Where do you draw inspiration from (especially when you feel the well running dry …)?
Excellent question … especially since I am right now facing starting two projects from ground zero. Here are my basics tactics for getting started:
(1) Like most writers, I have a “swipe” or idea file where I’ve kept things I like. I go through this file with an open mind – no expectations – and see what jumps out at me. It can be anything from a magazine cover or email to a direct mail piece or something I read or saw on product packaging.
(2) I try to talk to people who might influence my thinking (without them even knowing it). Sometimes it’s a person who fits the customer profile or maybe an actual buyer. Or it may be the art director/designer working on the project. What I’m looking for is someone/something to rattle my preconceived ideas and give me a new perspective.
(3) I also ask a lot of questions. If I feel like I have no ideas … no leads on where to go with a project, it’s probably because I don’t know enough to get started. So I make lists of questions either to ask the client or to find out on my own using Google, mining magazine racks in book stores, and using other sources of info.
(4) I also make a practice of allowing things to “simmer.” After I read through all the background information and look through all the ideas I’ve collected, I like to (a) go for a walk, (b) get in the car and drive somewhere or (c) do something else totally unrelated. It never fails – the farther I am from paper and pencil or my computer, the more likely I am to get THE Big Idea that I need to write down immediately before I forget it. I’ve learned to keep my Blackberry at hand.
What do you to challenge yourself? How do you resist falling back on your old go-to tricks?
Ah… if it’s a proven tactic that works, why not use it again? Seriously, when you know something works, the challenge is how to apply the principle in new/different ways.
Right now my biggest, most interesting challenge is to learn about social media so I understand its power and know how to think about it appropriately. And decide how it fits with what I do for a living. Interesting story. I recently discovered that a full page “letter” ad I had written for a client years ago was now on Twitter with a link. When I saw it and read it, I became a believer. There are many innovative ways to take what you know and transform it into something “new.” While I didn’t write the tweet or create the link, I wrote the pay-off content. And the fact that I saw it on Twitter was a total coinkydinky.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Here’s the story. My father was a postmaster. Since I was a pre-schooler, I would “write” (think scribble) letters that my father would then take to the post office … and assure me that he was mailing for me. Once I started school and actually learned how to write, I continued sending letters to girl friends, ex-boyfriends, cousins and other poor unassuming relatives … but by then I was buying my own stamps and taking my letters to the post office to drop them in the slot. As I got older (and my letters got longer and, maybe, more interesting), people started telling me how much they enjoyed getting and reading what I wrote. At that point, I was hooked. I loved getting the feedback. In high school, I decided to become a poet. I loved the idea of using just a few words to paint a picture or create a scene that went beyond words. And while I still enjoy reading poetry, I’ve learned I’m no poet. But reading poetry helps me as a writer. I’ve learned how to use the sound and rhythm of words to engage readers in whatever I’m writing. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to make a living at doing what I love.
Do you have a routine, i.e., things you must do before you dig into a project?
I start ANY project I’m working on by going through all the related information I have including emails, notes from phone conversations, background information and ideas I’ve stuck in the file that might apply. I keep what’s important or appeals to me and return the rest into the BACK of file paper clipped together – just in case. (I never throw anything away until after I project is done … and then I do it reluctantly!)
What are you reading right now?
Fiction: Conspiracy in Kiev by Noel Hynd – poorly written and I would NOT recommend it but I can’t bring myself not to finish a book I’ve started … even though I’ve set it aside twice.
Blog: Amy Africa’s Qlog – I just finished Amy’s most recent post. She’s smart, witty, candid, and I always learn something from reading what she has to share.
Business Book-in-the-Wings: Drive by Daniel Pink – I read about this book in a recent e-newsletter I get for artists (no, I’m not one, but I love Robert Genn’s Twice-Weekly Letter filled with interesting and inspiring observations) AND the same day I had coffee with someone who was reading it. So, It’s On My List. It’s a book about what motivates people.
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I’d known how important it is to do what you love … not what others think you should do. When I was growing up, I was mathematically inclined and was encouraged to pursue a career that somehow used this inclination. Like computer programming. Fortunately, that’s one college major I never declared. Then someone I respected told me I should become a teacher … so I gave that a try. But grading papers and following departmental procedures wasn’t for me. After I started my writing career, I was twice offered and accepted “career growth opportunities” to move into research (!) and management. In both cases, the day after I accepted the “promotions” and moved into my new offices, I knew I was now looking for my next writing job. So after a few detours, I landed in my current career path as a Writer/Copywriter/Creative Strategist. And I love it. I’m no poet, but I do get to share my love for words with others in a productive way for all.
Anything you want to add?
This isn’t original thought, but it’s true -- do what you love and the money will follow.