There’s no shortage of advice out there on how to deal with this universal brick wall that every in-house, agency, salaried or freelance copywriter inevitably encounters: The Dreaded Writer’s Block.
As a boutique copywriting agency, writing forms the bread-and-butter of our daily tasks. A lot of work goes into writing quality copy that can actually help our clients hit their marketing KPIs and strategic directive. From aligning the copy’s tone to meet a client’s branding guidelines, to identifying target SEO keywords via conducting competitor and keyword research, and making final tweaks to ensure that all stakeholders are satisfied, copywriting (done right) takes much more time and effort than most people think.
We’re pretty familiar with how frustrating it can be to be at a loss for words during crunch time. That experience has also made us veterans of dealing with the writer’s block. While there are plenty of strategies that you can use to dislodge the mental barrier that is preventing your words from flowing (which we’ll be touching upon briefly), we believe that it’s more practical to get to the psychological and logistical root of the problem.
Is the writer’s block psychological?
Many people, including copywriters themselves, erroneously imagine copywriting to be a process of translating thought into words by pushing buttons in a specific order. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that description, the way it is framed makes the profession appear deceptively breezy.
But the reality is that content writing is a slow, mentally taxing process. Psychological research associates the writer’s block with intense emotions such as stress or illness. And one only has to take a closer look at a copywriter’s job to understand why.
The Writer’s Block: A psychological inhibition
preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.Webster’s dictionary
The act of pushing buttons may just take a couple of hours, but plenty of gears have to run in the background both before and after the act of writing for quality work to be produced. Before a copywriter even gets cracking on their first draft, they’ll most likely do research to see how experts and client competitors frame the subject. This same research informs their outline, which may or may not require revisions before the proposed topic is greenlit for the writing studio.
Then, the drafting begins. Each writer has a process unique to themselves, but it could involve anything from throwing relevant statistics into a word document to jotting ideas that come to them while they’re having lunch, in the showers, or at the gym. All this happens before decision makers give their feedback, under the occasionally crushing expectation that words can be put together quickly because they’re, well, “just words”.
How psychological pressure contributes to writer’s block
Having put in that much effort into writing, it’s only natural for copywriters to feel discouraged when their superiors request for amendments to their draft, or even outright reject their ideas. While constructive feedback from an outsider’s perspective can be valuable, the problem arises when copywriters freeze up in an attempt to get their first draft as close to perfection for fear of disapproval.
Copywriters may end up restricting themselves too much in terms of word choice and phrasing in order to please their superiors, which can greatly slow down the writing process. Combine that with deadlines that are always drawing closer, (or constantly changing) and you have the perfect storm for triggering the release of fight-or-flight stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Because heart-racing anxiety is the state of mind that allows you to write optimally — said no copywriter ever.
How to actually deal with writer’s block
There are many strategies that we can take to refresh our minds and return to that state where we’re ready to write — what works and what doesn’t will vary greatly between individuals, so we’ll spare you from the usual list of writer’s block solutions (some of which can also double as a compilation of procrastination ideas if you think about it).
At the end of the day, all the solutions out there really boil down to three different options, some of which may or may not be feasible depending on the copywriter’s specific situation.
Take a break from copywriting, a real one
You know that feeling when you sit down in front of a document and just know that you’re not going to be satisfied with whatever you’re writing? There comes a point when a copywriter’s mind and body just reaches its limit, and there’s nothing wrong with recognising that and stepping away from your work temporarily. We find that doing something we enjoy unclogs our mental pipes and makes the process of writing much smoother upon our return nine times out of ten.
There’s a psychological explanation behind why this works. Even when a copywriter is not physically working, our brain is expending resources to build neural connections between the information that we’ve already digested. Exposing ourselves to other types of stimuli actually provides more material for our brain to build these neural connections, which some scientists theorise might be how “out of the box” thinking is formed.
Suffice to say that most copywriters already know this, at least on a subconscious level. Those of us who can afford to take a break should absolutely go ahead and enjoy one guilt free, especially since it helps rather than hinders the writing process. But as anyone who’s been in this profession knows, time is not a luxury that copywriters can frequently afford. So what happens when we’re stuck with a writer’s block and multiple deadlines hurtling closer at lightning speed?
Break down your copywriting into smaller tasks
No matter how experienced the copywriter, writing a 3,000 word article that must be SEO-optimised and properly referenced while dealing with writer’s block is never going to be fun. But we’ve found that breaking down the assignment into smaller, bite-sized tasks that can be checked off one at a time helps get the momentum going while allowing the copy to naturally come together into a cohesive whole.
You may find it helpful to tackle smaller pieces of copy first, such as the meta description or social media captions. While you may have to revise these after your article is finalised, getting the little bits out of the way first can help put your mind at ease and get your creative juices flowing.
Alternatively, you may opt to draw inspiration from publicly available articles. Of course, plagiarism is a big no-no when it comes to copywriting and SEO, but any copywriter worth their salt will be able to take a chunk of text and make it their own. The key is to not attempt to replicate the works you’re referencing, but rather use it as a launching pad to let your original ideas flow.
A filled page is to a writer what a stone block is to a sculptor. When push comes to shove, writing something will always be better than leaving the page blank, because it gives copywriters something to work with. So do whatever it takes to get words on a paper.
Buy yourself more time
Getting words on a page also puts you one step closer to the finish line. There’s always going to be a limit to the volume of work that a single copywriter can realistically churn out. If you absolutely cannot hit a deadline, there’s nothing wrong with going out on a limb and asking whoever’s in charge for an extension. Remember, we’re providing marketing content services here, not brain surgery. Of course, you can expect some resistance if you opt for this route, but your chances of receiving approval will probably increase if you can justify deadline extensions with superior work quality.
The ultimate cure to writer’s block: Outsource copywriting for fresh perspectives and streamlined workflows
Our conclusion is that the writer’s block stems from stress caused by having too much work and too little time. Ideally, copywriters want to be in a position where they can afford to take breaks as needed instead of fighting fire by throwing words at a document to see what sticks, or asking for an extension that may not reflect well on your work performance.
That’s where our team of word geeks step in. As SEO-trained, B2B, finance, and tech content writing specialists, we’re more than happy to take the burden of research and storytelling out of your hands and process them into quality marketing collateral that you can submit on time with confidence.
Even if you’re more than capable of handling things on your own, it never hurts to gain extra perspectives from fresh sets of eyes, of which we have plenty. Though we are a Singapore-based copywriting agency, we have content writers hailing from different backgrounds across Asia and the Pacific, we’ll assign the right copywriter who can localise content for your target audience.