How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day

How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day

Reader Comments (119)

  1. Robert,

    This is a great lesson in many ways. There is a an element of “just do it” (once you have learn what you need to know) and also a lesson on being strict with time.

    I have long used an egg timer for all my writing. I use 50 minute blocks and when the time is up, I move on. I find this actually helps… a lot.

    (also turning OFF your internet connection during this time… damn that twitter)

    • I agree, but I feel like the Pomodoro Technique has the perfect timing down for this, at least for people like me.

      If you aren’t familiar it is 25 minute block of time plus a 5 minute break, and it’s been really useful for me for getting work done.

      *Note: just saw a comment about this a few comments below, I encourage more people to check it out.

      • I just checked out the Pomodoro Technique and I’m going to try it today. I’ve done something similar with a timer and checking off time completed. I think what this does is help me “focus” and gives me permission to walk away and take a break.

    • The “just 5 more minutes” approach works well for me. I dont remember where I read it, but when I try to write, I continuously push for 5 more minutes, 5 more sentences, and so on.

      The problem with the above approach is that by the end of the work I am burned out.

  2. A timely post I must say. I just got my hands to the master’s Breakthrough Advertising.

    Your point – “ the end of a job, he’d know more about a product than the person who’d created it…” – is realy amazing. I’m sure of of the current day copywriters can’t stake this claim 🙂

    Thanks for the post, Bruce!

    With respect,

  3. I think setting some as just for writing is great for getting the creative juices going and getting into a flow. Everyone has there own ideal “setting” for writing.

    Whatever you it is, I think it’s important to do so consistently. On of my personal “things” is to have my music playing and the lights off. I don’t know why but it just help my creative juices to get going.

  4. One of the things that I have found about writer’s block is that, for the most part, it’s self doubt. “Are people going to like this? Will my client like this? What if I suck?” Once you get past the self doubt, you get rid of a big wall in the large wall of writer’s block.

    I had a teacher in high school who gave me a cure for writer’s block. And it really isn’t a cure. He said, “Jacob, just write.” To get over writer’s block, you have to write. You have to put pen to paper and make something. Because until you start to write, you’ll never get over the block. It doesn’t matter if the writing sucks–you should always edit anyway–but at least you are writing.

    Great post. And with only 3 hours of work a day, he did a pretty good job, huh?

  5. “He could not do anything else.”

    What a fantastic rule! It is oftentimes to easy to find a way to distract ourselves when we hit a wall. “Oh I forgot to do this,” or “Let me get started on that” keep you from focusing on the task at end. Sometimes you just have to sit down not get up for a while.

  6. If you get that timer and the muse still won’t come out and play, I suggest trying a random word prompt. Sean Platt, David Wright and I started a writing prompt site to deal with this issue. After 146 prompts, I’m proud to say my muse does what I say and writer’s block dies a quick death there.

    Doing prompts forces your mind to find hidden associations with seemingly unrelated words and topics. Prompts are great fun too. I give myself 10 minutes to do the prompts. It’s this self-limiting that removes the limits to creativity—odd how that works huh? But it does.

  7. I love Schwartz, and I’m a big fan of this technique.

    It’s particularly useful when the thought of getting started fills you with the Great Dread. When I’m in that mode, I dial it down to 20 minutes — we can stand anything for 20 minutes, right? I nearly always find that when the timer goes off I distractedly shut it off and keep working — it’s getting started that’s hard.

  8. This was a helpful article, I think I’ll choose to like it and embrace it. I will definitely have to give this a try. I find myself really struggling to find good material to write about in the beginning of the week in my blogging; but this could actually prove to be useful. Thanks for the post!

  9. @Bruce: P.S. You guys should do a Writer’s Block Wednesdays series and have 10-word writing prompts (using copywriting terms if need be).

  10. Just the simple fact that I found this article while scanning through Twitter is proof of my block and the fact that I’m easily distracted. Definitely going to try out this method.

  11. I embrace it. I am a big Schwartz fan. I love the thought of this. I am so much more productive since I change to writing three hours a day, four days a week with little breaks.

    • Keith, yep. Pomodoro was developed in the 1980s. Merlin Mann “created” his own version of it called (10+2)*5 in 2005.

      Schwartz wrote this way back in the late 1950s forward, so I think he deserves credit. Plus, we have a soft spot for copywriters around here. 😉

    • A variant of this is also promoted by Tony Schwartz in his terrific book How We’re Working Isn’t Working.

      Probably like everything else, Claude Hopkins actually invented it and used an hourglass or something. 🙂

    • That’s the name of the technique I was thinking of. It works so well and especially in 30 minute increments. That would be cool to have an hourglass on the desk.

  12. Oh yeah, wonderful stuff!

    Anyone who expected something fancy here was surely disappointed. But it makes total sense – why would writing success, in whatever direction you choose, be any more straightforward than this? Butt in chair, follow those simple rules and keep doing it!

    Thanks for sharing that delectable piece of copy writing, as well as advertising, history, Robert!


  13. legendary stuff, sometimes the best advice is the most simplest. There are so many fancy tools and gizmo’s that one can get swallowed into all kinds of senseless noise and forget the purpose of how they were supposed to help them. I am definitely a culprit here. I have downloaded all seven topics of content from the links above, but still haven’t read through them.

    Why? I forgot to do things simply like Schwartz, a great wake up call great article.

  14. HA! Thanks for the laughs — and the delight of reading one of the best written blog posts I’ve seen in a while.


  15. Impressive… such a simple system (or call it a ritual) but it sure delivered results. I’ve been using the Pomodoro techique and its good to know it was used even before it was called that by a great copywriter. Makes me want to turn on the tick tock right away.

  16. Robert: I have a small Taylor Timer. I set it for 12 minutes and work straight through. No distractions (Twitter, open browser tabs, etc.).

    Sometimes I use writeroom on my mac to just sit and type. Other times, I’ll write in my moleskine. Either way, I’ll write for 12 minutes straight, then stop and stand up, walk around, and edit my writing for 2 minutes. Then, it’s back to writing.

    Anyway, it’s totally effective and helps me stay focused!

  17. I think there’s a lot to be said for just sitting down and doing something. It doesn’t have to be perfect in that time, but it does have to get done. There will always be tweaking and revising to be done later, but in the initial stages of creation, simply setting some guidelines for working and then sticking to them is one of the most important elements of productivity.

    Great piece, Robert!

  18. In order to follow this guide, you have to turn off your Internet connection. I love this.

    You lost me at the desk part. Going to different locations helps to break up the writing. But other than that, this is an awesome guide.

  19. Sounds so simple. But this is the hardest part to get down. The focus, the discipline and the funny thing is most of us know what we are doing but we sabotage our own talent.

    Always get real value here.

    Respect always.

  20. I own a stack of copywriting books; “Breakthrough Advertising” stands alone. I recall I paid a lot of money for it too. But there is nothing else like it. Not surprisingly, learning how to use the principles in Breakthrough Advertising is harder than learning how to do anything else in any other book on the subject that I have.

  21. Joe Sugarman states over and over again in his writing that any random person off the street could write a better first draft than him. But it is what he does with that “skeleton” that made him great.

    Staring at a blank screen is a bit like trying to create a pot without any clay. Getting something on the screen to work with is crucial. Too often, I find myself filtering and correcting my first draft. I have more luck when I just let it flow and then return to mold the clay.

  22. I love this. Get a## in chair. Basic takeaway … simple and true. Just learned about his technique a few weeks ago and have already put it into action. It works. Not only for focus but to get things done.

    And you can use it for more than copywriting, like setting up those tweets in Hootsuite to send ’em out for ya. Plus it works for going mobile and grabbing thoughts out of the air for use later whether you’re inventing new ideas, blog posts or adverts.

    So does every copywriter have their coffee on the left and pens on the right? That’s funny because it’s how my desk is set up too.

    • Yes, coffee (well, tea) on the left, and pens on the right. I’m very picky about my pens too.

      Also, I don’t turn off the internet, but I do turn off the “new mail” sound. Helps a lot!

    • I keep my coffee on the right and my pens on the left. That must be my problem! Hopefully switching them will result in some amazing writing. 🙂

  23. Im a beginner in blogging. Though I have done countless of ghostwriting article for other people. This pointers had greatly help me re-evaluate my disciplined and undisciplined habit. And mind you, it greatly help! Thank you very much for this! I will be copying this technique right now!!!

  24. Mr. Bruce,

    I love this article.

    I’m in this big kick right now where I want to learn from all the classic copywriters. I’m finding all the principles they used still hold true.

    I’m definitely going to start instituting this idea of short, hard work periods of writing.

    Do you have any suggestions of other classic copywriters I should be looking for?

  25. I found that forcing myself to stop at the 33 minute mark actually helps me finish projects. Once I get up, my brain stays fixated on the project. I can’t get any peace until I rev up the timer and start working again. I’ve read that the forced break is a mental hack that keeps your brain on-task. Weird but it works.

  26. Discipline is very important for everything, no matter what career or profession you choose. Your post reminded me of this website that I saw once where you set the timer and write. You cant navigate away from the page and the program begins deleting what you write every few minutes of idleness.
    Long story short, we need discipline and a whip to get it done. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

  27. Super impressive. Nothing I hate more than someone screaming my name when I’m on the job. I simply sends creative me to sleep..
    I’ll have to work on not leaving my chair no matter what until my time is up.

  28. Robert,

    Thank you for sharing. This is a valuable contribution. One of the best posts I have read on this blog, to be sure.

    However, please keep this in mind: what worked so well for Eugene Schwartz may not work for other people.
    Some creative people have shorter or longer attention spans: after all, writers tend to be an eccentric lot.

    I am a writer. As a creative person, I find that I have a shorter attention span: max I can go is probably one hour. And that too on a good day. After that, I tend to get a little fidgety and need to smell the roses: I long for the sunshine, the chirping of birds, and the bucolic clouds hanging in the sky like a necklace.

    So, even if I sit down to write, I need to take frequent breaks. Sometimes, I feel I take too many breaks, but what the heck?

    However, writer’s block is real. It is not a figment of the imagination. I have spent most of my life staring blankly at a page or a computer screen. The little, grey cells do not work at all, so that is why I have cultivated hobbies, interests.
    When I can’t seem to get any writing done, I go for a walk, or a swim, or do the laundry or take care of the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.

    And lo and behold: I have an idea, and I immediately have to jot it down in my small, note-pad. Later, I can work on it and develop it, slowly, but it takes some work.

    Some people work by discipline: me, inspiration is my cup of tea. Unfortunately, inspiration is also quite rare. Inspiration can strike you at any time, day or night. Even in a dream state you can have your best ideas, so one size does not fit all. I do not know that everybody can or should write for three hours a day. It is not very practical. Cheers.

  29. Robert,

    Great instructions on how to be a better copywriter. Think that is something that we all strive for eveyday. It is really about dicipline which is what Eugene Schwartz implemented by making himself sit and either be bored or write.

    I like this and have done similar things but never set a timer and been so strick. Think I need adopt some of his rules.

    That was a great post, I love learning how to become a better copywriter.

    Dee Ann Rice

  30. Work ethics. All I would say to that setting aside blocks of time to concentrate on getting work done is as customizable as your daily duties. But do take the opportunity to regularly turn off the internet, close your office door and just work. Others will understand and forgive you for it.

  31. I can usually un-block my brain by moving. Either taking a walk or driving my car gets the critical left-brain out of the way. By the time I come back I’m brimming with ideas.

    Thanks for the great article. It makes an essential point: first you must “fill the well” with reading and research.

  32. Hands down, Eugene Schwartz is my favorite copywriter. Olgivy. Sugarman. don’t hold a candle to that man. I think his Breakthrough Advertising is the book I would hand out to any one who wants to become a killer writer/marketer/advertiser/speaker as a must read + master. Cialdiani’s Influence is a close second. Good post, Robert.

  33. Epic anecdote.

    That “until he got bored” bit really stuck. I can’t remember the last time I was bored sitting at my desk – there’s a constant, neverending flow of entertainment. And I’ve got dual monitors to keep as much in view at at time as possible (I thought about a third but that’s just crazy talk).

    It’s stupid easy to get great content up & in front of your face at a whim. And it’s honestly that: great stuff. Published every day by smart, funny and interesting people.

    The hardest thing we have to do now is craft situations where we aren’t victims to our whims – when the whole world is selling us irresistible tools that do the opposite.

  34. Such a great reminder in a world where we are all so stinkin’ connected. I need to start doing this more often. I find that my clients always seem to come first though – and it’s really hard to put that aside to give myself dedicated time to write.

  35. Not “offensively” simple. Craftily simple. I loved this post. I can’t do the 5 days a week thing, since I work, but I going to do the 33.33 on days where I can work it out. I had to laugh – that was me — getting up to straighten a picture or even just to walk into the other room for no reason. The only other think I could add is during the 33.33 don’t respond to the email alerts!!

  36. It’s always interesting to see how a successful copywriter such as Eugene Schwartz works, what rituals they have, etc. Especially when it’s something so simple. Besides the system he created for working he must have had excellent writing skills and been passionate about his work. Both things I think are needed to become a success in this and any industry.

  37. That’s awesome, so much so that I think I’m going to invest in a kitchen timer. It’s probably the way my mind works too, I could actually, really, see me working like that. I’m not much of a copywriter (hence why I’m here), but in terms of general ability to sit down in front of a computer and put the hard graft in, this could be the way to go!

  38. Very nice piece!

    I often find the toughest aspect of writers block (something I also encounter quite a lot with song writing) is not so much that I can’t write anything, I just can’t write anything I actually feel is any good.

    In many cases, I cruise along until I hit that “break-through” moment when all the piece of the puzzle snap into place.

    I’ve finished entire brochures, slogging it out just to get through. Then slept on it overnight, waking up in the wee-hours to contemplate the garbage I’ve dumped, rolling the marbles around in my head, until BINGO! The light bulb explodes and everything comes together.

    I don’t think there’s any right way, or secret formula or magic bullet. Each person is different, and however it works for an individual is just how it works (for them).

    In interviews, Tom Petty has often professed an inability to deconstruct his songwriting process, further stating that he doesn’t want to, for fear that if the curtain covering his inner psychic machinations is pulled aside, exposing everything to the cold light of day, it will all evaporate into the wind.

  39. quote
    “He even joked that, by the end of a job, he’d know more about a product than the person who’d created it.
    He did this by reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading all the information he could get his hands on about the product and by systematically marking down the benefits — as stated by its creator — one by one.”end of quote.

    When Schwartz sat down to write “he had written down all the information he could get his hands on and systematically written down the benefits one by one” … so he KNEW what he was going to write! The challenge he gave himself was to lead the reader to take some action, in 33.33 min of exceptional copywriting.

    The take-away lesson for me is prepare … prepare … prepare … writing it all down and then writing the post or the article!

    Thank you Robert,


  40. Hi Robert, I loved the piece and am going to give it a serious go. Discipline is the key to making Eugene’s methodology work. It is so simple, but yet so brilliant and will work well for many creative writing styles. Anyone who can make a living 3 hours and 20 minutes a day working 5 days a week is not only gifted, they must have a process that is rock solid!

  41. Interesting account of a great writer’s technique for getting projects done. Without doubt, self discipline is one of the cardinal virtues of good writers, good bloggers, good anything. Thanks for the insight!

  42. Sitting on an chair for 3:00 hours and not getting bored by writing anything. If i can do that seriously i can make my way 😛 But the way you describe all those things i really like, and I’ll follow these technique to prepare my self as an good content writer. 😀

  43. Well, that’s a good technique to work with if one cannot find the ability to churn out any words that make sense. Would have to work on it, but over time this seems like a good way to work!

  44. I really appreciate this story. I must admit I’m impressed by the simple but disciplined workflow of this writer.

  45. Great post. I’ve been having trouble getting motivated and keeping to a schedule. Thanks for the idea. I just downloaded the timer. I’m going to check it out.

    You guys have coffee and pens! Man, I knew I was doing something wrong…. 🙂

    Thanks again.


  46. Anyone who would dismiss this advice because it’s “simple” would be missing out. Discipline is a simple concept to think about, but incredibly hard to implement. The best people in any field are those with discipline.

  47. What’s crazy is I’ve adopted this same technique when it comes to housecleaning & it has worked wonders. It never occurred to me to apply this method to my writing assignments. LOVE IT!

  48. Great post Robert – And a very interesting technique. Although it would need to be tweaked to fit the tiny attention spans of today’s society. Maybe 3:33 followed by 15 minutes to trawl twitter?

    Have you tried implementing the strategy? Success?

  49. It is interesting that he would stop in mid-sentence and walk away. You would think that once you get into “the zone” on an idea that you would not want to snap out of it.

    This is great advice, though, for any artist. Walking away from your work for 15 minutes and coming back, you see things in just a different light and it is almost like you are seeing it again for the first time.

    This can spark a vast amount of imagination and creativity.

  50. I find it’s sometimes the blatantly obvious solutions that work the best. I sort of have the same ritual when it comes to writing articles for my blog. If you force yourself to stay in the chair it does help you to focus solely on what you need to write. Of course fighting the urge to check your email, and Twitter or Facebook page could be a problem. But it’s amazing how much one can accomplish when distractions are off-limits.

    Awesome copy as always. Your title sucked me in and I couldn’t resist.

  51. Staying focused and on task is always a struggle, so any tips to assist are always appreciated. I am definitely going to give this one a go.



  52. For someone very new to the blogging/writing world, this article was like a kick in the pants for me! It’s funny, really, I used to use something similar when I was in college to help me get through all of my coursework each day — and when I homeschooled my children, I used various timing techniques to keep them focused on their schoolwork. Don’t know why I haven’t done this “officially” with myself, but tomorrow is a new day and a chance to begin again. Thanks for the great post and reminder.

  53. Taking time out for yourself every now and again helps as well. I am tackling a bout of the ‘brick wall’ at the moment and it is not fun. Especially when there are deadlines to be made–it always seems when you have to ‘negotiate’ time just for yourself and your work, what you have to do to take care of yourself and your own work always seem to be the last things on the list. Timely post indeed.

  54. “Freedom through technique.” When I was studying to be a film actor at the School for Film & Television, our instructors would drill this into our heads every day.

    Twice a week, we would repeat back to each other, “You’re wearing a blue shirt.” and we had to keep up the repetition until it HAD to change. Two whole semesters of this. The entire point was, “to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”

    And that’s what marketing, and branding, and this whole crazy game is, isn’t it?

    Truthfully, we’re all trying to get a little extra attention. Truthfully we’re all looking to make more sales. Truthfully, nobody cares about what we want. Our “imaginary circumstances” are the very real circumstances of other people. For our copy to be effective, we have to make those circumstances our own, and truly understand where they are coming from. Their likes, their interests, their problems.

    Studying those, that’s our technique. And through the study of others, that is where we will find our freedom.

  55. Thanks Robert for sharing this about copywriter Eugene Schwartz.
    Somehow I will agree that this will work, as focus is one of the most crucial things we need in order for us to finish our tasks and achieve more in the end.

    For me, first I need a great environment, peaceful and silence, perhaps closer to the natural, and that’s one of the best environment I can enjoy and writing up my blog posts. But barely had the chance, better would only stay at Starbucks or coffee house and writing up my blog posts, all other time – in my rental house, which few people making noise all the time there, barely focus.

  56. Robert, thanks for sharing that. I don’t know much about Eugene Schwartz but his routine appeals to me because it makes sense. I typically work in a somewhat less rigourous fashion but I will often set small arbitrary milestones and rewards on the fly if I am having a hard time keeping on track.

  57. Thanks for this post. Two things that I took away from this is ensuring you’ve done all the groundwork (although sometimes you realise that you need to do more research only after you start writing) and forcing yourself to sit and be bored if need be. I think enforcing a short break also helps.

    The timer technique can also be used for lots of other things that a person is procrastinating on (such as household chores :S).

  58. Wow, this is amazing. Thanks for sharing the tip.

    I need to find more time for writing like this. It’s amazing that he was able to do something so simple and make a great living from it. Incredible.

  59. Wow, this is such a great story. I’ve started the habit of writing for a specific period of time (for me that’s 30 minutes in the morning), no matter what. What I’ve learned is that it gets better. A part of me wants to write as opposed (to what you just wrote) stare at the blank page. There are bad days, uninspired but in those moments I don’t think about what I feel but sit on the chair. I guess I should do it 6 more times and add on a more extensive research and who knows where it will take me. Thank you for sharing this. This is very inspiring just like your website.

  60. I don’t know how this idea’s going to pan out, but I’ll give it a shot.

    On a completely unrelated topic:

    Thanks so much for turning me onto copy writing. If you hadn’t suggested it I’m not sure I ever would have discovered it, so thank you. I know you’re a blog called Copy Blogger, but when I first started reading your articles (some time ago) I didn’t know what copy actually meant. I was just a “writer” fresh out of college, struggling to make money by being a generalist. Thank you!

  61. A. If you’re wondering what features to write about, you haven’t done enough product research.
    B. If you’re wondering how to translate the features into benefits, you haven’t done enough customer research.
    C. If you’re wondering how to favorably differentiate the product, you haven’t done enough competitive research.
    D. If you don’t know how to structure the piece, you don’t know enough about copy writing.
    E. If you don’t know which version of the piece to use, you haven’t done split testing.
    When you know, you can do.

    Usually, the reason people get “stuck” in any process is because they don’t know enough to move forward. And do you think this might be true for people who get “stuck” in the purchasing decision as well? When people who bring a need or desire to the table know “enough” (because as Schwartz said, you can’t create demand), more often than not they will buy. They WANT to leave their problem on the table, rather than pick it up and take it back.

  62. “You stare at the blank screen, blinking and terrified. You get up and grab another coffee, you walk around re-organizing your bookshelf.

    You drink.

    You pick at your teeth.

    You Tweet something stupid.

    You’re blocked.”

    So true…I’m getting the feeling that I could have benefited from this post had I found it earlier…

    But hey, I have a long road ahead and this surely will keep me going…

    Thanks for the great post.

  63. This is a great article – and I love that you encourage people to keep reading before they roll their eyes at the ‘basic’ information. It’s easy for a writer to dismiss it and say – I’ve heard that before, doesn’t work for me. But this works for everyone, it’s just about whether or not you want it to work. Personally, I do hour long chunks. In a way its a challenge to myself and it makes me feel a little more in control of the work. Rather than focusing on getting the writing just perfect, I make sure I write for an hour without being distracted. The sense of accomplishment you feel from reaching an hour for the first time, is outshone by the fact that if you write for an hour without being distracted, it usually takes you a few hours to realize it. Lol!


This article's comments are closed.