First of all, let’s just be clear on one thing: there are way more than five sins to avoid.
That number clocks in at more like 5,000, but who the hell can deal with that? Way too overwhelming, and I want you to trust me and feel soothed. Shh shh shhhh, you can totally write! (This is how the marketing experts instruct me to approach you, O reader and potential client. You’re welcome. Free massages also offered.*)
So let’s start with five of the biggest writing sins that I see all the time, and that you’re totally doing. Yeah you. Yes, you, right there. I see you.
Here you go:
If you’re a millennial, you may want to sit down for this. I hate to say it, but it’s true. When writing copy, you need to get out of your own head – or better yet, your own narration. When you’re given a topic to write about, you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the person paying you. (Try it. They’re making way more money then you and probably have nicer shoes.)
I once went to a famous steak house and asked the waitress what her favorite steak on the menu was. She responded by telling me she was a vegan and didn’t have a favorite meat. (This really happened? Yes.) But then she went into great detail about how the different steaks were cooked and what her other customers said about them. She was a wealth of information, even if it wasn’t her own. You are the vegan waitress at a steakhouse. Even if something isn’t your thing, make it your thing.
Learn to take criticism, plain and simple. This is a job, and no client wants to feel like they are offending you every time they ask for corrections. And sometimes they won’t give you feedback in a constructive way. They’re not your writing teacher; they’re just clients who expect you to be Earnest Hemmingway every time you sit down to a computer.
So stop thinking of your writing as your baby and start thinking of it as putting together a puzzle. Your client will give and take away pieces at random and it’s your job to make all the pieces you do have fit together. So save the dish-throwing for when your husband tells you that you do, in fact, look fat in those jeans. (And if he says that to you, I WILL MAIL YOU DISHES TO THROW.)
We all have them. Most of us overuse the word “just,” for example. If you go through your writing you will see that most of the time you can take the word “just” out of the sentence and it will make your piece stronger. Another lazy word is “suddenly.” It’s a cheap transition and way overused. Those are just two common examples, I’m sure you have your own lazy words as well. Just keep an eye on them.
See what I did there?
I know what you’re thinking: Wow, Sarah. Thank you so much for the most generic advice on the planet.
But it’s true. Anyone with an English degree can phone in copywriting, and most do. That’s why the rest of us fall asleep while reading it. The problem is that most creative writers are out there eating Top Ramen and waiting for their inspiration for the next great American novel. Good for them, but you, my friend, are here learning to make money with your creativity. While you eat sushi† and wait for the inspiration to write the next great American novel. Creativity is what makes you unique and what will keep your clients loyal to you.
After all, no one tells that bullfrog story the way you do. So go ahead, tell it. I’m listening.
You’re not in the CIA. You don’t have to keep being a copywriter a secret. Everyone you meet is a potential client, or knows one. So get out there and tell people what you do. Even if you’re just an aspiring copywriter and a daytime burger flipper.
When someone asks you what you do, tell them that you are currently in the service industry but you are slowly moving over into copywriting. Us writers often feel self-conscious about our writing and try to hide it. Learn some self-confidence and tell the world who you are or who it is you’re trying to become. I promise you have something to offer people, but only if they know about it.
As I said in the beginning, these are not all of the deadly sins, but they’re some good ones to keep in mind as you get you started. Feel free to leave any questions – or bullfrog stories – in the comments. I’m happy to tell you where you’re sinning, solicited or not.
* Free massages totally not offered. You know who does those? No one. Or maybe your spouse. Try them.
† Totally more affordable than Top Ramen, BECAUSE YOU’RE ACTUALLY MAKING MONEY.
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