stories. I can hear him talking to himself while I’m downstairs. It’s really sweet; I can remember doing exactly the same thing when I was his age. And I drove my parents mad with it too!

But, despite the best efforts of both cat and boy, I actually got on quite well tonight. I think I’ve worked out a way to break it down into more managable chunks using Gabrielle Rico’s clustering techniques, with some ideas of my own. As well as chunking the work, it also seems to help me get into the writing mood and might even help later on with editing.

I’ll go into more detail in another post. I wonder if it will work for copywriting, too?

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Filed under Children, copywriting, Time, Writing

Writing tip 1: 5 ways to beat writers’ block

Writer’s block is usually a sign of anxiety. For me, it’s when I’m worried about what people will think of what I’ve written and how I’ve written it. It’s fear of being told that I can’t write. Other people get blocked because they’re worried about spelling and grammar or that their ideas aren’t good enough.

The only way round writers’ block is to lose the anxiety. You need to persaude yourself that it doesn’t matter what you write, or how you write it – you can always revise it later – it’s just getting it written that matters.

Here are my top ways to beat writers’ block:

  1. Freewrite
    Just write, without stopping, for 10 minutes. Write about anything and everything – if you’re stuck on a particular project, then write about how you are stuck. Just the act of writing, knowing that what you’re producing can be thrown away and won’t be seen by anyone will help you to get un-stuck. For more about freewriting, see Writing with Power by Peter Elbow.
  2. Set a timer.
    This is a good way to get into writing if you don’t feel like it just then. Set the timer for 15 minutes and don’t allow yourself to stop writing until the timer goes off. Knowing that there’s a time limit will help, but I usually find that when the time’s up I don’t want to stop writing.
  3. Ask questions.
    If you’re blocked from writing because you don’t know where to begin, then get a fresh sheet of paper and write a dialogue, answering and asking questions about the project. It’s another way of getting into writing without feeling under pressure to produce something perfect, and it will help you find out more about the topic, see where you have gaps in your knowledge and might even help you find a new angle.
  4. Play around.
    This is sometimes the hardest method to use – especially if you’re at work – but it can also be the most useful if you are really stuck for new ideas or need a new way to look at something. You take your topic as a starting point – whether it’s a letter, a leaflet or even a story, and change the format. Make it a dialogue, change your point of view (why not try writing a draft of a leafet from the POV of a customer, asking for what they want from the company?) Try playing around with rhyming couplets, write it as it would be said by one of your favourite tv characters – anything to get you thinking about it differently.

    After a while, you’ll find a new way of looking at the original piece of writing, and with a little (or a lot) of editing, will have got what you needed. The downside is that it can take a lot of time, and that if you’re writing something for work and your boss comes up behind you, it might take some explaining. But I still think that it’s a more productive way to deal with writers’ block than tidying out your desk drawer or making cups of coffee.

  5. Clustering.
    Or mind maps or spider diagrams or whatever you want to call them. They are one of the easiest ways to order ideas or even to generate new ones. If you’re getting stuck on what it is that you’re writing about, or want to write something but don’t know what – then this technique will help. Just take a piece of paper, write a word in the centre, circle it, then write any words or ideas that come to you in association with the word, linking them up with lines.

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Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Motivation, Writing

No novel, but lots of other writing

Josh is really getting into the warm, bright evenings and just doesn’t want to sleep. I don’t blame him, but all the late nights are making him grumpy. It also means that I get little time to myself – which sounds selfish, but it is nice to have a shower without someone bursting in on you demanding something!

It was after 10:00 when he’d gone to sleep and by the time I’d finished the washing up, I didn’t really feel in the right frame of mind for writing anything. I spent about half an hour re-reading parts of Rebecca just to unwind a bit.

But it’s not been a completely wasted day as far as writing is concerned. I’ve almost got the company brochure drafted.

That’s been a bit of a nightmare project. Although I work for the company, getting consistent information out of anyone is practically impossible. No one can even agree on what products we make or sell!

But it was especially hard to write it because I’d put myself under pressure to get it perfect – and that is impossible. It could always be better, and someone will always be able to pick fault with whatever is finally printed. And after nearly ten years of writing marketing bumpf, I really should know this and be a bit more thick skinned – but I suppose I lost my guard.

I’d called up a design agency that had been working with the company before I joined, and said that I was re-drafting the brochure, would they be interested?

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ they said.

‘How do you mean?’ I asked.

‘You should really get someone who knows what they’re doing to write it. It’s not the sort of thing that just anyone can do,’ they said.

Indignation and self doubt immediately followed. My rational mind told me that of course they didn’t want me to write it – they would get a lot more money if they manage the whole project. ‘Huh, I told myself. Don’t know what I’m doing, eh? I’ll show them!’

A fair enough thought, but not very helpful when you’re just trying to get words on the page and order your ideas. So I kind of froze in the writing. I had a week booked off work, and when I came back I had to catch up on emails, tidy my desk, help people sort out their computers – all sorts of things other than writing. I suppose I got writer’s block – I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write the perfect brochure.

Then I realised that I was being pathetic and the rational side of my mind kicked in again. I decided that I wouldn’t use that agency any more – it’s petty, but it made me feel so much better.

And then I just made myself write. I found an empty office with no computer or phone, and just wrote by hand. I wrote tons and tons of rubbish – but in the end I’ve nearly got a complete brochure, and I’m not blocked any more.

I’ve still not written any more of my novel, though. And after this stupidly long post, I’ve not got an early night in either!

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Filed under Anxiety, Children, copywriting, Housework, Self sabotage, Writing