Good writers are rare. Good writers who produce great copy are even rarer. Noisy offices, bad briefs, lack of sleep and stress are enough to turn competent wordsmiths into glassy-eyed hacks.
I’ve been there. Most days, in fact. It’s a daily battle. And you know what? It’s scarily easy to become a crappy copywriter.
The trick is to recognise what it is that makes your writing rubbish, and nip it in the bud before you hand that word baby over.
So what do bad writers sound like? Here are some of the worst traits I’ve seen (and had) myself.
If you want to be any kind of writer, chances are you’re going to have to write about things you don’t understand. B2B and B2C copywriting usually involves clarifying complex topics, or talking to an audience that isn’t you – and you can’t do this without thorough research.
Writers who don’t do their homework tend to sound shallow and put style before substance.
If you find yourself asking ‘But what does this actually mean?’ after reading, chances are the naughty little copywriter hasn’t done their homework.
They tend to take client amends a little too personally. Any amends, edits or advice make them supremely stroppy. No one likes working with this diva.
They’re a one voice wonder
This is usually an ego thing. This copywriter is writing what they think the brand should sound like, rather than respecting the brand guidelines.
It’s also a laziness thing on both the planner and the copywriter’s side: ‘make the brand sound human’ can all too easily result in writing that’s bland and over-familiar.
They’re a show-off
I fully believe good copywriters are the ones who write like they speak (even at the expense of correct grammar).
But some writers take it too far and stuff everything with virtuoso witticisms and obscure metaphors. The result is distracting, and not as pleasurable to read as they think it is.
They’re a grammar stickler
This writer is no fun. They put grammar before rhythm and style, resulting in writing that’s dry and sounds old-fashioned.
They’re tone deaf
Spelling and grammar are all well and good, but what really makes copy sparkle is hypnotic rhythm and pacing.
Bad writers have no ear
They write every sentence the same length. There’s no rhythm and it sounds monotonous. It’s tedious to read. They kill sentences too early or let them run on too long until they become difficult to read and you’ve forgotten the point they were trying to make anyway.
They’re a comedian
This writer tries too hard to be clever and strangles their message with obscure jokes and layers of metaphor until the meaning is left gasping for air.
They’re a wimp
The wimpy writer is too afraid to show their voice.
They tend to take a long time to write a piece, then edit it to death until any hint of attitude has been squeezed from its limp, bloodless body. Wimps also play it safe, rather than expressing a controversial opinion or original thought.
They waffle on and on and on (and on)
You should always know your point before you start writing. You should also edit your writing to make the path to your point clear and obstacle free.
Wafflers don’t do either of these things. You’ll rarely make it to the end of their articles, and if, by some huge test of endurance, you do, you won’t have any idea what the hell you just read.