6 (More) Habits of Highly Effective Fundraising Writers
How's the novel coming? You do have one in the works, right? I think 90 percent of the fundraising copywriters I know are working on one.
It's one of the peculiar things about copywriters. When we're not writing for a living, we're often writing to relax (something we have in common with professional musicians).
There's a review in last week's Guardian of the new book "Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work: How Artists Work" by Mason Currey.
Unlike my column from last week, Currey's book is more than a collection of scriveners' curiosities. While its real message is that, as the author says, "there's no right way to get things done," you can discover certain practices that emerge as fairly common among successful writers.
So, from last week's eccentricities to this week's enlightenment checklist, here are six things great writers do that you can too:
1. Get up early
Plenty of great writers do their thing at night, but as Currey quotes Hemingway, in the morning, "there is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write."
2. Don't give up your day job
T.S. Eliot was a banker, William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician and William Faulkner worked the night shift at a power plant. Franz Kafka worked in an insurance office (but you have to ask yourself, "Do I want to write like Kafka?"). Temperamental artists all, but each was still practical enough to work around his steady source of income. They understood that most starving artists did exactly that: starve.
3. Take a hike
Yes, great ideas come at 2 in the morning and in the shower. But it's not the moon or hot water that coaxes them out. Plenty of studies show that taking a little downtime is conducive to creativity. Specifically, walking in the woods or surrounding yourself with greenery helps budding ideas blossom. It's ironic but true that almost any activity other than sitting at a desk all day will encourage new ideas. This is truer than ever now, when your computer screen has a million distractions that will pull you away from concentrating on writing if you let them.
4. Write every day, at the same time
Henry James's brother William, a father of modern psychology, said that when the ordinary routines of daily life become habitual and automatic, we "free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action." As Currey says, don't waste time each morning deciding to spend 45 minutes working on your novel. If that decision is already hardwired into your life, you'll be a lot more productive.
5. Try better living through chemistry (er, just one, actually)
Substance abuse and the creative arts have always had a dangerous relationship. Graham Greene and Ayn Rand used Benzedrine to keep them pumping out the work. And of course, alcohol has been the drug of choice for way too many great writers. In fact, though, only one drug has ever been proved to really enhance the creative process: caffeine. Just check out these "Coffee Achievers" and see for yourself.
6. Learn to work anywhere
Establishing a working routine is a good thing. But growing overly dependent on it is not. Thinking we need the perfect writing environment to be creative is really just self-defeating procrastination. "During Jane Austen's most productive years," says Currey, "... she wrote mainly in the family sitting-room, often with her mother sewing nearby. Continually interrupted by visitors, she wrote on scraps of paper that could easily be hidden away." Or consider that Agatha Christie wrote 66 novels and 16 short-story collections and never had a proper desk. She worked any place she could set her typewriter.
Of course, none of these strategies will guarantee writing success. Like everything else in life there are only two attributes that all successful writers share: 1) a little talent and 2) a lot of hard work. And the talent is really just a bonus. As my friend the Shakespeare scholar says, all successful writers do the same thing: "They write."
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.