After over a decade of writing for brands and online businesses, I’m willing to put money on a particular statistic: in terms of sweat-equity, writing is 50% mindset, 40% prep, and 10% writing and editing.
Funny thing is, that 10% might be where you’re wasting the most amount of your time.
Give me an amen if this is you:
You’re procrastinating re(writing) your website or email sequences because you know it’s likely to take forever.
When you sit down to write, you’re at a total loss for words.
You end up with a million tabs open to other people’s sites for “inspiration”.
The blinking cursor haunts your dreams.
A million other tasks “have to be done” first and it’s impossible to prioritize writing your copy.
Your problem isn’t the writing. It’s the starting.
When you’re running an online business, there will always be a dozen urgent tasks, Slack messages to respond to, and Zoom meetings to host. Your time is money, and the more involved you are in the day-to-day of your business, the harder it is to complete a task that cannot be done while multitasking.
But here’s the thing: There will never be 25 hours in a day. If we cannot increase our time, we have to increase how much we can accomplish in the time we’ve got. That means prepping for a writing session so we spend less time outside of the Google doc (where distraction lurks) and more time focused on getting the job done.
How To Set Yourself Up For Copywriting Success
1) Build your copy arsenal
It’s for sure a mindset trick, but approach a copy day like you’re going into battle. Your job is to get in, get the job done, and get out. You certainly wouldn’t soldier into battle without the right equipment. The same goes for your copywriting.
Pull up any and all documents you’ll need to reference, like:
Audience Surveys and Research
Testimonials (mine live in a spreadsheet)
News articles or content you’ll reference
If you’re going to link to specific web pages/products/service pages, open them in a new tab
This gathering exercise reduces the amount of time you have to pause a thought to find a file or search for a link. Research shows it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus on a task after a distraction. When you know you’ve got a meeting in T-2 hours, you can’t afford to lose a single second.
2) Find A Template
Never start with a blank slate. If you don’t have a template of your own to work off of, it’s worth investing in a template created by someone else. Look for templates that mention prompts or easy-to-follow frameworks. Fill-in-the-blank templates are often difficult to repurpose for your specific needs and it’s harder to make the copy sound like you, and not someone else.
One tip most people don’t tell you is that you don’t have to follow a template to a tee. Every single one of my client’s websites begins with the same Home, About, and Services page templates (the ones I teach in my Copywriting Cohort Course) but they end up highly altered.
It’s like sewing off an old-timey pattern (anyone else’s moms make their Halloween costumes as a kid?) You work off the pattern but get to choose your fabrics, colors, and buttons, and alter the measurements to make it a perfect fit.
3) Find Your Ideal Flow State
The creative muse is notoriously fickle, but you can lure her into existence simply by setting up an environment that signals that it’s time to write.
Notice if you have more focus in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
Turn off all notifications and close your email tab.
Clear your desk and tidy your office if it helps you feel calm and focused.
Light a fancy candle, burn some incense, or make yourself your favorite beverage to make the moment feel like an event.
Turn on non-distracting music. (I love lo-fi or “ASMR library sounds” playlists on Spotify.)
4) Give Yourself A Daily Goal
Hemingway famously preferred to write only in the mornings and stopped once he reached 500 words. Some people prefer to give themselves time goals (write for one hour) or use the Pomorodo technique (25-minute chunks followed by 5-minute breaks) to create the feeling of goalposts or mile markers to keep you going (even when you don’t want to.)
You’ll start to notice your natural pace and what’s a realistic goal to set for yourself. I know that I can usually write at least two first draft pages by noon. I break for lunch and reserve my afternoons for meetings or other priorities, knowing that I will be able to return in the morning to complete another round of drafts. By the end of the week, I will have completed and edited the pages I need to hand over to my clients for a first round of feedback.
Like Maverick says to Rooster in Top Gun 2, “don’t think, just do.”
::record-scratch:: But Courtney, isn’t writing a cerebral activity that requires an intense amount of…thought?
The reason you’re struggling to start is that you’re overthinking and letting fear get the way. The first draft is messy. When you start a sentence and get stuck on how to end it… don’t. Use [TBD] brackets or “…” as placeholders and come back to this section later.
PRO TIP: Write it down, fix it up.
Throw all your thoughts on the page. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just RUN with it.
6) Leave It Alone For A Day
Have you ever woken yourself up from a deep sleep, heart racing and eyes wild because you forgot to take out the trash?
Sleep is one of the best editorial assistants I know. Your subconscious mind will continue working out a problem long after you’ve left it as an unanswered question mark. If something’s just not working but you don’t know what it is or how to fix it, let it simmer and come back to it with tomorrow’s fresh eyes.
Even if you’ve got a pretty clean first draft, resist the urge to call it done. Writing in one sitting often results in a one-track perspective or tunnel vision. You might come back to a paragraph or an example that made complete sense to you at the moment, only to realize the next day you left out important context your readers need to follow the thread. You were carrying 10 thoughts in your mind but forgot to lay out nine of them for your readers.
Get your ducks in a row before attempting to put paper to pen to reduce the amount of time you spend cursing the blinking cursor. The first draft is supposed to be messy, but the good news is that it’s for your eyes only. In order to get to that final product, the pretty one with all the right words and formatting, the one you can (woohoo!) publish to your site, you have to push yourself to put aside your fear-based gremlins and saddle up to the starting line. In order to achieve success, you gotta’ set yourself up for it.