So, I’m about one week removed from having reconstructive ligament surgery on my left knee, and it pretty much sucks.
Having spent too much time falling off skateboards and getting beat up in rugby as a kid, then making the not-too-smart decision to take up running as an adult, my knee took a fair old beating. In the end, there was no muscle or cartilage holding the knee cap in place, so it slid about everywhere and caused me no end of pain.
To fix this, a kind man at Wrightington Hospital knocked my unconscious, tore out one of the ligaments from the back of my leg and re-positioned it so that it would do the necessary job of keeping my knee in one place and one piece.
As a result, I’ve been left barely able to use any of the muscles in my left leg. Trust me, there’s nothing scarier than realising that no matter how hard you try and concentrate, no amount of Jedi mind tricks will get your leg to lift up.
It’s a temporary problem, sure, and one that I’m working hard to overcome. If you’ve never seen a grown man cry before, pay me a visit when I’m undertaking the regular – and very painful – physiotherapy exercises I have to do rebuild those damaged muscles and get them working again. I’ll show you exactly what one looks like.
What does all this have to do with writing?
Simple. It made me realise just how far my creativity has plummeted since I stopped using it regularly.
Ask any writer for advice on the craft, and at some point they’ll likely tell you to just keep writing. If you want to be good at it, they say, you have to keep doing it.
I’ll be honest with you here, I thought I was.
I’ve been writing my whole life. It’s all I’ve ever done, and is probably the only thing I can say with any confidence I’m any good at. Keep writing? No problem, I’m a freelance copywriter, that’s what I do.
Except, it isn’t.
Working as a professional copywriter, my clients don’t hire me to write pretty-sounding prose or to pour my heart and soul into a poem. They hire me to deliver their messages to customers in a way that boosts their web traffic, sales and reputation. They hire me with business goals in mind. They hire me to turn a phrase that converts curious passers-by into cash-paying customers.
To do this successfully requires a different kind of mindset than the one I need to churn out a piece of creative writing that I’m happy with.
Creative writing means expressing myself. It means thinking about my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and channeling them into my writing. Copywriting, to me, means something entirely different. It means ignoring myself for a while and thinking about my client, about their business and about their customers. It means thinking less about the best way to express myself and more about the best way to make money for my clients.
That’s fine. We’ve all got to make a living here, and I’d rather be making mine with some form of writing than, well, than pretty much anything else in the world.
What’s not fine is plodding along with the belief that doing any kind of writing at all is good enough, that by writing corporate copy for businesses I’ll be keeping my creative muscles working.
I can’t speak for anybody else, but for me at least, it doesn’t work like that. I can write copy for businesses all day long, but if I don’t take some time out to indulge in some creative writing every now and again, those muscles are going to wind up neglected, if not a little damaged.
It’s certainly taken me long enough to figure this out.
For the first twelve months of my new adventures as a full-time copywriter, none of this was an issue. At the same time, I was working steadily on writing and editing a novel. That was more than enough of a creative workout. Whilst working on the book, my creativity was at its peak. I was cranking out new ideas by the day, creating stuff I was proud of, and falling in love all over again with the very process of writing.
Then I finished the novel, fired it off in the hopes of finding an agent, and have subsequently spent the past month doing practically no creative writing.
Sure I wrote lots of copy to pay the bills, but that did little to give those creative muscles the kind of training they need to stay in good shape.
A few days after surgery, with little else to do, I was looking forward to getting back to writing just for the pure fun of it, only to find that I absolutely sucked. New ideas were non-existent, the stuff I did create was nothing to be proud of, and as much as I still loved writing, it certainly didn’t love me back.
Heck, even this blog post isn’t quite up to the standard I would have liked.
Yes, my creative muscles and those in my left leg have a lot in common right now. They’re both pretty damaged and barely usable. Still, just as I can use physio to rebuild my leg, I can get my creative mojo back on track by following that oft-repeated piece of writing advice: Just keep writing.