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. Daryl

    Read widely.

    Seriously, that’s the best way I can think of increase creativity.

    It exposes you to new ideas, different styles of writing, and creative angles.

    Even reading through the comments section is a great way to find new creative ideas

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Daryl,
      Read widely is a great way to get ideas and broaden what you like writing about. The comments section is useful too. Thanks for sharing these tips and for reading.

      Kind regards,

      • Penny Hawes

        Hi Bryan,

        I love your ideas, and Daryl’s “Read Widely” made me think a little bit about how I come up with ideas.

        Honestly, one of my best creativity kick-starters is Public Radio. In listening to Morning Edition or All Things Considered, I’ll often hear an angle on an story that I simply hadn’t considered. The local news on my NPR Station (WVTF in Virginia) also has in-depth coverage of issues that may be going on in VA, but whose impact can be felt much further afield.

        Both meditation and running are key to keeping me present and keeping that creative side of my brain engaged.

        Thanks for sharing your tips!

  2. Vickie

    I think that #3 (Take the pressure off) is so, so, SO key. I only recently started a blog and have started to submit pieces elsewhere. And the only way I get stuff done or even published is if I stop going over it with a fine tooth-comb to reach some state of perfection that probably doesn’t even exist.

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Vickie,
      You’re right, perfection doesn’t exist. We can spend all our time polishing our work or we can ship, make mistakes, learn and get better.

      Thanks for reading.


  3. KeriLynn Engel

    Great tips, especially #3 for me 🙂 I definitely didn’t realize how demanding writing full-time would be, and I often push myself way too hard. I’m slowly learning that taking the pressure off doesn’t mean I’m failing or lazy. My goal for next year is going to be to work less & still earn more!

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi KeriLynn,

      That’s a great goal and one we could all aspire too. I hope it works out for you. Thanks for taking the time to read my post.


  4. Sabriga Turgon

    OK, you sold me on the Creativity Bank and listing ideas for articles. I’m putting that on my desktop so it’s easy to add to every day.

    Here’s another way to make regular deposits in that account: set a timer for 3 minutes and use that time to just generate ideas to add to that list. I use Focus Booster (got that idea from Linda Formichelli) – it really helps to not have to watch the clock but at the same time know this task has a definite end point. Having that end point makes the task more real to me, easier to concentrate on.

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Sabriga,

      I’m not familiar with Focus Booster but I’ll check it out. Beginning with the end in mind is a great (zen) practice that can help writers and creative professionals.

      Best of luck with your creativity bank.

      Thanks for reading,

    • Carol Tice

      I am so into idea lists — have ones for specific magazines, ones for ideas I don’t have a home for yet, ideas for fantasy-reach magazines I’d love to be in.

      For my Forbes blog, my idea list is about 40 pages at this point, after 2 years of writing it! And I try to delete ideas I’ve done. Ideas should be a well that never runs dry, if you want to earn a living at this.

      • Michael T

        Hi Carol T,
        I am happy to be here. I was just searching the internet for resources on how to start as a freelancer and I found myself here. I love writing and I need professional advise on how to start as a freelancer: What I should do and what I shouldn’t do. Sites to start from and all the necessary info that will help me to take off. I know it will take a hard job and dedication with perseverance to succeed but my process can be faste if I ride on your wings. I really need to do something to change my financial challenges

  5. Sam Edge

    I found that after my first year of writing I’m exhausted the brain full of ideas I had stored up over the years and had to start managing my ideas – I’ve kept an idea book beside me ( and used evernote). Make a Living Writing has become a staple.

    Also, Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks is one of the better tools I’ve found for generating ideas.


    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Sam,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      The content here and Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks are great resources. I refer to both regularly.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Carol Tice

      I know — I can always re-read Headline Hacks and get some ideas on formats I’m not using for good headlines. 😉

  6. arundhathi

    I check my inbox for your articles. Not only they are articulated and written an informative and useful manner, but every time there is some kind of new idea organized to make the article more interesting. Thank you.

  7. Erica

    Great post. I especially like #3: Take the pressure off.

    Two of the best ways I’ve found to keep my creative well full are: 1) other creative pursuits that have nothing to do with writing; and 2) trying new things outside your regular routine and comfort zone.

    Being all about writing all the time is too much to ask and depletes you faster.

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Erica,

      I run a lot. Tis gets me outside my comfort zone and it helps me write. I also know the writer Natalie Goldberg spends time painting; she says this helps her write.

      Thanks for sharing your suggestions.

  8. Nifty Jacob

    Great advice. I’d like to add ‘creating a habit’ to that.
    Make a small schedule that you adhere to on all working days. It could be as simple as 30 minutes for querying, another 30 minutes for idea generation and 30 minutes for ‘free-hand writing’. These could be flexible according to the areas you need to improve upon. I believe that practicing them for a period of at least one week almost becomes a habit for you, thus, making it easier to work on your weak spots and stay on track.

  9. Bryan Collins

    Hi Nifty,
    Creating a daily writing habit is really effective. I’m actually researching a post about that at the moment. Your suggestions about free writing and idea generation make perfect sense.

    Thanks for sharing them here.

  10. Cuyler Stuwe

    The article says “5 Strategies”. The current revision seems to include only three.
    Is this an example of “taking a break and completing your writing when you’re rested”, as suggested in strategy #3?


    Salem Beats

    • Carol Tice

      Whoops — that’s my bad! I do the final read on these. Can’t believe I missed that. I rewrote this headline a lot (speaking of headline hacks)…apparently, once too many this time!

      Fixed now. 😉

  11. Cherese Cobb

    I love the idea bank. I don’t have one, and I am starting one today!
    I already have 20-30 ideas that editors have rejected. I save all my pitches and LOI, so this will be a quick copy and paste job!

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Cherese,
      Saving your pitches is useful because you can review them later on, tweak them and then figure out what works and what doesn’t. I do the same.

  12. Peter D. Mallett

    Creativity is one of my favorite subjects. I have so many tools in my tool-box to keep creativity going because I see it as an important priority.
    When I’m stuck and need to rev up my creativity some thing I do are; taking breaks, meeting new people or going new places, which always sparks new ideas. I have word games, Rory’s story cubes, I take headlines from the paper or online and try to write the story without reading the story first.
    I also try to take out time, as suggested in the article, at least once a week to record ideas and thoughts I may develop later. I call it my idea stash.

    • Carol Tice

      I love that idea of trying to write a story from a headline you see — what a great exercise! And one that will show you how important precision in headlines is. 😉 I see a lot of vague headlines that could be about any number of things.

  13. Elizabeth Cooper

    Number 3 all the way. I can never accomplish what I want to I writing if I stress myself out and make it a chore!! Plus if you pressure yourself your writing will show your stress. I will skip writing for the day if I am forcing myself to write. Inch veto want townsite to create good content.

  14. Bryan Collins

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Taking the pressure off or ‘going easy’ is helpful if you’re tired, stressed or just need some time away. You still make progress on your project and you can always work that bit harder when you’re ready.

  15. Lindsey Hayward

    This is so freaking helpful. Thank you for the excellent ideas. Just took a page of notes from this post, ha. 😀 Kudos!

    • Bryan Collins

      Hi Lindsey,
      That’s good to hear. I take a lot of notes too.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.


  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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