7 Self Discipline Essentials for Good Copywriting
Writing is weird. It’s something pretty much everyone can do (and does), but it’s really hard to do well. It’s also hard to determine who writes well since everyone writes differently, and to this day there’s no single definition of what “good writing” is.
Still, there’s a lot that you can do to improve your writing, and all of it is free. You can use these seven strategies to become a better writer, whether you write blog posts, articles, landing pages, advertisements, or anything else. And when you do them consistently, you’ll notice your own improvement over time.
You have to crawl before you can run — and you have to read before you can write. Before you touch your keyboard (or pick up your pen, if you’re old school), you should read. It’s important to make time to read each day, whether you’re looking at articles, blogs, ads, or whatever, so you can get a grasp for what other writers in your field are doing.
Ideally, you should choose to read the kind of writing that you want to create. So if you want to go into journalism, read newspapers. If you want to go into humor, read comedy. And if you want to blog about marketing, read here!
Reading within your genre will give you a feel for its “industry standards” in composition. You can find the major players, check out what they say, and take away key points as you continue reading. You may not realize it, but you’ll also pick up on the tones, voices, and cadences of different writers and use them as guides when you form your own.
It’s good to learn from the best in your industry because — well — they’re the best. It wouldn’t make sense to prepare yourself for writing by reading other new writers, and it would make even less sense to look outside your genre for guidance.
That doesn’t mean you can’t read outside your genre, but that should only come after you have a grasp of your own. The advantage of cross-genre reading is that you can compare and contrast writers to determine what they do really well. And as you learn, you can incorporate those techniques into your own writing so you can use the best parts of all the writers you admire.
There’s also not a definite point where you can “stop” reading. Actually, if you want to be successful, it’s in your best interest to continue your habit of reading after you start writing. It will keep you current in your industry, and you’ll constantly improve — or at least find new ideas to try.
Now that you’ve established a reading habit, you can start writing. Most writers feel that there are certain times of the day that they’re most creative, whether that includes writing ad text, landing page, blog post, or something else. Setting aside that time means that you’ll be at your best every day when you sit down to write, and that can help you produce stronger copy.
There are a couple basics of writing that will help you be more successful right off the bat.
- Write in active voice: Active voice means your sentence’s subject does something — it doesn’t have something happen to it. The verbs “was” and “were” are usually indicators of passive voice in a sentence.
- Write for your audience: Use language and phrases that your audience will understand. Writing for teens looking at colleges requires a different style than publishing finance data for investment firms.
- Write purposefully: Make every word count. Go sentence by sentence and ask yourself if each one is essential to understanding your topic. If the answer is ever no, delete it.
With these three basics, you have a strong foundation to jump into the rest of the writing process.
Journaling helps you collect your thoughts so you can improve, refine, and focus your ideas before you jump into your genre. You’ve probably had a moment where something sounded better in your head than when you actually said it — journaling gives you the chance to do that with your writing ideas.
You can keep a journal in a physical book, you can keep one online, or you can write in a program like Word. All of these options serve the same purpose, but they work differently for different people. The best way to figure out which one works for you is to try all of them.
One of the biggest benefits to keeping a physical journal is that you can’t write as fast as you can type. That forces you to slow your thoughts down, which can help you think about them more pro-actively as you’re writing.
The bonuses of an online or computer-based journal are that it’s much easier, the storage capacity is much higher, and you never run out of page space. You can also get your ideas down quickly and keep up with your thoughts more easily, especially if you’re someone who can’t help but think quickly.
Regardless of your choice, journaling is a great way to collect your thoughts before you jump to the next part of writing.
Outlining lets you sensibly lay out what you’re going to write and how you’re going to structure it. You write down the big ideas first followed by more granular details, and you do this for every major point you want to make.
The thoroughness of your outline depends on how you think and how you like to write. Some people get incredibly thorough with their outlines to the point that they pretty much write the whole article or blog post that they wanted anyway. Others just use it as a map for the next step.
Drafting refers to writing a complete piece, start to finish. Following your outline, you hit all of the main points that you want, and then you add in the smaller ideas and details as you go. This is also the point where you want to make your writing readable, as opposed to your journal or outline where you can just note your ideas. At the same time, the most important part of the first draft is just to finish it.
The reason first drafts are also called “rough drafts” is because they’re never perfect. No matter who you are, no matter how long you’ve been writing, and no matter who your readership is, there will always be at least one thing that you’ll want to change in your first draft.
In that sense, when you’re finished writing your first draft, you’re still not finished writing.
Editing what you’ve written is every bit as important as writing it in the first place. It’s the step where you refine what you’ve created so that it becomes a better piece. It’s like you made a prototype invention — it may serve a purpose, but you can make it better.
Like writing, editing isn’t a single process. It’s an umbrella term for two more focused and important concepts that every successful writer follows: self-editing and peer editing.
Editing yourself is hard. It forces you to point out the flaws in something you’ve created, and if you’re not used to creating something from scratch and then tearing it apart, your first few attempts will probably result in a second draft that’s very similar to your first.
You have to look at what you’ve written with a critical eye, and that means questioning everything about it. Why did you phrase a sentence that way? Why did you use a comma there? Does that paragraph serve a purpose, or should you delete it?
Self-editing is typically most effective after you’ve let your first draft “sit” for a while, whether that’s ten minutes or two days. That lets you clear your head by concentrating on something else, and then you can go back to your draft when you’re refreshed.
Once you’ve finished self-editing, you can move onto the next part of the editing phase.
Compared to self-editing, peer editing is easy — you don’t have to actually do anything. On the flip side, it’s way more nerve-wracking. Someone else is about to rip through your draft, even after you did it yourself! That’s a big pill to swallow.
There are three important ideas to keep in mind when a peer is editing your work:
- They’re trying to make your piece better.
- You don’t have to use their edits.
- It isn’t personal (or at least, it shouldn’t be).
The best peer editors are the people who will look at your piece objectively and, regardless of your relationship to them, point out areas of improvement. That’s not a reflection of you as a person — it’s just their opinion for what you can do better.
If you forget any of the three above ideas, you can turn a productive editing meeting into a catastrophic war of emotions and overreactions. Unless your editor explicitly starts attacking you as a person with accusations or insults, they’re not actually insulting you — they’re just trying to make your writing better.
This step seems counterintuitive, especially since this list is supposed to be a recipe for success. But in all honesty, success is never guaranteed as a writer.
The odds are strong that your first few attempts at publishing won’t attract much attention or get the results that you want. That’s totally normal — nobody ever achieves icon status with their first piece. A lot of the time, nobody reads a new writer at all unless you’re lucky enough to work for a publication that’s already established its readership.
The key to utilizing failure is to learn something every time your writing doesn’t succeed the way you’d hoped. Maybe your editor’s note about a paragraph was right. Or maybe you see something in your voice that you’d like to change. The possibilities are endless — but by this point, the writing process is all in hindsight, and that means you can learn a lot from your previous experience.
You can also take the finished piece back to your peer editor to analyze it so you can set some clear objectives about what you’d like to do and avoid with your next publication. Because even though you failed, this isn’t the end of your writing career. It hasn’t even started.
That’s why you need thick skin. Once you publish something that you wrote, you’re not just showing people what you can produce — you’re declaring open season on what you’ve created. People may critique what you’ve written, and every reader means another possibility that readers will critique your piece far more than you or your editor could. Even when you think your writing is at its peak, there will be someone telling you otherwise.
Every content creator from WordPress to YouTube has to figure out how to deal with negative feedback — and sometimes, it’s almost maniacally negative. You can (and should) ignore the vast majority of negative comments unless they’re asking actionable questions or providing constructive criticism.
As harsh as people can be, there are some out there who can bring up good points about what you’ve written, and you can learn from their insights. You can safely ignore the people who hurl insults.
But no matter what you do, you have to bounce back. Sticks and stones, you are rubber, all of those fun rhymes — they have to be true when you’re writing. If you eventually find that you can’t deal with the influx of comments, whether they’re constructive or otherwise, either ignore them entirely or consider a new path for yourself. When you write, criticism is just part of the job.
If you’ve survived the aftermath of publication, then you’ve succeeded by pretty much every standard. You wrote something, you edited it, you published it, and now it’s out there. That creation is something that nobody can ever take from you.
In writing, success is a gateway to the next big project. You should definitely be proud of what you’ve achieved, whether you wrote your first blog post or a marketing manual, but there’s never time to rest on your laurels. Now that you’ve succeeded, you can do it all again.
The benefit to writing over time is that you have previous successes behind you as support. You can add credentials to your name as the blogger at a website or the writer of something interesting. The more you produce, the more your portfolio will grow, and the more successful you’ll become.
Writing is a winner’s game, but you have to stick with it. If you repeat all of these steps to writing, there’s no ceiling to your career.
However, success comes with one very big caveat.
Success might mean you’re technically a professional (if you got paid to write), but it doesn’t mean you know everything. Honestly, even the most accomplished writers don’t know everything about writing — they’ve just done it a little longer than most people. There are three big ideas you should remember with success.
- You’ve come a long way.
- Others have come farther.
- Others are just starting.
You should be proud of your success, as you should be with anything you create, but bragging about it is never acceptable. In fact, bragging about your early success is a dead giveaway of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias where unskilled or “newbie” individuals interpret their success to mean they have superior skill to others in their field. That’s why, most of the time, it’s the lowest-skilled people in a field who brag.
Plus, your attitude about your success can easily come across in your writing. Particularly for new writers, it’s incredibly easy for emotion and mood to alter the tone of what they write. You probably say more than you think you say when you write — and when people start reading between the lines, they’ll notice your extreme confidence bleeding into it.
In that respect, overconfidence can actually sabotage your future writing career by making your style worse. So even if you were on the right track to becoming a successful copywriter, you can lose it all by allowing your ego to get the best of you. And once that happens, it’s hard to get back on the right track.
So, in a nutshell, be humble.
Writing your best
This isn’t a comprehensive list of copywriting qualities, but it’s at least a good start for anyone who wants to break into blogging or copywriting in general. And when you keep these qualities in mind, you can meet and exceed your own expectations.
What do you do to keep your writing skills sharp? And how did you learn to write for your genre? Let me know in the comments!