Copywriters: what’s your creative stimulant?

“I get quite artistic when tired,” emailed one of my clients the other day. And I believed him.

He’s lucky. When I’m tired, all I’m fit for is watching low-budget telly, reading thrillers or writing short blog posts like this one.

But he also got me thinking. What stimulates my fellow copywriters when they need to get creative?

For my part, these are the things that really get the creative juices flowing.

1) Blind terror

Nothing puts me on top of my game faster than a looming deadline.

To get the best results, leave yourself two days in which to do the work of five. Icy coolness will settle on you like a mantle and you’ll produce the work of your life.

2) Strong drink

As much as I admire David Ogilvy, there’s only one area in which I’m his true equal. It’s this:

Many people – and I think I am one of them – are more productive when they’ve had a little to drink. I find if I drink two or three brandies, I’m far better able to write.

The only problem with this approach is that the clock starts ticking. I find you get about thirty minutes of good work – after then you’ll instinctively reach for your fourth brandy and become interested only in your fifth.

(By the way, if you rely on this approach, Ogilvy also had some tips for drying out copywriters – but they boiled down to getting help or getting lost).

3) Friendship

Ask me as a friend to write something and I somehow get inspired – in this game, writing for someone you know well really gives you the edge.

4) Not writing

The biggest inspiration of all.

The most creative stuff I ever do is almost finished before I get to writing it down. Reading, listening, looking, thinking, walking, laughing, crashing ideas into each other – they’re the things that help you as a copywriter.

That’s what I find… as long as I’m not tired. Like now.

But what gets you fired up when it comes to writing?

Are you like me, or like my self-styled ‘anti-me’, copywriter Andy Nattan (who will no doubt tell you that serenity, sobriety, enmity and writing are his principle creative influences)?

Let me know – leave me a message for when I’m fully awake.

Copywriter: Ben Locker

Category: Blog, Copywriters, Copywriting Techniques
Tags: copywriter-job, copywriters, copywriting, copywriting agencies, copywriting agency, copywriting techniques, insurance-company-colchester, online-copywriting-lyrics-uk, sarah-nuttall, web-copy-writing-agencies-in-uk, whats-a-creative-stimulant, whatsacreativestimulant, worklockersblogpostcomment

More: « A nugget for copywriters from The King’s Speech | Copywriting myths: the 12 most persuasive words in the English Language »


  1. In the mornings, my brain wakes up at least 45 mins before my arms and legs can be bothered to drag me out of bed. Cue bedside notebook and pen (can’t beat the old technology!) to scribble down ideas, plans, draft emails, get things off my chest. Other equipment required: a comfy, sitty-uppy pillow, glass of oj and a well-fed cat. Fortunately my other half is an early riser….!

    Comment left by Ali Turnbull on Wednesday 12th October, 2011 at 10:14 pm

  2. It sounds ridiculous, but if I’m totally stuck, I’ll go have a nap. Somewhere between lying down and nodding off, when my mind is completely clear, an idea will come. 40 winks later, I’m good to go.

    Of course, you can’t really do that when you’re working in house…

    Comment left by Ali Turner on Wednesday 12th October, 2011 at 10:39 pm

  3. Item number one on your list is very funny yet somehow very true for a lot of people. But to get my creative juices flowing, I take a walk. The combination of the things I see, hear and even smell or eavesdrop along the way either jogs my memory or sets my creativity off.

    Comment left by Judith on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 3:27 am

  4. Ali T (the other one) is bang on with the power naps, too. Huge benefit of being self-employed!

    Comment left by Ali Turnbull on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 8:43 am

  5. You’d be surprised just how much I am the anti-Ben on this one…

    Admittedly, blind terror works, although I think anyone benefits from a good shot of adrenaline now and again.

    But I can’t write under the influence of anything – and I learned that as a student. Too much alcohol, caffeine or perscription painkillers (lay off, I fractured my spine) completely destroys my ability to be coherent (as I mention here: While making me think I’m far better than I am.

    And there’s nothing I dread more than writing something for friends or family members. Not least because I get roped into writing eulogies…

    No, the one thing that’s guaranteed to get my creative juices flowing is sheer exhaustion. I imagine it’s all the chemicals my brain releases to stop me going to sleep at my desk, but that’s when I get all my best ideas. So I jot them down and then flesh them out the next morning.

    Comment left by Andy Nattan on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 8:43 am

  6. An absurd pair of headphones, new music and some committed wall-staring never fails, but it’s an exercise in concentration in itself and doesn’t work if I’m agitated or if people keep talking to me, despite the obvious message concealed in a MASSIVE PAIR OF HEADPHONES. *trains red laser dot onto central mass of husband*

    Comment left by Lucy on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 8:45 am

  7. I have a piano in my office. When I’m stuck, or I need a break, I sit down and play for a while. Refreshes the mind, puts you in touch with real creativity and I often write much better when I’m finished. Obviously, I only choose stuff I can play, or I just get more frustrated!

    Comment left by Gill Perkins on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 8:45 am

  8. Actually, looking at your last point again…

    Serenity – Strangely not. I need to be a bit agitated, whether by a deadline or a fool.

    Sobriety – Yes. See above.

    Enmity – Oh yes. Give me something I disagree with, and I’ll have a 800 word angry rebuttal ready to go in under an hour.

    Writing – It’s strange, when I settle into a writing schedule, I write better material. The longer a ‘dry spell’, the harder it is to get back into the swing of things.

    Comment left by Andy Nattan on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 8:48 am

  9. @Ali (Turnbull) – Yes, I’m much better in the mornings too. I learned that at University – instead of pulling all nighters, I’d get up at 4am and hand write my essay for a midday deadline. They became better written and better focused when I started doing that.

    @Ali (Turner) – In the summer I opt for a hammock in the garden. A great place to doze and think.

    @Lucy – I need familiar music. New stuff sends my brain the wrong way. But, boy, do I need some massive headphones.

    @Gill – I’m envious of that. If I still had a piano, endless repetitions of the two things I know how to play would send me and the neighbours mad.

    @Andy – Actually, that point about writing wasn’t the full story. I do most of the work before I start writing, but when I get into the flow it takes proper shape when I’m actually putting the words down. But what I do write wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if it weren’t for the preparatory faffing around. Oh, and I must give you something to disagree with – so I get a backlink in your 800-word rebuttal…

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:00 am

  10. @Judith – walking is wonderful, especially if you’re up against a brick wall and can’t get your ideas out. I often drive out to the sea and walk along the beach until the ideas start flowing back.

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:03 am

  11. I have a ritual: a pot of peppermint tea and honey, and classical music in the headphones. When they’re in place my brain knows ‘it’s time to work’. When I’m stuck on something I walk round the block and smell the lavender bushes. (Practically every garden near the the studio has a lavender bush in it. No idea why.)

    Comment left by Sarah Turner on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:11 am

  12. Hi Ben, it’s blind terror for me every time. I like having the adrenaline and sheer panic of thinking I won’t be able to get something finished in time. I also like the buzz when I manage to do it.

    I would go for a walk on the beach more often but I live in Scotland :-(

    Comment left by Jamie Graham on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:13 am

  13. @Sarah – I’d never thought of combining peppermint with honey. Is it really nice? For me it’s freshly ground coffee at weapons-grade strength.

    @Jamie – I don’t know your bit of coastline very well (nearest I got was picking up litter and weeds in an industrial estate in Granton!) but you’re next to one of the most inspiring cities in Europe!

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:18 am

  14. I get my best inspiration when I’m not concentrating on what I’m supposed to be doing: mundane tasks like washing the dishes, hoovering, gardening, and going for a walk are all marvellous ways to split your mind and let it go into freefall.

    Procrastination can be immensely inspiring: not only does it expose you to new thoughts and ideas, but it also increases the blind-terror quotient by pushing you for time.

    I agree about the napping too. Funnily enough, I find that a good night’s sleep doesn’t have the same effect as sneaking a catnap in the middle of the day.

    Comment left by Averill Buchanan on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:19 am

  15. I think things through whilst doing mundane household jobs.
    The time available to write is minimal so there is always a time pressure. Therefore, once I’m actually sitting down and ready it tends to just happen. So I guess for me it’s all in the preparation with added adrenaline rush.
    If all else fails, walking certainly helps.
    In other words, many a plot, blog post, article have been worked out whilst ironing or walking the dogs!

    Comment left by Anna on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:20 am

  16. Deadlines are a great motivator for me as I started off writing for radio news bulletins, where 10 seconds late meant you lost your slot. Walking, running and exercise are great ways for me to think about things, without consciously thinking of them and usually bring rhythm and pace to my writing. Travel, whether it’s just a mundane train or bus journey or a bigger long-haul adventure is also ripe for ideas and sensory input. And yes, I’m another one of those get up early and get it done types.

    Comment left by Michelle on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:24 am

  17. I find that switching from staring at a blank screen to staring at a blank sheet of paper sometimes helps. If not, reverting to the blank screen can occasionally stimulate the word juices. If that fails, I consider going back to staring at a blank sheet of paper, but often it will be a different sheet from the frankly useless one I stared at earlier.

    Then drink, then porn, then that pile of washing up, and then – and only then – will I rub my hands together and go back to staring at a blank screen.

    Comment left by Kevin Mills on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:24 am

  18. Funny this – I used to think it was about waiting for inspiration, but realised after talking to some professional writers that it’s like anything else: it takes work. So even if I don’t feel like writing five hundred words on the latest beer festival, I still go and do it. So I guess the necessity of producing something is my inspiration in the same way deadlines have a way of focusing the mind. Besides, if it’s rubbish, I can always go back and fix it!

    Comment left by Dean on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:24 am

  19. Money.

    Comment left by Sarah Nuttall on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:36 am

  20. Strangely, a lot of really good stuff comes to me in the shower (another interesting item for the invoice, Ben!).

    I can’t think through a whole, complex idea when I’m really tired – I do that when my brain is fresh, but sometimes when I’m exhausted, in the last few minutes before I fall asleep, the complex plot point I figured out earlier in the day will morph into a perfect piece of prose that I scrawl across the notebook as I drift off. My notebook and pencil by the bed is for last thing at night, not first thing in the morning.

    And walks. Lots of walks, over a familiar route so I don’t actually have to think about where I’m going. What’s on the walk doesn’t have to have anything to do with what I’m writing about, in fact it’s better if it doesn’t. I’ve just finished a complex science fiction novel set in a future London, much of which was worked out in the company of sheep.

    Comment left by Stephanie on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:42 am

  21. For me, it’s working through the night. I can genuinely get more done in three hours at night than I can during 8 hours during the day; this saves me a lot of money in childcare!

    I also agree with time pressure – if I know I have a deadline coming fast then procrastination is knocked on the head and I find it easy to knuckle down with it.

    Great post, and excellent to get the thoughts, and find out waht works, for others.

    Comment left by Susan on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:53 am

  22. Weird but true, for my day job as copywriter I don’t find I need inspiration, it just comes. I try and have no distractions such as music or outside noise but that’s about all I need. When it comes to creative writing such as comedy, that’s a different story. I wrote a six episode sitcom back in 2004 which was in development with the BBC and, hard as I try, I still have no idea where the inspiration came from. Trying to get that same inspiration back to write more comedy of any note however, is very difficult and pretty elusive.

    Comment left by Alconcalcia on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:54 am

  23. Coffee/gin (depending on the time of day), familiar music and the fear. Sometimes it just comes and I don’t know why. If it doesn’t come I’ll swim or run or smoke. But for some reason I find the task of writing for friends too pressured.

    Comment left by Jo Murphy on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:57 am

  24. Two things for me. First, there is absolutely no point in me trying to get “on top” of a job. I’ve always been a last minute kinda gal.

    Second, plenty of distractions. I can’t write in a word vacuum, so always have either tv or radio on and flit between windows on the laptop. I know it takes me longer to get anything done, but it’s definitely better quality.

    Comment left by Catherine on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 10:12 am

  25. Other people.

    No idea’s original after all.

    Comment left by Adrian on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 10:45 am

  26. Fashionably late to the party as usual.

    A fee that I’m comfortable with and a decent client work wonders.

    Booze? It’s like my pool playing – a 40 minute raft of glory in a sea of shite.

    Music? I wish.

    Enjoying the thread.


    Comment left by Martin on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 1:33 pm

  27. I also work best under a deadline. It’s pointless for me to know of a project a week beforehand.

    Alcohol only gives me the illusion that what I’m writing is good. Reading it sober is usually quite painful. Though I do credit binge drinking for getting me through most of my papers in college.

    I’m a copywriter working in-house and I’m starting to find the structure and the repetition of branding is burning me out. I usually just get up and leave the office for a walk when I’m blocked. Being outdoors helps me a lot.

    Comment left by Sam on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 5:50 pm

  28. Your Mad Man-like capacity to knock down a few drinks and write copy is impressive. Even half a glass of wine makes me useless.

    A few things that help keep the creative juices flowing:

    *Regular routine, waking and writing early in the day
    *Using a white board to mind map ideas
    * Working on several projects at once and switching back and forth during the day, an hour on one project, an hour on another (I use an hourglass)
    * Writing a fast, dirty first draft–no editing, just getting the ugly thing out

    The following are extensions of your #4, Not Writing:

    * Reading big, fat books
    * Taking art breaks: Trips to museums, galleries, plays
    * Listening to music–Ben, your Spotify selections are great

    What I remove from my routine is as important as what I add: I close email and Tweetdeck. I should close browsers as well, but I tell myself I need them open for research.

    Comment left by Lorraine on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:00 pm

  29. In one of my old workplaces, we had a sign on the wall that said something like, “Never procrastinate unless you are one of those people who works best when the remaining time is less than or equal to the time required to do a half-arsed job.”

    However, I am one of those people, in just about all aspects of my life (I do my best Christmas shopping in the last couple of days). At university I once left myself with 10 days to start and complete two assignments that were each worth something like 30% of the papers’ final marks – and came out with an A and an A+.

    I’ve found it helps to start using a different browser when I really have to get something done. I normally use Firefox, but that has all my RSS feeds and bookmarks, so I switch to Chrome, which only has boring work websites and nothing to distract me :-)

    Comment left by Lucy Smith on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 9:24 pm

  30. Amazing response… thanks everyone.

    @Averill – Procrastination is one of the few things in life I still get guilty about, but you’re right. It’s absolutely necessary.

    @Anna – I try to avoid household jobs at all costs. A walk or a bike ride does it for me.

    @Michelle – I agree. Early mornings are a must. And a necessity now my children wake me at 5.30am or thereabouts.

    @Kevin – Firing a lot of blanks there 😉

    @Dean – Yes, the fast first draft is a real help when you’re stuck.

    @Sarah – Ker-ching.

    @Stephanie – Item: wandering lonely as a cloud. £230+VAT.

    @Susan – My children and work just don’t seem to mix. They won’t let it. Or go to sleep. Ever.

    @Alconcalcia – I need music. I vary it to suit mood and what needs writing. Didn’t know you were a screenwriter too! Any more projects bubbling up?

    @Jo – I used to smoke incessantly and stay inspired till my sinuses seized up. But no more, sadly. Gave up six years ago yesterday…

    @Catherine – Noise, noise, noise. I can’t write in sepulchral quiet either.

    @Adrian – So true.

    @Martin – Same here. But it can get you sailing in the right direction, and you can plug the holes the next day.

    @Sam – A week’s notice is the same as a year’s notice. They’re both a long way away.

    @Lorraine – Knock back drinks and write a *small* amount of copy. It’s not something I could run my career on!

    @Lucy – That browser tip is a good one. I use a second browser for testing SERPs and site changes, but I hadn’t thought of a distraction-free browser for work. I think I’ll give it a go. Shame you can’t run two versions of Firefox!

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Friday 14th October, 2011 at 9:05 am

  31. Alcohol of course. I’m with Hemingway – “Write drunk; edit sober.”

    I also go for visual stimulation. I immerse myself in photos that either:
    1. Directly related to the brand – photos of the product, etc.
    2. Convey the mood I want to create through the piece in question

    For large projects, I find that film or film clips or even relevant YouTube clips can provide flashes of inspiration. And on rare occasions – music. Usually I find music distracting, but from time to time I’ll put a song on a loop if it creates just the right mood.

    Comment left by B. Ligerent on Friday 14th October, 2011 at 9:31 am

  32. […] if Ben Locker’s anything to go by, when a writer walks into a bar, it’s to buy a rather large scotch. So, what do you think? Is it time we laid this joke to rest, or should SEO copywriters be less […]

    Pingback by An SEO Copywriter Walks Into a Pub… | Unmemorable Title - Copywriting Blog - Unmemorable Title on Friday 21st October, 2011 at 9:01 am

  33. For me it is the thrill of starting with a blank page and knowing that within a few hours I will have crafted something that my old English teacher would wrinkle her nose at but that could well bring home the bacon – new clients, warm prospects, plenty of sales on a shoestring. I am a copywriter who writes for responses. Whilst I love spinning stories, plucking juicy little phrases out of my head and shaping a sublime paragraph out of a rough bit of writing, my ultimate motivation comes from the sometimes spectacular results that each seemingly insignificant piece of copy delivers.

    Comment left by dee blick on Sunday 23rd October, 2011 at 7:13 pm

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