One of the challenges facing copywriters is how to stay motivated when the topic seems dull. In this article you’ll discover five copywriting tips for getting motivated about any topic you can think of and turning boredom into interest.
‘Keep interested in your career, however humble. It is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.’
There are times when it helps to remember this line from Max Ehrman’s Desiderata.
I’m aware what a privilege it is to work as a copywriter but as with all jobs, it has its boring bits.
During the coronavirus lockdown when child-free time was at a premium, these came into sharp focus.
I struggled with dull subject matter and was distracted by the tiniest thing. Surrounded by chaos, I found concentrating on tedious topics was an exercise in self-discipline like no other. This was a problem because I only had three hours a day in which to work.
A New Approach When the Brain Says ‘No’
On one occasion, while trying to write the dos and don’ts of ear wax removal for a health website, my brain refused to cooperate.
It was incapable of thinking about anything other than the disgusting state of the bathroom upstairs.
Fifteen minutes into my three-hour window and with just a title on a Word document, I went to the kitchen and filled a bucket with warm, soapy water. I cleaned the entire bathroom, dusted every shutter and scrubbed parts of the floor that hadn’t been touched for years. I stood back and surveyed my work with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.
Was I in the wrong job?
It was clear urgent action was required if I was to save the career I loved.
I discovered five strategies that helped me find a way through.
1. Break Monotony Before It Breaks You
Boredom is experienced at different levels. Chronic boredom, when nothing satisfies and you’re always on the lookout for further stimuli, can be the result of more deep-rooted psychological conditions.
What I was facing with my lack of enthusiasm for my work was a direct result of my environment. Six full weeks of small children and solo home schooling.
But it wasn’t until my demotivation triggered some serious free-floating anxiety that I remembered the wise words of self-help guru Dale Carnegie.
In 1953 he wrote about how to banish the boredom that produces fatigue and worry, describing a woman whose job was filling in forms. It was mind-numbing work until she forced herself to approach it differently.
Each day she set herself a challenge to complete a form in as short a time as possible, then to see if she could better it the next time. Focusing attention on this activity helped lessen the monotony of her job and prevented the time from dragging. She could either sink in tedium or swim in it.
While I can’t testify as to the quality of her form-filling, I liked this glass-half-full attitude. Furthermore, I felt it to be as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
No job is ever going to tick all boxes. Looking for the positive is a proactive approach that effectively tackles the feelings of boredom and dissatisfaction.
Nothing is inherently boring after all – it’s just the way you look at it. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, ‘...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’. The Desiderata’s ‘keep interested…’ line is a handy reminder of this.
After trying this method, I found potential for interest in all the following areas that had been sitting in my inbox waiting for attention:
- HGV legislation
- Hospital HR policies
- Car tyre grips
- Pharmacy training programmes.
If you find a topic uninspiring your copy will reflect this. Unearthing the spark, however small, won’t just help your words sing. It’ll make the entire process of writing them that much easier.
To break monotony before it breaks you, find a slither of something bordering non-dull in the subject in front of you. Extract that and build on it.
2. Change the Way You See Things and the Things You See Change
Once you’ve located this fragment, you need to place it within a bigger picture and develop it. You do this by swotting up around the subject.
This brings a new perspective and shifts some of the more negative connotations you may be holding. Try this:
- Get a pen and notebook or open a new blank Word document.
- Write down the word or words of your subject.
- Then write related words around it, and ask questions like what is it? How does it work? How is it meaningful to people? What are the pros and cons? Don’t know? Read up about it on the internet. Swot up. Research. Then research some more.
Analysing the subject and breaking it down will get you on the right track. It can shape your view and change the way you see it. When you do that, the thing you see changes and writing about it is no longer such a slog.
3. Fake It Till You Make It
If you’ve executed the above and are no further along in finding the subject any less tiresome, you could always pretend to be interested.
This sounds weird, but pretending can work. When you fake it till you make it, you trick your subconscious mind into a specific feeling.
In order for this to work you change your behaviour first so it mimics that of someone who has the feeling that you want to feel. In effect, you force yourself to act in a certain way and trust the feelings will follow.
Adopting this tactic during lockdown transformed the humble tachograph from a bland product fitted into heavy goods vehicles to record speed and distance, into a hi-tech, 21st century marvel.
It became an essential device protecting road users and members of the public from unscrupulous lorry operators who pummel every last hour out of their exhausted truckers, risking catastrophe and mayhem on our roads.
Writing tachograph product descriptions became quite enjoyable after that.
4. Find Meaning in Your Subject and Get Talking
Most people only remember things that mean something to them. We spend a third of our lives in our jobs. It makes sense to find meaning in them even if it’s just beating our previous personal best time taken to complete a form.
Copywriting is a job with so many plus points, it’s only fair it has its share of the humdrum. So how do you find the meaning in dry subjects?
Other than combining the tips outlined in this post, another valuable method is to pick up the phone.
Find someone with expertise in the field you’re writing about and talk to them.
When everything has a story, this quaint, journalistic tool works wonders in helping uncover the hidden pearls that will make your material stand out.
Picking an expert’s brain is fertile territory not just for developing strong background information but for gaining new insights you may never have thought about.
Ask them questions as if having a friendly drink in the pub. Doing this prompts further questions and the better you understand the subject, the more engaged you’ll be.
If you can nail the reason why they love working in local authority traffic contraventions, it might make you love it too.
And if there’s no chance of that happening, you can at least try and get into their mindset before you begin your writing.
If all else fails, it helps to think of why you’re doing it at all. It’s a job that pays the bills.
Find the positive and recognise the link between the work and the reward. That makes it meaningful.
5. Turn Off Distractions
Finally, turn off distractions.
When Winston Churchill said, ‘this report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read,’ he was speaking in a time before smartphones.
I wonder what quotes he’d deliver were he British Prime Minister today.
While the research that suggests digital media has cut our attention spans to less than a goldfish may be in question, one thing is not.
Unless you’re a teenager with the mysterious ability to write essays and monitor eleven different social platforms at the same time, the pings and beeps from your phone or tablet are highly likely to prove distracting when you’re tackling work you find boring.
Certainly anecdotal evidence from the desk at which I write proves this to be so. When confronted by a wholly unmotivating project, smartphones should be placed out of sight and out of mind.
Better still, turn off your digital binky altogether.
Don’t panic that your entire life is contained inside that five-by-three-inch piece of metal. It’s only in the next room if you get fidgety.
Try it and see. It can feel liberating. So much so, you’ll have no excuse.
There are insurance products, paint-on damp sealants and dropped kerb issues waiting patiently for your words to breathe digital life into them.
One thing’s for sure in an online world awash with competition. If you don’t find a way of beating back the boring bits of copywriting, someone else will.
Keep interested. A job you treasure is a real asset in the changing fortunes of time.