Which of these bad habits blocks your creative genius?

February 25, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Creativity 

bad creative habitsTo succeed as a copywriter, you have to wield substantial creativity.

Yes, yes, I know. There are a zillion rules and formulas that copywriters follow to write effective copy. And yes, you can make a living just writing the same copy over and over for different clients. I even know one copywriter (no I won’t say who it is) who has admitted to literally cutting and pasting copy from one project to another to get work done.

But most copywriters find that creativity is an essential tool for writing well. This is especially true today, because there are so many different media and so much innovation in advertising and marketing.

I’ve written about ways to boost your creativity. But today we’re going to talk about some of the roadblocks to creativity.

You see, I believe creativity is something you’re born with. But along the way, we pick up bad habits that block this creativity. And if you want to energize your creative powers, you have to first consider what might be holding you back.

Ready? This might be a little painful. Or enlightening. Or both.

Are you …

Creating and evaluating simultaneously? You can’t drive a car in first and in reverse. Likewise, you shouldn’t create and evaluate. Creating is generating new ideas, visualizing, looking ahead, considering the possibilities. Evaluating is analyzing and judging, picking apart ideas and sorting them out into piles of good and bad, useful and useless. Most people evaluate too soon and too often, and therefore create less.

Avoiding real change? There are two forms of creative imagination: Hunting and Changing. Hunting is finding something that already exists and applying it to your problem. Changing is modifying something you already have and transform it into something new. Both are useful, but they are not the same.

Suffering from the expert syndrome? This a big problem in the copywriting field, where egos often balloon to the size of small planets. I suppose it takes a healthy ego to succeed in this business, but if you think you know everything there is to know, you’ll be blustering more than thinking. And you’ll inevitably make mistakes and miss opportunities.

Wallowing in the novice trap? You don’t know the basics. You don’t have experience. Or you think you’re too smart to spend time with the problem or understand the proven formulas and rules of thumb. You can’t be creative until you know what has been created by others.

Making the one right answer mistake? As a student in school, your teachers probably said they wanted you to think for yourself. However, come test time, you knew you’d better memorize the facts and give the right answers or your grade would suffer. This simplistic right and wrong orientation pervades our society and it’s the very antithesis of creative thinking. Except for simple problems like 2 + 2 = 4, there’s seldom just one right answer for anything.

Going with the first solution? One of the secrets to creativity is playing around with alternatives. Finding one solution is just the beginning. Many advertising writers, for example, write a hundred headlines or more before choosing the one they like best. When you go with the first solution, you’re not creating, you’re just recalling. You are settling for a ballpark answer. Sometimes that’s fine, but if you do it all the time, you will be trapped by your own limited experience.

Being too logical? Copywriting is a practical profession, but trying to be sensible and rational all the time will strangle a creative idea before it’s born. The brain is not a computer, after all, it’s a vastly complex organ designed to process emotion, intuition, language, symbols, dreams, and all manner of illogical data. That’s what it does best. Confining yourself to what’s practical is limiting and, frankly, illogical.

Sticking slavishly to the rules? Most copywriting rules are actually just guidelines, not laws written in stone. There are three levels of creative mastery in copywriting: 1) The Novice, who doesn’t know the rules. 2) The Hack, who has learned the rules, but is trapped by them. 3) The Professional, who knows the rules and, every now and then, breaks the rules, or even comes up with news rules, when it’s appropriate.

Cowering from the fear of failure? Most people remember baseball legend Babe Ruth as one of the great hitters of all time, with a career record of 714 home runs. However, he was also a master of the strike out. No one wants to make mistakes or fail. But if you try too hard to avoid failure, you’ll also avoid success. It has been said that to increase your success rate, you should aim to make more mistakes. In other words, take more chances and you’ll succeed more often.

Trembling from the fear of ambiguity? Most people like things to make sense and seek neat and tidy solutions to problems. Unfortunately, writing is not neat and tidy. There are some things you’ll never understand and some problems that you’ll never solve. Most great creative ideas emerge from a swirl of chaos. You must develop a part of yourself that is comfortable with mess and confusion.

Lacking confidence in yourself? A certain level of uncertainly accompanies every creative act. A small measure of self-doubt is healthy. However, you must have confidence in your abilities. Much of this comes from experience, but some will come from familiarity with how creativity works.

Allowing others to discourage you? Even if you have a wide-open mind and understand the need to make mistakes in order to learn, most people around you will not. They will tell you in various ways to conform, to be sensible, and not to rock the boat. Ignore them. The path to every victory is paved with predictions of failure.

Trapping yourself with functional fixedness? This is a common human shortcoming. A person suffering from functional fixedness sees a wrench as a wrench and nothing else. A creative person sees a wrench as a wrench, but also as a hammer, or a lever, or a weapon, or whatever else is needed at the moment.

Running away from complicated problems? If you like to solve problems quickly, it may be hard to sit down and spend time working on something elusive. We all have to work on a schedule, but rushing to an acceptable solution inhibits your ability to find a good solution. You think that the problem will take too much time or effort. So, you use a formula. Or you ignore the problem altogether and do nothing.

Living inside your comfort zone? The mind needs fresh input to remain fresh. It is helpful to venture outside your specialty to see things from a new point of view and to acquire new ideas. Sometimes the most important things to know are the things you think you’ll never need to know.

Telling yourself you’re not creative? Everyone is creative. Some are better at using their gifts than others. Some are more open and free in their thoughts. However, every human being on the planet has vast, untapped creative abilities, including you.

Related posts:

  1. Quiz: Are you a creative genius?
  2. How “productive slacking” can make you more creative
  3. 10 easy ways to instantly energize your creative powers

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Smart Comments

4 Comments on Which of these bad habits blocks your creative genius?

  1. Hugo Moolenaar on Feb 25th, 2010 9:27 am
  2. Hi Dean,

    Thanks, for a clear list of many very usable pieces of advice!

    Great phrasing too! Ain’t it beautiful, to be working with creativity?

    You’re a great help to me, trying to be a bit more creative every day!
    .-= Hugo Moolenaar’s last blog … Van funfactor naar gunfactor =-.

  3. Dean Rieck on Feb 25th, 2010 9:41 am
  4. Hugo:
    I have a little sticky note above my desk. It reads, “Do one thing different.”

  5. Annemieke on Feb 25th, 2010 10:31 am
  6. Really good post. I think every point of the list is very true and not just for writing. Actually I don’t know much about writing, but they are all very true for creativity in general.

    But I thought especially 1 and 2 are very interesting. Creating and at the same time being to analyzing is deadly I think. It is a process that takes time.

    And indeed hunting and changing are very different. I think at some point you need some transforming quality to make it useful in a certain case. You can’t just use instant solutions, you have to create your own.
    .-= Annemieke’s last blog … The Meaning of Values =-.

  7. Dean Rieck on Feb 25th, 2010 10:43 am
  8. Annemieke:
    You’re right. These apply to any kind of creative or problem solving process. I think it’s more accurate to talk about “problem solving,” but “creativity” is the word generally used in copywriting.