How to turn your creativity up to 11

I’m often asked, “Heather, how do you write so much content without burning out?”

Um, good question. I could talk about how I’ve spent almost half of my life studying copywriting (ack, that’s scary to type.) Or how I force myself to write online copy, even when I don’t feel like writing. Or how I’m just plain stubborn.

But what’s the real secret of my success?

I force myself to take breaks – long, soul-renewing breaks – and let my creative juices do their thing.

I wasn’t always like this. Up until a year ago, I was working, working, working all the time. My day would start at 7 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. I’d finish one task and immediately move to the next one. I wasn’t taking vacations or many breaks during the day. Or if I was “taking a break,” I was playing on my phone or surfing on my iPad. Which, yeah, isn’t really a break.

I was intense.

During this time, I wasn’t really digging what I was writing. Sure, it was OK – but I wasn’t having those brilliant flashes of creativity that makes a writer’s life worthwhile. I wasn’t looking at my sentence structure thinking, “Damn, that’s goooood.” Was I feeling burnt out? Hell yeah. But I pushed through (sound familiar?).

In short, I wasn’t writing in the flow anymore – and that bugged me.

Then one day, I had to write a blog post after an acupuncture appointment. I thought I was “too relaxed” to write, but I sat down and did it anyway – part of that stubborn streak I have. What flowed (and yes, it flowed) was my “SEO copywriting tips in Haiku” post – and it remains as one of my most popular posts.

Aha! I made the connection. A more relaxed Heather means better writing.  When I’m feeling good, I can turn my creativity up to a Spinal Tap 11. Got it.

Turns out other folks are making the same connection. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame wrote an article about the benefits of soul-crushing boredom (props to @acteeple for the great link). The Huffington Post had a post today that discussed how “cyberloafing” at work can actually boost productivity. There’s even a National Relaxation Day on August 15th (Did you miss it and work instead? Yeah, me too.)

Plus, many writers report having their best ideas when they’re doing something else – taking a bath, enjoying a walk, or even just spacing out. Think about this in your own life. After all, have you ever had a brilliant flash of insight after working a 12-hour day?

Nope, didn’t think so.

Taking breaks actually encourages (and protects) your creativity. If you’re a freelance copywriter, Web designer, or do anything that’s more creative in nature, you NEED to chill out. You NEED to protect your creativity like a surgeon protects her hands.

Without our creativity, we’re lost.

If you’re feeling scrunched from all sides, building in some downtime could be just the ticket.  You may not be able to plan a 2-week cruise right now – but you can at least take steps to regain some work/life balance. For instance:

  • If you finish a task, take a 15 minute break away from the computer before moving to the next one.
  • Rather than fiddling with your phone when you’re bored, put it away and enjoy the moment. Even if it’s a boring moment.
  • Take time to do something “nonproductive” like walking, cooking or just staring off into space.
  • Spend at least one day a week away from your computer, iPad, iPod – you know, all those technological toys that we “can’t live without.” Guess what? You’ll be able to live without them.
  • Try something completely new. I love climbing into sensory deprivation float tanks and enjoying total darkness for 90 minutes. It sounds weird and scary – but damn, it’s been transformative.

This blog post lists other ways to step away from the screen give yourself a break.

Taking a chill pill doesn’t mean that you’re being lazy (I can hear my father’s voice telling me to “Get up and do something” every time I take a break!). Nor does it mean that you’re stupid or you’re not working “hard enough” (whatever that means.)

It means that you’re taking care of your creativity.

And you’ll find that your creativity has been cranked way, way up to  11. Who can beat that?

Next year, I’ll be taking over 2 weeks off to raft the Grand Canyon. There will be no phone. There will be no laptop or television. It’s freakin’ scary to know that I’ll be that unplugged, but I’m also looking forward to the experiment. Who knows where my creativity will take me – or how life-changing unplugging will be. I may go nuts the first couple days, but I know the experience will be well worth it.

Now isn’t it time to step away from the computer and take a break?  But before you go, post a comment on your fave ways to “chill out” and rejuvenate yourself. You may spark an idea for someone else.