The struggle is real. Just ask any communicator or marketer.
Relentless deadlines, approvals and rinse-and-repeat assignments can strip the joy from writing. Symptoms include dull, uninspired copy, dread and even writer’s block.
Surprisingly, penning poetry might help get your prose back on track. Here’s how to tap into the power of creative writing before you tackle that next pitch, post or press release.
1. Get out of your head—free write. “Communicators can be perfectionists,” says Rebecca Ferlotti, a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a client list that includes Executive Arrangements and FreshWater Cleveland. “That’s why we self-edit when we write.”
Her advice is to “Get out of the toxic cycle of self-editing,” she says. “Lower your writing inhibitions by committing to free writing for 15 minutes a day. Pick the time you’re most creative, whether it’s during lunch break, before work or after you get home.”
Ferlotti says free writing means no stopping, no editing, no rewriting—and no expectations.
“Use those 15 minutes as a creative pick-me-up, not an assignment. Some writing is personal, and it can stay that way or you can share it,” she says. “You can revisit your free writes later and pull parts that resonate for business or personal writing.”
You can free write on a notepad, laptop or even an iPhone. The platform doesn’t matter.
“What matters is that you write consistently—even on weekends,” Ferlotti says.
2. Observe and feel with prompts. The words just don’t come easily sometimes, even when there’s no pressure to perform. That’s where writing prompts can help.
“Look around instead of just staring at an empty page,” says Ferlotti. “Find something that inspires you—whether it’s a person you’re watching, a song on the radio or a fallen leaf. Focus on that, and try to capture the details.”
Prompts like these will help improve your ability to observe and feel. Honing this skill away from work will help you later, on the job when you’re blocked or searching for good ideas.
The falling leaf is an apt example. Blog posts or even email marketing subject lines pegged to concepts like “turning over a new leaf” or a “fall flash sale” could be particularly effective amid autumn’s ever-changing hues.
3. Shake it up—start in medias res. Don’t bore yourself or your readers with the usual set-up. (Creative writers do it with “once upon a time” filler, and journalists and professional communicators do it by burying the lead.)
“Get to the gold right away,” Ferlotti says. “My poetry teacher always said you have to shock people. Make them laugh, smile or scare them by dropping them into the middle of your story.”
Her trick for finding the gold? “Try reordering your piece,” she says. “Dig out your favorite line or unexpected detail and move it to the top, shifting everything else down. You might find you like it better—or even that your lead was buried the whole time.”
One of her favorite poems when she was younger, for example, was Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
“I think the best line is, ‘To cool in the peppermint wind,” she says. Reordering the first stanza accordingly gives you this surprising twist:
(To) cool in the peppermint wind, there is a place where the sidewalk ends,
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight.
4. Roll dice with a poetic device. “Writing should be fun,” says Ferlotti. “Try using poetic devices like simile and alliteration. They’re naturally pleasing and help readers along—whether it’s a creative piece, white paper or press release.”
She offers one caveat: “Rhyme can go horribly wrong when it’s forced in poetry.”
That goes double for PR, marketing or communication copy. But when it doesn’t sound forced, it can make your copy—and joy of writing—come alive again.
5. Take a page from poetry slams. Poetry is meant to be read out loud. The performance conveys inflection, deeper meaning—and pinpoints weaknesses in word choice.
“It’s a good idea to do the same with your business writing,” says Ferlotti. “We auto-insert concepts and missing words when we read copy ‘in our minds.’ But reading aloud gets you out of your head. That’s a good place to be as a writer.”
Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and event producer. Rebecca Ferlotti (freelance writer), Mark Buchanan (New Relic), Michelle Lazette (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland) and Julia McCoy (author of “So You Think You Can Write?”) will share more writing insights in Ragan’s Nov. 15 webinar virtual summit, “New Writing and Storytelling Skills for Communicators.”