How to turn your creativity up to 11

I’m often asked, “Heather, how do you write so much content without burning out?”

Um, good question. I could talk about how I’ve spent almost half of my life studying copywriting (ack, that’s scary to type.) Or how I force myself to write online copy, even when I don’t feel like writing. Or how I’m just plain stubborn.

But what’s the real secret of my success?

I force myself to take breaks – long, soul-renewing breaks – and let my creative juices do their thing.

I wasn’t always like this. Up until a year ago, I was working, working, working all the time. My day would start at 7 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. I’d finish one task and immediately move to the next one. I wasn’t taking vacations or many breaks during the day. Or if I was “taking a break,” I was playing on my phone or surfing on my iPad. Which, yeah, isn’t really a break.

I was intense.

During this time, I wasn’t really digging what I was writing. Sure, it was OK – but I wasn’t having those brilliant flashes of creativity that makes a writer’s life worthwhile. I wasn’t looking at my sentence structure thinking, “Damn, that’s goooood.” Was I feeling burnt out? Hell yeah. But I pushed through (sound familiar?).

In short, I wasn’t writing in the flow anymore – and that bugged me.

Then one day, I had to write a blog post after an acupuncture appointment. I thought I was “too relaxed” to write, but I sat down and did it anyway – part of that stubborn streak I have. What flowed (and yes, it flowed) was my “SEO copywriting tips in Haiku” post – and it remains as one of my most popular posts.

Aha! I made the connection. A more relaxed Heather means better writing.  When I’m feeling good, I can turn my creativity up to a Spinal Tap 11. Got it.

Turns out other folks are making the same connection. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame wrote an article about the benefits of soul-crushing boredom (props to @acteeple for the great link). The Huffington Post had a post today that discussed how “cyberloafing” at work can actually boost productivity. There’s even a National Relaxation Day on August 15th (Did you miss it and work instead? Yeah, me too.)

Plus, many writers report having their best ideas when they’re doing something else – taking a bath, enjoying a walk, or even just spacing out. Think about this in your own life. After all, have you ever had a brilliant flash of insight after working a 12-hour day?

Nope, didn’t think so.

Taking breaks actually encourages (and protects) your creativity. If you’re a freelance copywriter, Web designer, or do anything that’s more creative in nature, you NEED to chill out. You NEED to protect your creativity like a surgeon protects her hands.

Without our creativity, we’re lost.

If you’re feeling scrunched from all sides, building in some downtime could be just the ticket.  You may not be able to plan a 2-week cruise right now – but you can at least take steps to regain some work/life balance. For instance:

  • If you finish a task, take a 15 minute break away from the computer before moving to the next one.
  • Rather than fiddling with your phone when you’re bored, put it away and enjoy the moment. Even if it’s a boring moment.
  • Take time to do something “nonproductive” like walking, cooking or just staring off into space.
  • Spend at least one day a week away from your computer, iPad, iPod – you know, all those technological toys that we “can’t live without.” Guess what? You’ll be able to live without them.
  • Try something completely new. I love climbing into sensory deprivation float tanks and enjoying total darkness for 90 minutes. It sounds weird and scary – but damn, it’s been transformative.

This blog post lists other ways to step away from the screen give yourself a break.

Taking a chill pill doesn’t mean that you’re being lazy (I can hear my father’s voice telling me to “Get up and do something” every time I take a break!). Nor does it mean that you’re stupid or you’re not working “hard enough” (whatever that means.)

It means that you’re taking care of your creativity.

And you’ll find that your creativity has been cranked way, way up to  11. Who can beat that?

Next year, I’ll be taking over 2 weeks off to raft the Grand Canyon. There will be no phone. There will be no laptop or television. It’s freakin’ scary to know that I’ll be that unplugged, but I’m also looking forward to the experiment. Who knows where my creativity will take me – or how life-changing unplugging will be. I may go nuts the first couple days, but I know the experience will be well worth it.

Now isn’t it time to step away from the computer and take a break?  But before you go, post a comment on your fave ways to “chill out” and rejuvenate yourself. You may spark an idea for someone else.

15 replies
  1. Richard Clunan
    Richard Clunan says:

    Two weeks with no phone sounds good, Heather.

    Breaks, I agree, are an absolute must. Short terms it’s easy enough to notice better productivity with good quality breaks; long term without enough breaks = burnout = stress = less work done well + lower quality life.

    I think working efficiently is also about enjoying your work. I get more done for sure, if I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

    Enjoy your break in the Grand Canyon :)

    Richard Clunan

    Reply
  2. Heather
    Heather says:

    Thanks Richard. Enjoying what I do almost makes “turning off” harder. I *like* writing. I *love* computer stuff. But it’s also good to like things too….even if that means unplugging! :)

    Reply
  3. Emma
    Emma says:

    You’re absolutely on target here. I’ve been wrestling with a huge story assignment for about three weeks now and am not any closer to finishing it with anything approaching adequate results. There’s a dangerous combination of overwork and procrastination that can derail even the most Pultizer-y winning of writers, and it’s the beast we battle on an almost second by second basis.

    That’s why your brain needs a little break now and then, because even procrastination takes up assignment mental focus, to a degree.

    Reply
  4. marissabishop
    marissabishop says:

    Excellent advice Heather — I am going to try my best to follow up! And I will put National Relaxation Day on my calendar for 2012!

    Reply
  5. Christian Slagter
    Christian Slagter says:

    I totally agree Heather.

    I had a two week vacation in Scotland and there was no internet and barely mobile phone connection. It was so relaxing, especially because of the beautiful nature.

    Besides that my father has a farm and it gives inspiration by helping him with the animals etc, I could recommend it!

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  6. Amy C. Teeple
    Amy C. Teeple says:

    Just had a two-week vacation, which actually unpleasantly stretched to three weeks thanks to Hurricane Irene (yes, it is unpleasant when you cannot get home and need to). Still fighting jet-lag today (got home last night after traveling for about 24 hours), but I am looking forward to a refreshed perspective once I get caught up on sleep.

    Thanks for the post (and the mention) Heather!

    Reply
  7. andreibuspro
    andreibuspro says:

    I’ve hibernated for a very long time and I just don’t know to kindle the fire that was me.Thank you,thank you for these suggestions. I’ll work on this and start from scratch. Hopefully I’ll get back with my passionate pen.

    Reply
  8. Kendall Larson
    Kendall Larson says:

    Heather —

    I did a basic search for “Copywriting” on Twitter today in an attempt to find people who have it in their description. Very glad I found you! I love this article. It reminds me of the times I’ve tried to battle my own mental block for both work and for my personal blog.

    Thanks for the tips, I look forward to reading more of your work!

    Reply

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