Breaking the chains of writer’s block

Jan 24, 2023

Do any of these sound like you?

“The problem I’m having right now is that I don’t know what to write.

“It feels like my words aren’t doing justice to my thoughts! I know I have great ideas and content but it’s somehow so difficult to write it down the same way it’s in my mind. I often feel like my words fall flat most of the times…”

“I wish to become a good copywriter… can write fairly well, have taken the best copywriting courses… but I just cannot write a sales email…  It’s productivity issues … grave case of procrastination… Just looking for inspiration to strike and move me along on a bolt of lightning.”

Now, you know writer’s block is pretty bad when you’re practically wishing to be struck by lightning!

But it can feel like it’s a fatal blow to whatever creativity and inspiration you have locked up inside of you

And as that deadline clock ticks away, the anxiety that builds up to nearly-intolerable levels is no joke, either.

The quotes I just shared are from some of your fellow Copy Insiders, who wrote to me when they first signed up about the #1 problem they were facing.

I replied back to each of them with some advice, which I’ll be sharing and expanding on in today’s issue. I hope you’ll find it helpful, no matter where you are in your copywriting journey. (And I hope the folks who wrote me are doing better with it as well.)

So let’s get started with…

Why does this time-sucking, stress-producing writer’s block syndrome happen in the first place?

A lot of times writer’s block comes from a place of insecurity and self-doubt. It’s as if the negative self-talk recording in your brain is on an endless loop, playing over and over again.

It’s why I see writer’s block as a mindset issue… and something you can kick to the curb by recognizing its causes and adopting new habits to avoid falling into its clutches.

I could write a whole issue just on “imposter syndrome”… and I just might. Based on what another one of your fellow Copy Insiders wrote to me, you can see how it can create a bottleneck that impedes making progress with your copy:

“Fear of it’s not good enough… maybe I should go back and change it all again… this cycle continues. I am new to this; maybe that’s making me anxious or concerned.”

So to work on beating the “blank page blues”, you need to work on beating imposter syndrome…

And for many of us, it’s no easy task. It’s a lifelong journey, to be honest… learning to feel that you have worth, that you deserve your success, I could go on and on.

But in the meantime, here’s the advice I gave your fellow Copy Insider:

“If it makes you feel any better, everyone feels that way… even more experienced copywriters. Chances are no matter how good your copy is, it can continue to be made better. That’s why if you feel that about your copy, go back with fresh eyes and make changes that will improve it. And get someone else to read it, too.”

(I’d recommend reading or re-reading yesterday’s mindset issue on setting boundaries, as doing so builds your confidence and banishes imposter syndrome. You can find it on my blog.)

But for now, let’s focus on four practical, easy-to-do tips for breaking the chains of writer’s block that you can put to use right away:

Tip #1: Get on email lists and pay attention to sales emails that make you want to buy. 

They can be within the niche you write for, but I wouldn’t limit it to just that. Study the emails and subject lines they send out. Keep them in a folder so you can go back and reference them later when you need some inspiration.

(Note: I’ve been doing this for years not just with emails, but with direct mail, too. I don’t get nearly as much as I used to, but I now have 3 or 4 dozen file folders packed with promos by topic–i.e., memory supplements. So if I’m working on a memory supplement promo, I can easily find inspiration if I get stuck.)

Bonus tip: Hand-copy the emails or promos that resonate with you or make you want to buy. This helps you cement into your brain the structure, rhythm, and cadence they use… so the next time you sit down and write, the copy may come more naturally to you.

Tip #2: To make it easier to get started, start with something easy.

The best way to start writing is to start writing. Before you start protesting with “duh!”, hear me out. Simply pick something that’s easy to write and get the momentum going.

For example, if you’re writing a promotion for a client, start with writing the testimonials out… even if you’re just rewriting them. Then add little mini-subheads to them. Suddenly, you’re writing! And you’re more excited about what you’re writing, too. Or write the order page. Or something else short and simple.

If you’re really stuck, do something else. Get up from your desk and take a shower, go outside for a walk, unload the dishwasher, or shave. Remember Gene Schwartz’s advice on connectivity: when you give yourself “mandatory leisure”, it allows space for your brain to make connections.

You may also want to read the book “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It’s more for writers vs. solely copywriters, but she shares a lot of the struggle with writing and provides some great tips and insights.

Tip #3: Try talking instead of writing.

If writing makes you freeze up, try dictation. Do a stream of consciousness and talk into the recorder on your phone (try the Rev app). Then have your recording transcribed (or type it out yourself).

Voila! You now have a sh*tty first draft you can work with! And writer’s block has been defeated…

I first learned about dictation as a tool for writing in my first job out of college at a small consulting firm in Washington, DC. The owner of the company swore by dictation and strongly encouraged all of his employees to use it when writing reports.

Back then we’d use handheld tape recorders… and then drop the tapes off to be transcribed in the office pool of word processors (employees who typed documents). I’ll never forget submitting my first piece of dictation. The company president intercepted it in the word processing “outbox” and read it. He wrote at the top of it, “This is the best first-time dictation I’ve ever seen!” I still have it.

Dictation is also a really great tool for when you’re off doing something else and you want to capture some ideas that come to you… it’s why I take my phone with me on a walk with my dog: so I can capture those ideas in a voice message or email to myself. All too often though, I forget my phone… and find myself running home as fast as I can before I forget that great idea!

Tip #4: Use AI tools to brainstorm, generate ideas, or just get started.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, Chat-GPT can be a great tool for idea generation when you use the right prompts. (Good luck getting access to the free version lately, it’s been overwhelmed with users).

With some additional prompting, you can even produce a sh*tty first draft of copy, which you can then edit and tweak… something that’s much easier for most of us than writing from scratch.

I still have the same caveats I did a few years ago when I tested out one of the earlier AI writing tools: that it can lead you down a path of mediocrity. As Ben Settle said in his email today, “AI cannot ‘create’ anything, it can only ‘remix.'”

So use AI to get you going and spit out possible ideas that you can then research further, build upon, and turn into your own unique and far better version. Just be sure to avoid the trap of bland, “me too” copy that even the best AI tools are producing, at least in less experienced hands.

My past mentee and top AI expert Sam Woods put together an incredible series of workshops a few weeks ago and provided examples of effective prompts that could put to rest even the most serious case of writer’s block. If you missed it, he’ll be making the virtual version available soon (I’ll keep you posted!)

Before I sign off for today, here’s a few quick things…

1) Reply back to this email and let me know what’s the most effective practice you use to beat the “blank page blues”. I’d love to hear it… or feel free to simply reply back with whatever mindset issue you’re struggling with most right now.

(Note: for me, it can sometimes be a tight deadline. And if the deadline is too far off, I sometimes procrastinate until it’s not so far off and the pressure is on. I’m not recommending this! It’s something I’ve gotten much better with over time.)

2) Follow me on social media, if you aren’t already. In fact, I’ll be posting some snippets from today’s issue (there’s not space to post the whole thing, hence the reason why it’s so important you’re getting my emails so you can get the whole enchilada!)

There’s some great conversations going on based on yesterday’s issue on LinkedIn here. Please jump in and drop a “like” or comment! And follow me and/or send a connection request if you’re so moved.

3) Please send your fellow copywriters and marketers who aren’t Copy Insiders yet over to this link: (You don’t need to click it, you’re already a Copy Insider! You smart cookie, you.)

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Mindset Week issue where I’ll be talking about mental toughness and resilience… something any copywriter or business owner needs plenty of. I’ll share with you how to “fail” your way to succeeding (I did it, and so can you!)

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Here’s something fun to do to stir up your brain and get those synapses moving: move your body! If you can’t get up from your desk, try doing “chair dancing”. Yes, I know it sounds like something old people do in a nursing home, but it can get you moving and give you a fun break.

I just tried it a little while ago after stumbling on this ancient YouTube video of the Talking Heads playing “Life During Wartime” live (a concert tour I remember attending). Try imitating David Byrne’s or his back-up dancers’ movements (it helps if you have a swivel chair). If you really want a workout, do it standing up!