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.

How to write a foreword

November 12, 2012 at 8:05 am | Posted in copywriting | 2 Comments
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My dad didn’t need a foreword for his book. Because he always has the LAST word!

A client recently sent me this request:

‘A friend has asked me to write the foreword of her book. Can you give me any wise words of advice as to how I should approach this?’

Having never written a foreword, I had to think about this.

As I thought, I jotted down what I considered a logical sequence of points:

  1. Read book.
  2. If it’s crap, decline. (You mustn’t damage your brand by endorsing poor work.)
  3. If it’s good, accept.
  4. Ask friend how many words she needs from you.
  5. Ask if there are any points she’d like you to touch on.
  6. (Re?)read the forewords of your 5 favourite books of all time to see how they’re done.
  7. Write first draft.
  8. Seek friend’s feedback.
  9. Edit if necessary.
  10. Ensure friend is 100% happy.
  11. Ensure you see final version before it goes live.
  12. Ensure you have a link to your site for instant karma.

My client said she found this very helpful.

This exercise illustrates two important points:

  1. You don’t always need to hire an expert. Critical thinking, common sense and a bit of research can get you quite far these days.
  2. That said, the fact I could pull this list together in under five minutes shows how experience gained in other areas of writing can serve a professional copywriter well.

Have you ever written, been asked to write or commissioned a foreword?

If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If not, I’d also love to hear your thoughts – especially as to whether you feel my methodology is legit.


The quick & the dead

May 13, 2010 at 9:12 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
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In tough times, small is beautiful.

As a freelance copywriter, I watched clients past and present deal variously with a year of ‘interesting times’:

  • One client terminated a chronic poor performer, so he could keep his better staff.
  • A second gave accounts payable to his wife – who paid my invoices twice as fast!
  • A third saw contract termination as a happy excuse to knock on different doors. He scored a fresh, new role in just two weeks.
  • A fourth used his quiet time to commission a blog and reengineer his website for the soon-to-be-obligatory live Web 2.0 feeds.

These were all small to medium firms. The smaller they were, the faster they moved and the more they treated the global financial crisis as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

On the other hand, two larger (former) clients took a more traditional approach:

  • One suspended their industry newsletter, just as customers sought leadership and staff needed a morale boost.
  • Another retrenched all but a skeleton crew. These unhappy few were given cruel workloads and a 20% pay cut. The pressure was crippling and word of their torment spread far. And wide.

Brands have been damaged; perhaps even smashed. I can’t see either of these companies racing ahead any time soon.

Though my data are obviously insignificant, my observations suggest that in tricky times, small is beautiful.

Leaner, keener, stronger and smarter for their experience, I fully expect my nimble SME clients to lap their competition in the sunnier season ahead.


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Fanatics rule

May 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Posted in copywriting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Special work needs special people.

Every now and then I realise what a fanatic I’ve become.

As with this email to a client today:

Dear Sybil,

With regard to compass directions, very few dictionaries use a space (i.e. north east).

The Oxford (and 12 other dictionaries) use hyphens (i.e. north-east).

24 (mainly US) dictionaries use no space (i.e. northeast).

As the module I’m working on makes significant use of these terms, I wanted to get direction (tee hee) from you.

I’d like to use hyphens.

Would that be OK with you?

Best regards,


Yet proofreading demands fanatical attention to detail.

It’s the only way to get things 100% right.

So I’m happy to be nuts about this stuff.


Paul Hassing, Founder and Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire.

What is the ‘passive voice’?

April 24, 2010 at 9:57 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
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If it’s hard to read, they won’t.

Many documents I edit are written in the ‘passive voice’.

The passive voice is very bad news for communications, as it demands a greater number of longer words that are harder to read.

Recently a client asked what the passive voice actually means.

Here’s my light-hearted response:

Dear Fred,

This response has been cast, by me, in the passive voice, for the amusement of you.

Your words that are kind have made me experience a feeling of gratitude.

It is a matter of pleasure to me that the suggestions made by me were found by you to be of some benefit.

Unfortunately, the PDF which was attached by you to your email was not received by me, but hope is held by me that it will be sent by you to me. Eventually.

The final PDF is something that perhaps ought to be beheld by me, if not for the purpose of proofing, then at least for the purpose of placement by me in the archives belonging to the company of which I am Founder.

I am hopeful that this response will be found to be helpful.

By you.

Well, that’s all from me.

Best regards,


Get my drift?

If you don’t, we may need to get passive aggressive!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

How to name things

March 31, 2010 at 10:17 am | Posted in copywriting | 12 Comments
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Some names stand alone. Others need a little help.

When naming a company, course or other corporate thing, there’s a risk your choice may be a little ‘dry’.

You don’t want to put your audience to sleep.

On the other hand, you can’t be so ‘way out’ that you damage your brand.

A good solution is to have a creative title with a ‘sensible’ subtitle (or vice versa).

This two-pronged approach usually satisfies most audience members.

I used it this morning, with an article on leadership.

My title, Learning Leadership, was dry but functional.

My subtitle, How to Get Support from Above, Around & Below, added meaning and context and was a bit more ‘with it’.

When trying to come up with name options, the blank page can be very daunting. So I use what I call the ‘shotgun’ approach.

I define this in the intro I write for lists of names I prepare for clients:

This list comprises a broad spectrum of serious suggestions, potential thought starters and light-hearted ideas. By casting the net as wide as possible, I hope to either catch a winning idea or produce one in the mind of another.

Recombine components for more permutations. If you can’t decide between several suitable names, run them past a trusted group of people from the audience/s you wish to reach. Their feedback should guide you to a single choice.

This approach can take a while, but it invariably produces an ideal result.

If you’re stuck for a name, think of mine! 🙂

Paul Hassing, Founder and Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire.


March 30, 2010 at 9:04 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
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Facing the word …

A prospective client asked what I’d charge to write a professional biography (bio).

Here’s what I said:

Given a decent resume and a sample of a bio you’d like me to emulate, I could do a 100-150 word bio in around an hour.

My hourly ‘rack’ rate is $130 plus 10% GST (in Australia).

If I’m given poor (or massively huge) source documents or bad direction, it may take me longer to create what you seek. Say 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

I charge by the hour.

But I bill only for time actually worked.

As with all copywriting, the clearer the brief and the better the source materials, the better, faster (and therefore cheaper) the job.

I’ve done a lot of bios.

One of the many benefits of a great bio is that you can get twice the bang for your buck by putting yours on LinkedIn when we’re finished.


Paul Hassing, Founder and Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire.



Making myself redundant

January 17, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Posted in copywriting | 6 Comments
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I feel pride when a client no longer needs me.

As a copywriter, I strive to help my clients:

  1. Build their brand.
  2. Dominate their market.
  3. Make their fortune.

As I go along, I also try to do one more thing: make myself redundant.

I want my clients to grasp the basics of my profession so they become better writers.

By writing better copy, they need me less. They save money and their confidence grows.

This isn’t good for my mortgage, but I do get a warm fuzzy.

When a client I’ve been working with sends me something they’ve written and I can’t significantly improve it, I feel great pride.

This once happened in as little as 18 months.

This client took great care to re-read each of his original documents, next to my optimised versions, to see all the changes I’d made.

If he asked why I’d made a particular change, I happily explained my method in full.

Eventually, he picked up enough basic editing know-how to write good, tight copy every time.

If you’re this way inclined, you can become a better writer and get to the point where you don’t need me.

On the other hand, if you’d rather shoot from the hip and let me groom your words forever, I’d love the ongoing work!

The choice is yours. But I hope this post shows that when I take on a client, I truly care about their prosperity.

Enough to put myself out of a job!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by Olerousing.

You may write better than you think!

January 15, 2010 at 3:29 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
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‘Experts’ aren’t always the sharpest pencil in the box. Don’t sell yourself short.

Be careful when incorporating other people’s writing into yours.

I’m not talking plagiarism; I’m talking errors.

If you assume the other writer is better than you, you may sell yourself short.

Worse, you may check your writing for errors, but not theirs.

This leaves your communication vulnerable to mistakes you didn’t make. A double tragedy!

Every organisation and person has a ‘brand’.

Every communication builds or erodes that brand. There’s no middle ground.

Perfect communications build your brand.

Make your communications perfect.


Paul Hassing, Founder and Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire.


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