Am I wasting my creative juice?

November 23, 2012 at 6:29 am | Posted in copywriting | 41 Comments
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A heartfelt guest post from Kate Toon.

The other day, Kate Toon invited me to guest on her blog. This was tremendous fun. Even funner, Kate has kindly returned the favour. And she’s chosen a topic dear to my (and quite likely your) heart. Take it away Kate!

As a writer I have what many people think is a dream job.

My office is the local café where I sip cappuccino and eat muffins.

I stay cosy at home while you commute to work in the rain.

Sometimes I wear my pajamas all day.

The only meetings I have are with my dog Pamplemousse.

“I’m a writer,” I tell people at dinner parties.

“Oh,” they reply, a look of new-found respect spreading across their face.

And I get to bask in the glow of their admiration for several seconds until they ask the next question.

“What do you write?”

Then I find myself muttering something about advertising and shuffling my tagliatelli around my plate until the conversation moves on.

The truth is I’m not a writer. I’m a copywriter.

I write websites, emails, ads and brochures for cold hard cash. I write about bins, drainage and insurance. I write for all those large corporations we love to hate. And though I absolutely love what I do, there’s a part of me that will always wish I were really Dorothy Parker.

But of late I’ve found myself writing less and less for myself. I just don’t feel I have enough oomph left at the end of the day to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start being genuinely bum-clenchingly imaginative and creative.

And here’s why: I firmly believe that each day you wake up with a set amount of creative juice in your system – like a fresh, moist lemon, ripe and ready.

But as the day progresses you use up that creative juice. Writing that text message, those emails, that shopping list and of course the 112-page mobile website copy deck – they all use up your juice until your lemon is drained completely dry.

Of course I’ve dabbled in ‘real writing’, but I long to write a proper book, a feature film, a full-length play, something that I can be remembered for. I mean, I know I did a damned fine job on the Kmart Tyre and Auto website, but it’s hardly something my grandkids will be boasting about.

Unfortunately I just can’t get my teeth into anything that lasts longer than 10 minutes.

You see, after a day of correcting typos in 15 financial emails, or reformatting 96 product descriptions for a luxury gift site, I have nothing left. My nouns and verbs are weary, my adjectives floppy and my prepositions discombobulated.

Perhaps it would be different if I were a personal trainer, a plumber or a pilot.

If I spent my day using that other bit of my brain, the doing bit, then perhaps the writing bit wouldn’t end up being so bloody exhausted. Yes, for sure – if I were a Traffic Warden I’d happily come home to write for a few hours.

But I tried to do a not-writer type job. I trained as a masseuse a few years back and rather enjoyed it in theory. The reality of oiling up malodorous humans wasn’t quite as appealing, however, so that career was short lived.

So it seems by finally finding my dream job, I’ve actually scuppered my writing dreams. Which is frankly a touch depressing.

What do you think? Is it possible to write all day for money and then write all night for love?

Can you think of a way I can recapture my creative mojo? Any advice or experiences muchly appreciated.

 

Kate is an award-winning SEO and advertising copywriter with over 18 years’ experience. She’s also a well-respected SEO consultant, information architect, strategist, hula hooper and Creme Egg lover based in Sydney, Australia.

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  1. Thanks so much for guesting, Kate! First, I think you rather play down your creative achievements. Unlike you, I’ve never had the ecstasy of slicing open a brand new box of my very own books. Second, I totally get where you’re coming from. I started copywriting almost a decade and a half ago to fund my fiction. All those years later, I’m still bloody ‘funding’! I cope by rising very early to do creative stuff (however small). I also create things instead of watching telly. Apart from these ‘tips’ I’m not sure what else you can do. You seem to be nailing both sides of the fence from where I stand. I can’t wait to hear what our other readers think. With best regards and many thanks for such a thoughtful post. P. 🙂

    • Thanks for letting me squat on your blog! I’m loving our creative collaboration and all the cool folk I’m now getting to interact with. That in itself is enough to get my creative ember burning a little brighter.

      Funnily enough after writing this I finally finished a short film script I’ve been fiddling with for eons.

      What do you think of the morning pages as a writing discipline?
      Hugs
      Toon
      x

      • You’re totes welcome, Special K! Blogging with you is tres grouse, and it’s the cool folk who really make it sing. If I had a creative ember as bright as yours, I’d be strapped to a light tower at the MCG. May it burn ever more brightly (perhaps even in a John Steinbeck kind of way) for you. Oh, and you’ve just finished a film script? Well, my sympathy register just fell two notches. What do you mean by ‘the morning pages’? Is it something to do with the loo? 🙂

  2. I hear you loud and clear. In fact I hear you so clearly that I might have written your post myself. Like you, I am still working this problem out but the one tip I can give you is to divide your space. If I sit at my desk I automatically assume work brain. I need to go elsewhere to find the rest of my mind. In an ideal world I would have a little sanctuary to escape to where I could be surrounded by my favourite books and look out into the trees. One day…

    • Many thanks for joining us, Anne! I’ll let Kate address your excellent points in depth. 🙂

  3. I have a sneaking suspicions that I might be a little different to most of the comments that follow as I’m not an aspiring writer. In fact, I often find myself telling people, “oh no, I’m not a proper writer. I’m a copywriter”

    I don’t mean to diminish copywriting when I say that. You see, I came into copywriting from a marketing background so the idea of digging into a real benefit and communicating a (jargon alert) USP is very much in my fun box.

    Sometimes, I feel that I probably should have aspirations to write something “properly creative” but for now I happily admit that I find the voice of a business and help them talk to their audience, in that voice.

    That said, I totally agree with your thoughts about the daily creative juice. I can’t understand how people can pull all-nighters. For me, then my brain says I’m done, I. Am. Done. I have learned to work around that, knowing that ideas are for the morning and a cup of peppermint tea.

    • This is such a good comment, Belinda. I wish Kate would finish her boiled egg and get over here! It’s so tempting to cut her lunch by replying. Must. Be. Strong … 🙂

      • Lorks what time is it in your strange land?

        It’s barely 8am here and I’m busy doing weetabix and stickers with my youngling!!
        I’m still in my jamas!!

        • Sorry, Kate! My creative juices expire at about 3 pm. And if ‘real’ work comes along, I have to drop everything. So I rose early to ensure your post got the treatment it deserved. At least you’re in your work clothes! 🙂

          • I have now managed to dress myself (and even brush my hair) I’m ready for comments, BRING THEM ON!!

            • One day, perhaps you could replace your Librarian avatar with the Weetabix riddled jim-jams one. That would give people something to think about! 🙂

    • Hey Bill

      Yes, well sometimes I think,
      ‘Oh shut up Toon! You can’t have your cake and eat it.’
      (What a silly expression that is.)

      I know that I’m super lucky to have such a creative job, (I was a producer for many years and that was a REALLY tough job).

      But yes, I crave the moist joy of my own book on my bookshelf. Maybe it’s an ego thing?

      But I guess I did publish a book, now I want to publish a ‘proper’ book. If I published a ‘proper book’, then I’d want to have a best seller. If I had a best seller then I’d want a literary award!

      Yes by 6pm my brain is soup. 6pm is for sure clock off and curly wurly time!

      Thanks for the comment hug!

      • Ha! You would Kate and so you should! It just goes to show us that the goals we set only seem big and unachievable until we nail them and set even bigger, better ones. There is always a step up to reach for,

    • I’m now responding to your Facebook request for my thoughts, Belinda. I also feel a bit of a cringe when I explain I’m a copywriter rather than a writer. My fiction dream has been a long time getting realised. Then again, sometimes I do stuff for clients that I think is truly worthwhile.
      Creating the MYOB blog from scratch and nurturing the resultant community was one of my greatest writing achievements to date I reckon. Still, I would love to have a book launch one day with a queue round the block at David Jones of swooning signature seekers.
      The way ebooks are going, I may have missed the technology boat by the time my writing one comes in!
      Anyway, I’ll keep on trying across the entire writing spectrum until something gives. Best regards, P. 🙂

      • I don’t think you should cringe Paul! I don’t. I agree with your thoughts about your client work. Sometimes my copywriting work is creative and worthwhile and those are the days I get to hug myself with happiness.

        I say I don’t have any aspirations to write a (non-work related) creative piece but I once said I had no aspirations to run my own business. And here I am, loving it. Perhaps I do have something creative buried deep down, I just don’t realise it. Until it decides to pop up, I’m happy to be “just a copywriter” and leave the books, poems, and plays to fantastic creatives like Kate!

        • Good reply, Belinda! I reckon if you wrote about the chooks walking past your window each morning I’d read it! You have style, that’s for sure. All you need is to choose a little substance and BAM! 🙂

  4. The value of doing non-writing jobs? You live. You experience life, and observe life around you. You end up with so much to write about, you don’t worry about what to write about, you worry about living long enough to get everything written.

    There’s no such thing as your creative juices drying up.

    I speak with authority. I’ve had at least 50 different jobs ranging from cop to sheep-shearer to monk to cook to bartender to taxi driver to blah-blah-de-bloody-blahdey-blah. I’m a credited feature-film screenwriter, published author & poet, and have more works-in-progress than most people dream of ever writing.

    The problem with doing writing jobs? You’re in danger of being like many writers. All you’ll ever write about is writing because it’s all you know about. Your main character will be a writer, philosophising about writing. Or you’ll write a ‘How to Write’ novel before even qualifying as a writer.

    I write about life. Not writing. Okay, so I write about death. Serial killers. My next serial killer is going to kill Bloggers and people on Twitter who put ‘Writer’ on their bios, when it’s blatantly obvious to me they can’t write for shit.

    People often ask me: “Do you ever run out of things to write about?” My response? “The way I live, it’s impossible.”

    Two weeks ago I was living in a toilet at the back of a restaurant, because I’ll do whatever it takes to become a wordsmith. Once you’ve got a comfortable lifestyle? You’ll write about wanting to write.

    There are no excuses.

    You’re talking about being tired.

    • Hey David

      You sound like an authentic writer, David! Where might one peruse your finest piece of work?

      I’m not sure being a writer stops you living. Or experiencing things to write about. I had heaps of jobs before I became a writer, including a stint as gibbon keeper and a brief period as chat line operator, so my store of ideas is bountiful.

      Also since most of the plays and poems I write are about the ‘everyday’, I get a lot of creative ideas just from a trip to the supermarket!

      Perhaps I need to try out the toilet idea, or perhaps just shut up and get on with it before I’m chopped up by your serial killer!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, it’s much appreciated.

    • Hmm David, it sounds like you’re saying you have to suffer to consider yourself a “real” artist/writer/creator. I don’t agree.

      I also believe that the world is big enough for people to call themselves what ever they want. Who are we to say someone is, or is not, a “writer”? Whether or not someone is good, great or shit is quite subjective and putting yourself out there is an important first step in becoming who and what you want to be.

      It sounds like you really dig the diversity of your life and that you’ve got a lot going on. I hope all those works in progress bring you the success you’re after (however you define that success).

      • Belinda,

        The only point I was making is that creative writing is craft and and a profession, and so many people believe that they don’t have to do their apprenticeship.

        All they have to do is Blog, and “Presto! I’m now a “Writer.” I’ve been around. I’ve seen them. They can’t write for shit. Neither could I until I went and did my apprenticeship. But I went to learn, not to wow my writing teacher with my shit (which is what a lot of people in my class did).

        If no-one was in the position to say who can and who can’t write? Why do we have universities and schools and colleges where people teach us how to write???

        • Well I guess you could say the opposite is true.

          Lots of people do course and are crappy writers.
          Lots of people have no training and are excellent writers.

          The point I was trying to make in my blog post, Is that I’ve learned my craft and I am a writer by profession.

          But if you spend all day writing corporate stuff for money. It’s hard to switch your brain to truly creative writing at the end of the day.

          • I think we’re at crossed wires here.

            You’re an excellent writer.

            • Ha, well apart from my typos. I think we’re saying the same thing. Do stuff. Live life. Learn to write. Stop whinging. Get on with it!
              Thanks!

  5. This post resonates with me, as I am a writer, but have struggled to write in my own voice.

    For over fifteen years, as a Press Secretary in both the NSW and Federal Parliaments, I wrote zillions of press releases, op-ed, advertorials, speeches, raised ministerials, and lobbied either my bosses or other Members on behalf of their constituents.

    Since then I’ve found it difficult to write in my own voice, indeed the journey of developing my writing feels like protracted child labour.

    That said, not writing is even more frustrating than writing, so I’ve set myself the goal of returning to blogging anytime over Christmas or in January.

    Cheers

    • Man, and here was I thinking you just did (really really really good) photos! The stuff you learn in here … 🙂 You MUST let us all know when you reboot your blog, Catherine! 🙂

    • Yep for sure Catherine please let us know when you next blog.
      I think one thing about writing for a living is it teaches you the discipline of writing. By this I mean, that when I’m being paid, I don’t have a choice of waiting for my creative muse to appear, I just have to get on with it.

      This is useful for creative writing because I try to flick that switch that says. Don’t think about it too much just WRITE!

      Here’s hoping that you’re able to find your voice, and that I’m able to scrap together enough time and energy to get started on my own bits and bobs again!

  6. In line with last week’s imprecation from Sarah Mitchell @globalcopywrite to include a call to action, I consider it meet at this point to add a link to Kate’s book: http://www.katetoon.com/stories/books/gone-dotty/ Here’s your book; now … BUY IT! 🙂

  7. Q: Can you think of a way I can recapture my creative mojo?

    A: Sure, no problemo! Raise your prices. Then you won’t have to write as much copy to make the same income, and you’ll have spare time for your creative writing.

  8. Hola!!

    You know I had the same thought today.
    Great minds at all that. Maybe I can charge as much as you ;-P !!
    See you soon CC
    Kate

  9. Better late than never 🙂
    I have had that conversation many times – what do you write? Many don’t care about corporate writing but I do find some people are amazed that someone writes all that stuff they read and are impressed I do it, so I run with that 🙂
    I haven’t really written anything creative for years now, and write very little for myself other than blog posts (which is only sort of for myself!) It’s a combination of being too tired and not having enough time – if I’m not writing for clients or running a business, I have 4 kids to occupy me! There’s a little voice in the back of my head saying “maybe one day I could get back to writing for fun and maybe think of a book”, but it won’t be any time soon.

    • Hi, Tash. It’ll NEVER be too late to receive your thoughts. Thank you for sharing them. I like the way you string your sentences very much. So please keep on weaving. Kind regards, P. 🙂

  10. My opinion is that the creative juice is endless, supressed only by our time and organizational constraints. Burn out is normal to feel sometimes, but things go back into balance after a short rest.

    • That’s an excellent way to look at it, Alice. I hope for all our sakes that you’re right, so that no matter how down we feel, it’s only a matter of time till we bounce back. Thanks for your wise words. P. 🙂


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