3 Proven Strategies Professional Writers Use to Avoid Creative Bankruptcy


Freelance writer with no ideasI’m afraid of bankruptcy.

I don’t mean the financial kind. I mean the kind where you get an exciting writing commission, and then you can’t deliver.

Creative bankruptcy happens when you have a pressing writing project — and you know you’ve got nothing.

Don’t put yourself in that position.

Here are three ways you can avoid creative bankruptcy and become a more productive professional writer.

1. Research your idols and competitors

Don’t reinvent the wheel with each new writing project. Instead, research what the writers you admire are creating content about.

BuzzSumo is a tool you can use to find that out.

Using BuzzSumo, you can find key influencers and see what type of content they created. You can also search a blog or website for popular posts by topic or author.

2. Invest in your creativity bank

Professional writers need a creativity bank for depositing ideas.

If you have one, the next time you are creatively bankrupt, you can withdraw from your savings account of ideas and keep earning for your writing.

To build your creativity bank, get into the habit of recording five or ten ideas for topics you want to write about or ideas you have for future assignments.

Don’t judge these ideas. It doesn’t matter how good they are. And you don’t need to act on them. The point is to record them.

Do this for seven days, and you’ll have 35–70 ideas. Do it for a month, and you’ll have 150–300 ideas. Plus, you’ll also have a lot of practice coming up with ideas — so you can draw on those skills when you need something new.

3. Take the pressure off

Writing is demanding — and those of us who put words on the page for money feel an extra pressure to create.

If you’re having an unproductive day (or year), reduce your expectations and lower the bar.

Focus on progressing on your current project in some small way.

If you’re having trouble finishing your article, settle for writing five headlines.

Instead of writing your next chapter, outline it.

Don’t worry about completing five interviews — just schedule them.

Lowering the bar enables you to end the day without experiencing a sense of failure. Sometimes, just turning up is a win.

Now, I’m not advocating procrastination. Instead, your goal should be to move your project along in small increments and then take a break and complete it when you’re rested.

If all else fails, ask your client for an extension — you’d be surprised how often that’s no big deal.

Your path to creative prosperity

Being a professional writer is tough. But you have tools you can use to keep yourself working, even when you don’t feel inspired.

Check what your competitors are doing. Make sure you have a bank of ideas you can reuse. And if you’re really stuck, go a little easier on yourself.

How do you avoid creative bankruptcy? Tell us in the comments below.

Bryan Collins is on a mission to teach people how to become writers and finish what they started with A Handbook for the Productive Writer.


  1. Samantha Inglis

    I salute you for thinking this kind of ideas. Your post is very helpful to many people.Writers should possess a characteristics of creativity and a wide reader.

  2. Gleen

    Sometimes having great qualifications and achievements but a poorly built resume can cost a potential employee an interview. As the comment prior to me mentions, it is the basis of the first impression you create on your potential employer. I have, in my career, seen great talents being disqualified due to a CV that is not well written.

    • Carol Tice

      Interesting — I personally haven’t sent out a resume in many years. Freelance writing clients mostly want to see your samples/portfolio, not a CV, in my experience.

  3. Yvette

    Hi Everyone,

    A potential client recently contacted me with their idea to create an online course in PDF format for Virtual Assistants. However, she’s only willing to pay $100 each for all six modules.

    1) What is the going rate, per word, for creating an online PDF course for a coach/mentor? Is it around the rates for article/blog writing or copywriting?

    2) How many words are in a typical module of an e-book/virtual course?

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


    • Carol Tice

      Yvette, I haven’t written online courseware, but take a look at this guest post I recently had: https://makealivingwriting.com/how-one-freelancer-started-writing-e-learning-content/

      But there’s no question in my mind that that rate is completely inappropriate — clearly, you could never earn a living wage in terms of hourly rate writing a six-module course for $100!

      I don’t care how short the modules are…it’s not going to pencil out. I don’t believe there is any such thing as a ‘typical’ online course module or a going rate for this…rates are all over the place. But you might reach out to that guest poster about what would be a fair rate.

  4. Pete Boyle

    It’s always nice to read something which coincides with your own beliefs!

    I find points one and two particularly useful. Reading is a major part of improving yourself as a writer and understanding what’s a hot topic in your area or niche.
    As a writer it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing and forgetting about your audience and what it is they want to read. Reading thought leaders, famous novelist or whoever is at the top of the genre is a great way to get a little outside perspective.

    I also love the idea of a creativity bank. I call mine a pen and paper which is somewhat less poetic. I always have either a pen and paper to hand (or the notes app on my phone) and if I think of a potential idea I mark it down. Once a fortnight I go through the latest ideas, cut out the bad ones and fill in a few minor ideas for the ones I think could work before popping them into my schedule.

    Thanks for the really useful article!


    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Pete,
      I try to read 2-3 books at once. This way I can move from one to the next if I get bored and I can always spend time researching my next article.

      Pen and paper works just as well for a creativity bank. The tool is less important than the process.

    • Carol Tice

      Ha, I’m doing that too these days! I usually have something nonfiction/self-improvement oriented and something fiction, so I can grab the right thing for my mood.


  1. Carnival of Creativity 1/25/15 - […] Tice presents 3 Proven Strategies Professional Writers Use to Avoid Creative Bankruptcy posted at Make a Living […]

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