Dead scribe a-thinkin’: How Missy Elliot’s hips cured my writer’s block

January 27, 2009 •
Image of Missy Elliot for copywriting blog post

Missy Elliot didn’t mention her hips today. But I thought about ‘em anyway. And three hot and sweaty minutes later, my copywriting mojo was back.

Unfortunately, it’s not as lurid as it sounds. But for this suburban white-boy copywriter, it was pretty exciting nonetheless.

Here’s the short version:

  1. I’d been struggling all afternoon with the home page copy for a business coaching firm. After two hours, my page was still blank.
  2. Eventually, I grabbed the iPod and went for a run.
  3. 1km in, Missy Elliot’s ‘Gossip Folks’ rolled down my auditory nerve.
  4. Within three minutes, I had my opening sentence, two variations and a shortlist of headlines.

Now I know this ain’t profound. Every copywriter knows exactly what I’m talking about. So I’m not gonna go on about the power of music, and the blurring of media boundaries, etc. This post is more about Missy Elliot’s implicit message, and how it’s very relevant to copywriters. Especially those with writer’s block.

What’s so special about Missy Elliot?

From what I understand of rap and hip-hop, Missy Elliot’s somewhat of a trail-blazer. Rapper, choreographer and writer, she does it all her way – big hips ‘n all.

And listening to her music, that always comes through for me. I’m not sure if it’s ‘coz I know that’s who she is, or because her music announces it, but either way it works. It’s not necessarily her words (although she does sometimes celebrate her hips!), it’s more her like-it-or-lump-it style. She seems not to over-think it; she just does it, knowing she’s good.

Incidentally, guest-rapper on ‘Gossip Folks’, Ludacris, imparts the same message (his explicitly). Of himself, he says:

“Knowing he could rap
No one lift a hand
So he went about his business and devised a plan
Made a CD, then he hit the block
50 thousand sold
Seven dollars a pop…”

So how does this relate to copywriting?

How does this relate to copywriting? Well, it’s gonna sound a little contrived, but my best writing just… kinda… happens. I simply open myself to it, and it flows through the keys. (If you’ve ever played a sport and enjoyed a day when you had your eye in, or you were just inexplicably in-form, you know the feeling.)

But to allow this process to happen, you have to have supreme confidence in yourself. You have to take the leap of faith that what you’re ‘channelling’ is the right stuff – at least for the first draft. If you over-think it, you’re shot.

Don’t get me wrong. This afternoon when I encountered the dreaded writer’s block, I didn’t for a second doubt myself. But I did start writing from a different place. I was tense and stressed, and was THINKING about what to write – trying to push it out – instead of just FEELING it and letting it flow. I kept revisiting the brief, analysing the readers’ needs and memorizing my client’s objectives.

Missy and Ludacris (and their compelling beats and rhythms) reminded me to trust myself and let my instincts do the work.

Know the rules of copywriting, but…

Of course, I’m not saying you can get away without knowing your market, your subject matter and the ‘rules’ of copywriting. To the contrary; these things are part of the foundation of your copywriting instinct. But just as you don’t give a moment’s thought to the foundations of your house when you’re painting your walls, nor should you pay the rules of copywriting much heed when you let your first draft flow.

Analysis can wait ‘til you edit. For now, just do as Missy does, and shoot from the hip! (It’s a sad pun, but oh so necessary! 😉 )

Happy copywriting.

PS. Next on the Shuffle was AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’. What IT taught me is, as they say, ‘a whole nother story’!

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on January 28th, 2009

UPDATE: Just in case you were wondering... I submitted the copy in question to the client, and here was her response. "I really love it – it’s a bit cheeky (fits with the hips)! I think it reads with personality and has a real sense of fun. I like the 'manager shmanager'! Keep on runnin!" Yes, I included a bit of the old "manager schmanager" in her copy! Thanks Missy!

comment avatar
Carson wrote on January 29th, 2009

Writers find inspiration in music. Musicians find inspiration in writing. What about movies? I recently re-watched McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The next morning I wrote something that felt like Robert Altman, looked like the child of Warren Beatty and Julie Christie and sounded like Leonard Cohen. In a good way. Kidding aside, there are pipelines that connect creative visions across forms and genres. When you unclog one of them, it can immediately lead to some serious ass kicking. Oh, and the title of your post immediately made me search out BB King's "You Upset Me". Domino effect.

comment avatar
Glenn (Owner) wrote on January 29th, 2009

Heya Carson. Have to agree with you there. Haven't seen that movie. Sounds like it's worth checking out. It's on my list.

comment avatar
T Edwards wrote on January 30th, 2009

I definitely agree with your "letting your writing happen". In my short blogging career, I feel I've been at my best when I stopped forcing topics and words out and just...did it. Wow, I guess it does sound kind of contrived! T

comment avatar
mang wrote on April 4th, 2009

Don't you just love finding inspiration in the oddest places? There's really nothing better than being surprised than your own dumb luck! Keep it hip Glenn.

comment avatar
Freelance copywriting – Why it's tougher if you're married wrote on March 19th, 2015

[…] More importantly, knowing you can do it makes you more confident. You can let the words flow without second-guessing yourself at every turn. (I wrote about this a few years back: Dead scribe a-thinkin’: How Missy Elliot’s hips cured my writer’s block.) […]

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