Creativity gone zombie?

CreativityGoneZombie

(Photo credit: AMC, The Walking Dead, Pilot)

Ever feel like your creative cup has run dry? Like the Sahara Desert, only without the beauty and mystery?

We’ve all been there.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had zero energy, inspiration or give-a-cares to devote to any creative pursuits outside of the fourteen marketing campaigns that are on my To Do List at any given moment. (I’m a copywriter; it’s my job.)

Until recently, I’ve felt pretty crappy about how uninspired I’ve been.

I mean, shouldn’t real writers be writing? Don’t we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to follow our creative passion at all times? I do. I also have a serious case of Imposter Syndrome, so when I’m not writing, I’m even more terrified of being discovered as a total fake.

Worse, if I’m not working on my creative or personal writing, does that mean I’ve turned into one of those ‘writers’ who call themselves writers but don’t actually write and instead just walk around wearing puffy shirts and correcting people’s grammar and wax mysterious when asked about their latest work? (That stereotype came from somewhere and whoever did it, sucks.)

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What a fellow writer and better novelist just taught me

I'd better get writingLast week a fellow copywriter accidentally sent me his first draft of his work in progress.

(Note to those of you who are new to Apple Air Drop: make sure you know where you’re sending your stuff. And don’t send sensitive materials if you’re practicing.)

We commonly share all kinds of writing and such with each other so of course, I cracked it open and read it. (I didn’t know he didn’t mean to share. Otherwise I would have respected his privacy.)

Reading his work was a wake-up call for me. In many ways. First, he had almost 36,000 words down. That made 99 pages. I still haven’t hit 10,000 words.

This is a man with a full-time job, a wife and a three-year-old. Way busier than I am. They recently found mushrooms growing in their basement. His hands are full.

Yet he still managed to get down half a novel.

Where’s my excuse?

The cat’s looking at me funny.

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What I gained even though I failed as a freelance writer

LOLshark lost 5 poundsLast time, on Rubber Ducky Copywriter, I shared my woeful story of failing as a freelance writer. Yes, it sucked in many ways. However, it wasn’t a total loss. With the bumps, bruises and occasionally obliterated self-esteem came some serious growth.

I didn’t succeed as a freelancer, but I did manage to grow as a person and as a professional.

Professional branding

One of the first rules of writing is to know your audience. As I tried to turn myself into a business, I had to take a step back and look at how I came across to prospects. This meant a hardcore look at my strengths, my weaknesses, what I want to be known for and what I never want to be known for.

I had to blueprint what kind of professional I want to be and what would set me apart.

Not as a person; as a professional. This is something that I bring to work with every day. I’m still Me, Inc. And I’ll always be working on my brand. I’m cubicle-bound, but this mentality still serves me well.

Your takeaway
You’ve probably heard it before but it’s worth repeating—freelancers are businesses. Define what kind of professional you want to be and work on becoming that.

LOLcat invisible rollercoasterThe answer to “What if I fail?”

By my last budget-related elimination, I was already tired of the “come on as contract before we make you permanent; oops, we have to eliminate your position instead” rollercoaster. And I hate rollercoasters.

Fear of failure kept me from freelancing for years. But now I know what’ll happen if I fail—I’ll find another job. I’ll be okay.

Your takeaway
Answer the question: What will happen if you fail? Will you find another way to make ends meet? Or will you dig a nice, deep hole and crawl inside to wait for the sweet kiss of madness or death, whichever comes first?

I go where the money is. There’s no money in the hole.

Ownership

When you work within a company, responsibility is often shared. When you’re a freelancer, it’s all yours. You own how much effort you put into your business. Your deadlines, your workflow, your branding—they’re all yours.

I came away from freelancing with a stronger sense of ownership. I’m back to working within a company, but I still handle my business like I own it—because I do.

Your takeaway
Wherever you work, you’re a walking, talking business. Own what you do and what you stand for as a professional.

Stronger start for next time

All those things you need to freelance? Contracts, business plan, non-boogerish website…things I didn’t have last time? I’ve been getting those in order. And every so often, I’ll even freshen them up.

I have what I need to hit the ground running next time. Except my marketing plan. Still working on that.

Your takeaway
Freelancing isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. Didn’t succeed the first time? Set yourself up to succeed next time. Pin-point what went wrong and fix what you can.

LOLcat snapping cat packPerspective

Maybe this is just my perception, but there seems to be a general feeling that writers who freelance are living the dream while writers who work within a company are trapped. And that each writer has to choose one or the other.

Again, this might just be my perception. I honestly don’t know and can’t assign it to any particular individual or website.

But I have figured out this much: I’m a professional copywriter. Period.

Whether I make a living by freelancing or by working within a company, I will make the best decision I can for the best interests of my family.

Your takeaway
Do what’s best for you. There’s no ‘Freelance Police’ waiting to cart you off if you don’t make enough or if you’re not doing it ‘right.’ Want to freelance? Rock that. Prefer a cubicle? Rock that instead.

Want to rock both? Best of luck and may the muse have mercy on your soul.

Most of all..

I came out of this phase of adventure with a better understanding of myself. When you’re left alone with your thoughts all day, you eventually have to listen. And I learned that I’m actually more capable and mentally resilient that I ever gave myself credit for.

I found a certain pride in trying to do something big. And starting your own business is a big deal. Even though I failed, I still tried. I even got clients and made some money. Obviously, I didn’t try hard enough or make enough money, but at least I tried. That’s more than a lot of other people can say.

If I’d been better prepared, less angry and more willing to put in the work, I could have made it work.

What about you?

What are some of your biggest lessons from freelancing? Share in the comments.

Why I failed as a freelance writer

judgemental-cat-isjudging-lolcatI recently closed my state-recognized, report-my-taxes-or-burn freelance copywriting business. I’m now a bona fide cube dweller with a sweet gig and a steady paycheck. This works for me, and I’m quite happy. Still, I felt a pang of sadness when I closed my business license account and filed the last of my business taxes. It was admitting defeat. When you first go freelance, you read a lot about how this writer made it by doing this and how that blogger found the secret and how “you can do it, too.” But I didn’t “do it, too.” I failed. Here’s why…

Started freelancing for the wrong reason

I became a freelance copywriter when the ‘permanent’ copywriting position I’d been promised was eliminated thanks to budget cuts. (Irony, noted.) Anger gives me the energy to get things done in the short term, but it cramps my business-critical decision-making skills. Redecorate my office with inspirational quotes? It shall be glorious! Network, cold call or put together a business plan? I-don’t-wanna-k-thx-bye. Your takeaway If you’re going to freelance, do it because you want to and because you’re willing to run a business.

No contracts

LOLcat - contract for soulContracts are what help you get paid on time and help protect you from getting screwed. Despite all of my research that stressed the importance of having my own contract, I didn’t know anything about them and therefore kept putting it off. I got lucky that the few clients I did get didn’t take me for a ride. Your takeaway Get your contract ready. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to cover your butt. You can update it over time, but get it in order. If you need one now, one place to start is the Freelance Union’s Contract Creator.

No company branding

I was just me. Job-hunting, please-pick-me, little ole me. For many clients, that’s fine. But they’ll take you more seriously if you build and own your professional brand. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield wrote:

Sometimes, as Joe Blow himself, I’m too mild-mannered to go out and sell. But as Joe Blow, Inc., I can pimp the hell out of myself.

That means more money, more opportunity and a better chance to succeed as what you are—a walking, talking business. Your takeaway Freelancers aren’t people, they’re businesses. Be a business. Build your brand. Pimp yourself.

No business plan

LOLcat - Evil Plans I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was going or how I was going to get anywhere. And just like with my contracts, I didn’t know where to go to fix this problem. I was a clueless minnow treading water in a big empty sea. See how well that worked out? Your takeaway Writing your business plan makes you look at your business as a whole and draw its map. It can even force you to define your own vision of success. You can start by combing the sample business plans at BPlans for sections and business ideas. I don’t know anything about BPlans’s paid services. Can’t share any pros or cons. But their sample business plans are a starting point. At the very least, you’ll get an idea of what you need to look at and figure out.

No marketing plan

I had no idea how I was going to drive business or where to find clients. I depended on previous employers and creative agencies. It was a Build-It-And-They-Will-Come approach. Only ‘they’ never showed up. Your takeaway Businesses that market themselves stand a better chance of success. Even Apple markets itself. It’s just common sense. So market yourself. And be smart about it. I’d love to point you in a direction, but I still have no idea.

Sucky website

My first website was a red, black and white GoDaddy site with fonts that wouldn’t match. Think of a plain, white tissue box with some boogers on it but with half the glamour; that was my site. I’d include a screen capture but I was more than happy to delete it and let obscurity do its thing. Your takeaway Don’t wait until you need a website. Just put one together now. Plan it out and take your time with it. And I do not recommend using GoDaddy.

Sucky boss

LOcat doing job If I was an employee, I’d have thought I was the nicest boss ever. I slept in. Took long lunches. Cut out early when it was sunny. I was my own boss, right? I could do whatever I wanted. Problem was that I wasn’t an employee. I was CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, CMO and every other C(_)O necessary to run a small business. And I sucked at it. Your takeaway Being your own boss means demanding more of yourself. Set boundaries with friends, family and pets. But most importantly, set boundaries with yourself. Because no one is there to do the work but you.

It wasn’t a total loss

Yes, I did a lot of things wrong. But even though I failed, also got a lot out of it. I learned a lot. And I’ll cover that in my next post.