Tutorial 50: ten ways to break out of a creative slump

It happens to every writer. You wake up one morning and discover that your creative juices are not flowing.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 10, 2019

You’re devoid of inspiration. You try writing a few words. It doesn’t work.

You know from prior experience that if you just wait it out, eventually the words are going to stick to the paper. But what about the assignment you have to do today? Right now?

When this happens to me, I have a little routine that sometimes helps me break out of the dreaded creative slump. I think up some creative technique that I don’t ordinarily employ in the process of creating a package and start with that technique.

May I share some examples with you?

1. Put a PS on the outer envelope. Weird idea, isn’t it? It gets you thinking about the reaction of the reader when the PS is right there, out in front.

2. Put an asterisk at the end of the first paragraph of the letter. Then, put another asterisk at the very end of the letter to explain something about the first paragraph. Readers are extremely compulsive about asterisks and they often search around for that silly asterisk before they even read any more copy.

3. Use a larger typeface. Large type is not just for the elderly folk on your mailing list. Large type pushes your message out front. It’s user friendly. And it challenges you to be more careful about how you use your words, because you won’t be using as many per page.

4. Change colours. If the organisation usually expresses itself in deadly black and white, use yellow paper. Put your headline in red. Underline in blue. See how far you can go before you are certain the boss will start screaming. You probably aren’t going to get fired over a colour that everyone hates. The worst thing that can happen is that it will force you to go back to black and white.

5. Make the letter and reply device one piece of paper and ask the donor to return the entire piece. Don’t use any perforations and don’t encourage the donors to tear off the reply device. You want the entire sheet of paper mailed back.

By the way, this was a standard technique back in the 1940s and 50s. And I think it has some potential these days because, when a donor puts your reply slip in the ‘cheque to be written pile’ and the day comes that the cheque is to be written, the entire letter is there for review and motivation.

6. Ask each segment of your list for a specific dollar amount with no bracketing and come up with a specific example of what each dollar amount will provide for the organisation. Bracketing (please send your cheque for $25, $50, $100, or any amount you can give) is the lazy approach to the ‘ask’. It’s like serving three tennis balls at once in the hope that one will get onto the court.

7. Put a border around the reply slip and make it twice the usual size. Get away from the traditional skimpy slip of paper. If the reply slip is the most important part of the package in terms of that’s what a donor will use when the cheque is written, why make it so neat and tidy? Why not make it twice the usual size? Why not put some motivational copy on it? Sometimes more space is given to the legal disclaimers than to the reply slip! Refuse to go along with these ‘priorities’.

8. Give your reply slip a name. Don’t just call it ‘reply slip’ or ‘reply form’. Personify it. Coming up with a cool, provocative name may just nudge you out of your creative slump.

9. Place the name of the executive who is signing the appeal letter on the reply envelope, in typewriter font.

I know, I know. Most organisations will not allow you to do this and the person signing the appeal letter probably will worry that donors will think he or she might in some way put the money in their own pocket. And the people in the mail room won’t know whether to open the envelope or forward it to the letter signer. So the technique will stir up a controversy and you’ll probably lose – but again, it’s not something you’re going to get fired over. It will be fun watching everybody protect their turf. And just thinking about the astonished look on the executive director’s face when he or she thinks about the mail room mistakenly sending on a huge batch of reply envelopes is guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing.

10. Send a personalised letter without a reply slip to $100+ donors. Use a reply envelope that has a real stamp and personalise it in the upper-left corner (or on the flap) with the donor’s name and address; and type the name of your organisation in the addressing area. 

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance to these tutorials here.

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