At a networking event last week, I was addressing that age-old question of what a copywriter does and why it has very little (if anything) to do with copyright.
As I explained our profession, I got the same old response “Wow, you must have the perfect job: you do something you love, you can fit it around the kids or the rest of your life, you don’t have to put up with office politics … and you can choose your clients!”
Sure, on paper, it sounds absolutely perfect. However, with freelancing comes the pressures and uncertainties of running your own business. The pennies in your purse at the end of each month directly correlate to the number of pieces you’ve written. Or not written.
The trouble is, our desperate attempts to be as productive as possible can be our biggest downfall when it comes to being productive.
I’ve been a freelance copywriter for over 10 years now, and it’s taken me a large chunk of that time to recognise the importance of looking after my inner writer.
Still not sure where I’m going with this? Let me tell you a quick story.
One day, there was a guy. He loved writing. He loved writing so much that he’d come home from work, grab a bite to eat and then sit until the early hours, tapping away at his keyboard.
Each evening, as the light began to fade, he’d stop momentarily to turn on his lamp. Frustrated by the momentary lapse in momentum, he invested in a smart speaker so he could light up the room with a simple voice command. He had a story to tell and wasn’t going to let anything get in his way.
Then, one morning, he woke up, leapt out of bed and proclaimed that life was too short. From this day forward he’d earn his bread and butter with the words that he wrote.
He got his first few clients. His business snowballed. Before he knew it, every waking hour was taken up creating dynamic digital content — blogs optimised to the letter, and tag lines to capture the imagination. He could buy almost anything he wanted… if only he had the time to shop.
As the years went by, he began to struggle to come up with fresh new concepts. New ideas. Different ways of making people take notice.
This isn’t an uncommon story. Writers are really bad at looking after their inner writer. It’s a fact.
In the same way that bodybuilders watch their diet with eagle-eyed attention to get the very best performance from their bodies, surely us writers should adopt a similar level of self-care to maintain the creativity that our livelihood depends upon?
Mindfulness is proven to quieten the mind and create cognitive divergence necessary for creative thinking. Researchers at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition of Leiden University in the Netherlands have recognised the profound impact that mindfulness has on creativity.
However, when we’re sitting at the same desk, churning out SEO-focused article after ghost-written blog 5 days (and possibly evenings) a week, it can be easy to lose our writer within. Our passion for our craft. Our raison d’être.
It doesn’t have to be like this though.
One of the biggest benefits of a career as a freelance writer is that your time is flexible. Even with life’s other constraints such as school runs, dog walks or client calls, your diary is still your own, and often your space is too. With a little thought, it’s possible to build some key self-care practices into your day.
6 ways to nurture your inner writer
1. Find the fun
It doesn’t have to take long but whilst you’re doing one of your other daily chores, listen to a funny podcast. Take up hula hooping. Just do something for a couple of minutes that will make you laugh.
2. Allow yourself to create
At first, it may be hard to write without a highly structured brief and the incentive of a small pile of cash at the end, but write something for fun.
I was a member of a creative writing group WordWatchers for a while and still thrive on the support of fellow WordWatchers, even though I can’t get to the meetings.
Write a piece of flash fiction whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. Paragraph Planet is a flash fiction site that publishes a 75-word story each day. It’s free to submit and, it gives you a nice little shot of dopamine when you get published!
3. Move your workspace
Many writers and home workers I know do this anyway, but it’s crippling for the creativity to sit all day at the same desk in the same room. I should know, I did it for years. I felt that if I wasn’t at my desk, staring at my screen, I wasn’t ‘working’.
Go on a room crawl. Knock out a couple of hours at your desk then maybe work on some admin on the sofa, and finish up at the kitchen table for the afternoon and return to your office for minimal distractions in the evening.
4. Don’t get hung up when the words stop flowing
Accept that writing is a creative process. Power off and get back to nature for a walk, a run, or even just to sit in the sunshine for a while.
5. Sleep on the job
Taking a nap during the day is proven to increase longevity but also to boost your brainpower. Whilst you are asleep your brain performs ‘housekeeping’ duties, clearing out the short-term storage for the all-new, important stuff.
One scientific experiment carried out by Robert Stickgold, a neuroscientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, involved college students being monitored for brain performance by answering some questions based on simple observation.
Over the 1250 trials of each session, students who didn’t nap got progressively worse scores, whilst those who took a one hour nap returned to their original performance levels.
Surround yourself with a like-minded network of writers or freelancers. Those who understand the things that bother you.
Those who will giggle and sympathise when you need to rant about a request to deliver content in an Excel spreadsheet, or who understand when talking to the cat is no longer cutting it. Create a virtual watercooler that you can go to when you need some company or a little office banter.
By following these simple steps to self-care for your inner writer, you really can have that so-called ‘perfect job’.