Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writing Copy vs. Writing for You: How Not to Kill Your Creativity

Written by Gemma K., who is taking online classes about phlebotomy.

If you’re a naturally creative person, freelance writing might seem like a perfect job. It brings flexible hours and a varied work environment. And once you get good at it, you can earn enough to shorten your workday and fit in more time for your creative endeavors. Even writing copy is writing, right? It all flexes a similar part of your brain.

Try sitting down and working on a short story or plot outline for you nascent novel after typing up copy all day, and you might renounce everything I just said, however. Writing copy seems to put your brain into a certain mode, a mode of quickly synthesizing information and rearranging it that’s definitely different than thinking creatively. When working creatively, you need a relaxed brain that's willing to move spontaneously in new directions when they call. Getting your brain from one mode to the other isn’t easy, but it’s possible. There are some things you can do to keep from simply wanting to turn on the TV and veg out after you’ve spent the day writing what other people want you to write.

One important tactic is to compartmentalize your creative life from your work life. If you keep them separated physically, you’ll be able to more easily separate them mentally. If you spend the day in your home office writing copy, go out when you’re ready to get going on your creative work. Find a café you like or try a cozy cubicle in your local library. You’ll get rid of those visual cues that tell your brain it’s time to switch into efficient work mode.

Another thing to try if you have the time is to do creative work in the morning before you begin your daily grind. I’ve gotten good at writing copy and can do it if I’m tired, depressed, or whatever. When I’m working on my short stories, it’s different. I need a fresh brain that’s not still subconsciously editing that article I just finished. When my mind is relaxed and fully rested from sleep, it’s easier to slip into that creative flow that when it’s burned out from working all day.

Meditation is another great way to clear your brain and get rid of residual thoughts of work. It doesn’t have to be long, difficult, or complicated; simply sitting for five minutes, focusing on a candle flame, and breathing deeply will quiet down the clutter in your head. Multitasking, a great work skill, can be the death of creativity. After I’ve spent the day shuffling between fifteen tabs on my web browser and quickly skimming information, a short meditation can get me out of multitasking mode.

What’s the common theme of all my suggestions for staying creative when you’re also balancing a life of freelance writing? Identify when and how you are your creative best, and find ways to clear your brain and get it there. The flexibility of a freelance writing career can help accommodate your creative aspirations, if you put a little time and effort into nurturing them yourself.


  1. These are great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Good advice, Virginia. Thank you!

    Karin Larson