Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Look upon your enemy...

Having fun, sitting there in your comfortable leather recliner? Perhaps you’re reading this from a tablet device and sipping on a cocktail, or lying on the couch, reading from your laptop.

Either way, it sounds like you’re nice and comfy. Which is a shame if you’re about to stop reading and start writing. Because if you want to write well, being comfortable is going to work against you.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably, let’s begin.

The Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is bad for your writing. I don’t mean that having a cushion under your arse will somehow make you a worse writer – I mean that if you’re not challenging yourself on a regular basis, the quality of work you produce will suffer.

How do I know?

I’ve been there myself.

In my first job as a junior copywriter, I spent most of my days writing to very similar briefs to very similar clients. And as you’d expect, I got myself stuck into a rut, using the same stock phrases, same pacing and same sorts of hooks over and over. To this day, I can probably write you a 150 word on-hold message for a motorcycle garage in my sleep.

This thing haunts my nightmares...

Naturally, I was pulled up on it. The senior copywriter who proofed most of my work (Hello Chrissy) took me to one side and pointed out that I was doing myself and my clients a disservice.

And I wasn’t the first person to fall into a rut, and I won’t be the last. Every writer will end up stuck in their comfort zone at some point in their career, and their work will suffer.

So how do you drag yourself out?

The Fun Method

Why did you start writing?

Nobody starts writing for the money, or the chicks, or the international rock star lifestyle.

Everybody starts writing because they love to write. The career and the cash come later. In the beginning, it’s about enjoyment.

You can break out of your comfort zone rut by putting the fun back into your writing. See just how much fun you can have with a brief. Don’t write a comedy draft for a serious business, but see just how interesting and effective you can be.

If that doesn’t work, then you can start writing comedy drafts. Who knows? Some of it might be good enough to spice up the piece you submit to your client.

The Challenge Method

If going back to writing for fun leads you back to an earlier set of stock phrases, you’ll need to change tack.

Think of a form of writing you really dislike. For me, that’s haikus. For you it could be character dialogue or PPC adverts. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that you’re going to spend time every day practising that form until you’re passable at it. Because it’s guaranteed to teach you some new ways of structuring sentences or choosing words.

I do hate haikus
Mainly because I hate
To count syllables
– “I Hate Haikus” by Andrew Nattan

The Handicap Method

The method which I found works best involves a lot of reading.

Unfortunately, it’s not reading something inspiring and entertaining. It’s reading through pages and pages of your own drafts.

When you proof read a single piece, you’re unable to see how it compares to the rest of your body of work. As soon as you start to look at everything together, you get an idea of which phrases, styles and  tricks you overuse. In essence, you get to map out your comfort zone.

“From A to B and C to D, we’ll X your Y, Z.”
“This sentence has now petered out to its final and natural conclusion, and I’ve tacked an extra bit on.”
– If you see me using these phrases, slap me.

Once you know the stock phrases you’re too comfortable with, write them down on a post-it note. Then make sure that post-it is stuck right in front of you when you begin to write.

If a sentence you’ve written matches a sentence on your note, you need to re-write it.

By continuing to do this, you’ll train yourself to think of different ways to get your meaning across.

You’ll drag yourself out of your comfort zone.


As I mentioned above, everyone’s found themselves languishing in their comfort zone at least once. So how do you drag yourself out? Let us know in the comments section.

Also, next Monday marks Unmemorable Title’s Second Birthday. If you’d like a mention, nominate your “Best of Unmemorable Title” post on Facebook or let me know on Twitter.

5 Comments comments for "Are You Sitting Comfortably?"

  1. That_Chap_Lordy at 1:02 pm

    Good point – even the best writers can get too comfy and fall back on stock phrases a little too often – especially when the pressure is on and there’s little time to craft something a tad different.
    (Oh, and if you’re giving us permission to slap you for falling back on a stock phrase, can we give you another one for that Crime Against the Apostrophe in the same quote?) *honk*

  2. Ben Locker at 2:55 pm

    I find waving a big stick at people gets them out of their comfort zone – but maybe that’s just my management style.

    A slightly more risky way of doing it is to drink a whole bottle of wine while writing – and forcing yourself to finish both wine and work. You’ll get some fine ideas you can tone down/ up and polish the next day.

  3. straygoat at 10:21 pm

    Good points. I work as a technical author and as a copywriter, and sometimes find myself getting in a rut using the style from one discipline in the other. The copywriting approach actually makes the technical copy better, but sadly not vice-versa.

    The more reading you do, the better.

    Disagree on one point though – we don’t all start writing because we love it. I started doing it because I was better at it than I was at art! Writing is the only thing that stops me from being a completely unemployable imbecile 🙂

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