The Dragons of Writing and How to Fight Them

The Dragons of Writing and How to Fight ThemWriters are notorious procrastinators.

If you are a writer (and you can convince people that this is in fact your profession and that you are not just referring to the three chapters of that novel you’ve had in a back drawer since high school), it is more or less assumed that you are incapable of completing a task ahead of schedule.

This is often painfully true.

My personal theory on the reason for this is that procrastination is kind of exciting. There’s something thrilling about skating into a deadline by the seat of your pants, saving the day just in time, getting all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

A friend of mine, having dinner with me, summed it up thusly: “Basically, all you artist types are totally addicted to drama.”

And do you know, I think she’s right.

Copywriting: Drama Built-In

We professional writers know exactly how to make writing copy thrilling. Basically, you get yourself a client with a deadline. If you miss the deadline, the client become very angry and shouty, and may malign you to others. If, however, you make the deadline, the client is thrilled and showers you in praise and rose petals.

Or, you know. Something slightly less flashy, but equally gratifying, like money. We writers are very easy to gratify, really.

If you’re into fantasy-type stories (and come on, fess up, most of you are), you can think of each project like being sent on a big quest to slay a dragon. Your client is the king of the realm. The project is the dragon threatening his kingdom. You go out and slay that dragon, and the client will give you a nifty monetary reward. You fail, and so does his kingdom, and he is justifiably pissed.

That’s business-writing. Built-in thrills by the minute. You wonder why we love our jobs.

But what about that novel in the back drawer?

Copywriters By Day, Artists By Night

Copywriters are often also aspiring fiction writers. They may be into writing fantasy, or poetry, or literature or short stories or novellas or restaurant menu vignettes, but almost every single copywriter I know also has ambitions to be a different kind of writer as well. The problem is that in our zeal to put bread on the table, we forget about the fiction writing. It’s not necessary. It’s not lucrative.

It’s not dramatic.

And we need that drama. Every year, there’s a writing contest called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where thousands of people are challenged to actually complete that novel they’ve been trying to complete for years. All these people strive to get down 50,000 words or so during that month, alongside lots of other folks trying to do the same thing.

It has an incredible success rate. It is also extremely dramatic. It is full of stress and deadlines and people watching over your shoulder and big sad consequences of disappointment and shame should you fail.

It is no coincidence that writers love the hell out of it.

Creating a Dragon of Your Own

We talk a lot on MwP about copywriting, and we really want you to be successful at it. One of the reasons you got into this business in the first place, though, is probably because you just plain like to write. You wanted to write. This seemed to be a way to do that where you could also make money. And lo and behold, you were correct.

That doesn’t mean you should neglect the writing that first interested you, the ambitions you have on the side. It’s that stuff that’ll remind you what it’s all for. Sure, there’s no pot of gold at the end of it as there is with copywriting, which means you need some other impetus. You need a way to make that kind of writing equally dramatic.

We’re telling you to make your writing into a big enough dragon – with a big enough reward – that it’s worth going after. Your copywriting is already a very big dragon sitting on a big ol’ pot of gold. Now you need some equal incentive to get that fiction writing finished.

And it’s totally up to you.

There are few impetuses as universal as the desire for money, so it’s nearly impossible for me to do this for you. But think about all the reasons you would slay a dragon. Money, sure. What about fame? What about personal welfare? What about impressing the ladies?

What can you do to make your dragon worth fighting?

Maybe you can give yourself a reward.

Maybe you can go on a much-needed vacation.

Maybe you can buy yourself something terribly extravagant.

Maybe you can tell everyone you know that they can expect your novel by Christmas, so that you will be shamed if you don’t deliver.

Go forth! You are both king and hero in this adventure. Set yourself a quest and a reward, and then go claim them for your own. Heck, if you need to, get yourself a king. A teacher, or a friend, or an agent. Someone who will set your quests and hold you accountable to them.

If that’s not dramatic enough for you, then I just have no hope for you.

This is the beginning of a month-long series, where I’m going to talk about how to get into kick-ass shape to fight your dragons, both business and fiction. Stay tuned.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

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  1. Wow, never would have associated Copywriting with Dragon slaying. Cool way to think it though.

    And not to be picky (well, okay I am being picky), but NaNo is 50000 words, not 30000. Those 20K makes a hell of a difference for us poor sods who are attempting it. 😛
    .-= Lost Wanderer´s last blog ..Book Review: The Year Zero =-.

  2. @ Lost – I guess they would! Fixed with my thanks for the tip!

  3. Setting obtainable goals helps slay the dragons as well. Too often, the cause of procrastination is the daunting task of finishing some huge project. It can be overwhelming staring at this huge to do list and having no clue where to start. That gets me every time.
    .-= Jarie Bolander´s last blog ..David Silverman: Lost In Translation Emails =-.

  4. I do not slay dragons, instead, I welcome them into my dynamically vibrant moose-herd and encourage gentle inter-species communications and acceptance of all.

    Peace and happiness is always obtained for within my realm, a harmonious relationship between the flowers and forces of nature are always balanced….poised with the precise perfection demanded of a svelte elephant standing on a Weeble without ever Wobbling over.

    This state of nirvana lasts until my kingdom is assailed by the Insidious Forces of Evil! Luckily by that time, I can cry HAVOC!…and let slip the dragons of war. (points go to whomever can tell me to what Star Trek episode that refers 🙂 ).

    Obviously I have not imbibed enough coffee today. 🙂
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Today’s Quote of the Day – One Woman’s Wisdom Is…. =-.

  5. @ Barbara – This is an intriguing concept. Through acceptance, care and regular feeding, you could create a breeding program for your dragons and evolve them as a species until they actually breathe fire into your words, soar your copy to its highest heights, destroy non-paying clients who have run off into the sunset with your work, and cook you three hot meals a day for your health and benefit.

    I rather like that.

  6. Lately I’ve been motivating myself with rewards large and small for finishing a set amount of writing in a set amount of time — large reward for completing a project and small reward for completing a portion of it.
    .-= John Soares´s last blog ..When to Ask College Textbook Supplement Publishers for More Work =-.

  7. Wow, this post hit pretty close to home. I was sitting here reading it and going “yeah!” “I know right” “That’s me!” ha ha.

    I think my reward for now is to be able to work from home full time. I’m learning more each day. And if you don’t mind me saying, this blog has been a big part of that.

    So I’m off to slay some dragons! Or take them in as Barbara so eloquently puts it.
    .-= Chris Anderson´s last blog ..When You Take Action and Get Results, Don’t Stop! =-.

  8. Wow. It’s funny, I got into this business of marketing slash writing slash copywriting because I wanted to find a way of marketing my own FICTION book (which, as you correctly predicted, currently exists as 7 chapters in a drawer somewhere).

    One day I will pull out those 7 chapters and finish it off. One day, one day…

    Actually, I wonder if writers imagined their novel as a BLOG, whether that would help? We get blogs done because each post is fairly short.

    Maybe that would also help. Break up each chapter into a series of blog posts on a private blog, and then “post” to it each weekday. I suggest private because obviously we’ll want to continuously revise our creations… yet another way of procrastinating 🙂
    .-= Paul Hancox, copySnips´s last blog ..How To Eliminate Objections Using Headlines… =-.

  9. Lost – Whoops, sorry about that. I was totally afraid of NaNoWriMo and haven’t yet participated. Though I heard very good things about one of the books that came out as a result of it.

    Jarie – Obtainable goals can indeed help. We’re going to talk a bit about that in the coming weeks. There are many things you can do to make a task seem less daunting, and practice is one of them. For you and I, doing a series of backflips across a floor is impossible to conceive, and we’d need a lot of convincing to attempt it. For an Olympic athlete, that’s just warming up. It’s all in what you’re accustomed to performing.

    Barbara – Vibrant Moose Herd would be a great name for a band.

    John – Good strategy. Even better when you can accomplish things without feeling like they need rewarding. They are so slight you hardly notice! It’s rather like doing the dishes. You don’t really feel the need to reward yourself for cleaning a dish anymore.

    Chris – I’m glad to hear it. Go take in those dragons.

    Paul – I am all-knowing and all-seeing. FEAR ME. I actually considered the blog route – it’s something a lot of NaNoWriMo authors attempt, because it both keeps them accountable to other readers and, as you rightly suggest, breaks down the whole process into manageable pieces.
    .-= Tei – Men with Pens´s last blog ..The Dragons of Writing and How to Fight Them =-.

  10. I am so totally, 100%, completely on board with this post, Taylor.

    In fact, I’m so on board that back in January I created my own dragon. I set out to write 52 short stories in a single year, and in order to stay accountable, blogged about the process.

    The motivation wasn’t money, or getting published, it was just a way to get myself writing fiction again (I fell into that silly making money trap and hadn’t been writing fiction in a while).

    Anyway, I can share with you all that it’s not looking so good for completing 52 short stories this year, but I will say this, I’ve written more fiction this year than I have in probably 5 or 6 years.

    I strongly encourage anyone who wants to write to go and slay a dragon (metaphorically speaking).

    Nice post, Taylor.
    .-= Adam Di Stefano´s last blog ..Three Dimensions =-.

  11. Oh the drama, oh the thrill. Bring on the dragons and I will slay them. Well, someday, when I’m not procrastinating. Great post, Taylor.
    .-= Elly´s last blog ..Memoir Creator =-.

  12. Dude’s I’m not a copy-writer, I’m not even a writer and I totally love this post. You are so right about artists and their drama. so very very right. Over time I have struggled to limit, lesson, resist and avoid drama and you know what the result was: artists block.

    I learned the difference of damaging drama and stimulating drama and now I welcome it into my life.

    It would be great if you could write a post specifically about the drama rewards/bribes part of things. I find I cannot reward myself directly with anything that costs money as It just confuses things emotionally. but if I prep things by buying something I want but just dole it out in little bits I don’t think about the money spent I can focus on the item.

  13. I’m proud of myself, in that I’ve lately gotten BACK to my novel. The one that’s been stuck on one, crucial plot point for about 5 years now. I haven’t (yet) found many freelancing clients, but I figure that if I’m going to call myself a writer and expect to be paid for it, I should WRITE. And, hey, if I can finish my novel at the same time? Well, maybe somebody will pay for that, too. I’m up to about 68,000 words now … such a more satisfying number than the 47,000 or so it was stuck at for so long.
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Let’s Not Forget Civility =-.

  14. I never thought about writing as being like dragon-slaying! Great imagination! My novel is waiting for certain relatives to die off before I can write about what terrible things they did and said! I don’t wanna get sued!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Unexpected drought! =-.

  15. I work with a nonprofit (that I help run) doing the same sort of thing I do every day … write copy, create ads, design brochures, etc. You’d think it would be tiring after a busy day, but oddly, because I’m doing it for a cause I believe in, it’s more satisfying than doing work for my clients where I’m making money. I look forward to it.

    This is why it’s sometimes a good idea not to try to make a business out of everything you enjoy. Sometimes money spoils things.
    .-= Dean at Pro Copy Tips´s last blog ..How to type special characters =-.

  16. Procrastination for drama? Maybe. It’s that’s so I can connect an electric wire from the period key to my seat to get a dramatic jolt at the end of every sentence.

    I really don’t know what it is, but inspiration flows nearer the deadline.
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Days of Our Discontent — Finding Answers =-.

  17. James | Postcard Printing says:

    I’m really have a high praise to all of the copywriters because they do it with their backs on the wall which is the deadline. So I’m pretty sure they do it with great precision. Hands off to them!

  18. Ugh! I’ve always hated this type of drama. In university I started my essays well in advance so that I could write them bit by bit. Whenever I had to do group assignments with procrastinators I’d want to scream.

    Now that I’m writing full time, I’ve learned the best way for me to be productive is a bit each day – and most recently that bit has turned into a bunch.

    That being said, giving myself deadlines definitely helps.
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..No, I Won’t Talk to You: Why Someday Syndrome Offers Email-Based Coaching =-.

  19. Hey, I for one, am no drama queen so don’t be making generalizations here 😉

    I do find that if I don’t set deadlines for myself – even for my personal, non-monetary (not yet at least) projects, then the dragon gets very strong and almost impossible to slay.

    What helps for me is to treat these personal projects as if they were client projects. I set up milestones and deadlines and – yes – a reward in the end.

    Although, most recently I found that completing it was rewarding in itself and I didn’t need to go out and buy myself a new pair of knee-high boots after all.
    .-= Lexi Rodrigo´s last blog ..Open Thread: Do You Have a USP (or Why Should Clients Hire YOU?) =-.

  20. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    “Slay your Dragon” is my new mantra. Just posted it at the top of my computer.

  21. I like the idea of making the dragon something of a friend–to be tamed rather than be slain.

    If you put each writing job or story in a positive light and think of yourself as the gentler of a wild and unruly idea, you can still end with an accomplished goal without having to wake up each morning feeling like you’re going into battle.

    Pacifist that I am… 🙂

  22. I’m guilty of procrastination. I’ll start a project then move to another. Now I have to finish my 1st project because I told practically everyone about it. In a way it’s good stress. A co worker told me that I’m procrastinating with my book. In a way I am, it’s that perfectionism in me. But it will get done. Very soon. I’m considering diving into copywriting. How and where do I start? Thanks for the article Taylor
    .-= Omar´s last blog ..SUCCESS =-.

  23. Slaying the dragon sounds much cooler than avoiding procrastination (facebook, twitter, cleaning anything, cooking). Thanks for sharing. At the end of the day, it is all about word production – and that requires the discipline of getting the hours in and putting the words down.

  24. I like very much this analogy. Setting up goals like “slaying your dragon” can make you better because even if you don’t succeed to slay the dragon maybe you got very close and that means that you accomplished more than before which is a big step anyway. Don’t be disappointed if you didn’t manage to complete the task you set in mind but instead think that you managed to make yourself better and keep on trying to slay the dragon so you can get better and better.

  25. I agree…Procrastination is kind of exciting. The longer I put off a writing project, the more exciting it becomes to finish it at the last minute. This actually helps some people write better copy.

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