Check Yourself for These 7 Symptoms of the Copywriter’s Curse

Curse

Are you burdened by the copywriter’s curse?

Many a copywriter is hindered with a trait that damages productivity and constrains our ultimate earning potential. We here at Copyblogger may actually be guilty of agitating this problem for you.

See if you recognize any of these seven symptoms in yourself:

  1. You start writing, stop half way and hit delete
  2. You often feel like you are your own worst critic
  3. You never feel like you’ve done the best you could
  4. You second-guess your ideas, even when you know better
  5. Other copywriters make you feel inadequate
  6. There’s always something more to learn
  7. Writing would be so much more enjoyable if you could just relax

Thankfully, if you do recognize any of the above symptoms, you are definitely not alone. In fact, I would say each and every copywriter I’ve met has felt the same at least once (and likely more often then they’d like to admit).

So relax, this curse doesn’t have to be permanent and is simple to treat. It even has a name.

Perfectionism: The Copywriter’s Curse

The first thing to realize is that writing requires two different modes.

Your main mode is what we usually identify with, which is the writing process itself. This is putting words down on the page.

In the second mode you go from writer to editor. This is where you clean, edit, critique, format, and ultimately decide when you are done.

Who’s in charge?

Our perfectionism problem starts when we confuse the two modes. As we put words on paper, the editor starts butting in, critiquing as we go. Rather than allow the words to flow, we keep stopping and starting, worrying and fussing, and heckling our own work from within. It’s no wonder we find it so hard to get to the end of a page when we have two personalities battling for control of the keyboard!

Edit but don’t agonize

As I mentioned, the editor part of us also gets to decide when we’re finished. The problem is, our internal editor loves to edit and is frankly a little lacking in the self-esteem department. Given a free reign and no deadline, your internal editor would keep editing long after the ice caps have melted.

In fact, in most cases our editor need not worry so much, given an opportunity to relax and let the writing flow, our first attempts are generally better than we think. Of course it’s good to edit, but I don’t do it right away. Come back to your writing with even a small break in between and it’s far easier to be objective.

No writer is an island

Finally, don’t feel as if you’re all alone in the process, especially when writing for larger publications. A magazine will have an editor who will have their own ideas about your piece. It could be that you agonize for hours over a tricky paragraph, think you have polished it to perfection, only for the editor to nuke it thinking it superfluous.

Even on Copyblogger, you’ll have Brian as an editor to bounce drafts off. An alternative to an editor is finding a writing partner, which could be just what your confidence, and your writing, needs.

Are you too hard on yourself? How do you manage your internal editor? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Thanks. #1 is especially troublesome for me… [delete,delete,delete,rewrite,repeat]

  2. Chris each of your seven points has applied to me at one point in time or another. You nailed it that the key is separating the writer from the editor and knowing which part of the process you’re in.

    While I don’t always do it as often as I should I think it’s a good idea to put some time between each. If you move directly from writer mode to editor mode you may not have switched modes as much as you think.

    It’s important to trust yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve published a post and I’m not quite sure how it will go over. I expect it will fade from attention only to find it generates more comments and links than many other posts.

    As writers (and artists in general) we’re not always the best judge of our own work. Sometimes you can tell you’ve written something that’s good. Other times you won’t until you’ve had the time to separate yourself from the writing and look back at it with a fresh perspective.

  3. While (thankfully) I don’t suffer any of these issues, I’ve noticed that there is one other large problem that gets in the way of a writer’s productivity: a lack of confidence.

    Being a perfectionist is one curse often suffered, but having a lack of confidence can cause many of the same symptoms outlined in your post.

    Hesitation, stops and starts, frequent deletion, and consistent second-guessing. Writing freely and without fear are tremendous factors in being able to author texts effectively.

  4. On my own blog I wrote a post a few days ago about this very issue. I try to be content in the moment and let the words come the way they will. I give myself permission to try new things and make mistakes. Being content to simply write is not easy, but, as you mentioned, editing and multiple drafts are where ideas can be shaped. If you squash your ideas to soon, however, you are cheating yourself in both the writing and editing stages.

  5. Put another way:
    ““““““““““““““““
    Respect for verse
    Becomes a curse
    With written words delayed
    By doubt much overstayed…
    A blank piece of paper looks back at me.

    Spontaneous expressions
    And subconscious dimensions
    Yield written words displayed
    With doubts tucked nicely away…
    A poetic masterpiece looks back at me.
    “““““““““““““““““

    Good Post Chris

  6. Oh dear!…
    I’m afraid I suffer from all seven.
    Great article I think I will post it on the wall for those “Bleaker Days”

  7. Thanks for your comments all :) Perhaps we should form a support group, heh ;)

  8. Good post, Chris. You made me stop and reconsider my current writing practice. I hit 7/7 and I realized that my blogging needs a reboot; my blogging has churned to a stop, because my blog has become unfocused. I have lots of great posts in my head, but they’ll never be written because my current blog isn’t really the right place…
    So, in my case the solution may be that I’ll start a new blog or two to accomodate my different writing ambitions.
    …and the gist of my ramblings above is that writing is also a matter of enabling proper channels; don’t be afraid to test ideas/posts in other places/blogs than your usual ‘hood.

  9. I think that clearing the mind and staying relaxed makes the biggest difference.

    But I’m bias I guess!

  10. Maybe I’m too new to this (podcasting ~ 10 months, seriously blogging ~ 2-3), but the ideas seem to come pretty well, and the writing goes well enough once the sit-down happens. But it still takes me hours to polish off a post from start to finish, about 2-3 on average.

    A goodly portion of that seems to be the polishing stage: the final editing down, trimming of repetition a la Strunk & White, and the formatting. Blockquotes and pullquotes and other (important) visual prettifying…I like the final product, especially with a nice WordPress theme like Copyblogger, but I’m still struggling to break the “1 hour per post” barrier (even 30 minutes, like some bloggers).

  11. [x] 1
    [x] 2
    [x] 3
    [x] 4
    [x] 5
    [x] 6
    [x] 7

    May I suggest a #8, feeling that you never have enough time to write properly?

  12. but I’m still struggling to break the “1 hour per post” barrier (even 30 minutes, like some bloggers).

    Peter, don’t do it. Write one incredible post a week rather than aim for 7 marginal posts a week (or worse, 7 mostly worthless posts a day).

  13. I’m no expert on this, but I have managed to chug out over 100 articles this year, plus some white papers.

    For me, it’s not about turning off the editor. If I turn off my editor, then my writing transforms into insensible babbling.

    It’s more important for me to:

    1. Think about a topic until I have an ultra clear conception of what I’m writing about, including the main concept, the subpoints, and the flow of the piece from beginning to end.

    2. Begin with an angle/metaphor/question that will guide the entire piece. If I have too many separate ideas floating around, my writing falls apart. It’s essential that I organize them under one “umbrella” idea.

    3. Write when I have high energy. The best times for me are first thing in the morning and from 5-8 in the evening. Any other time, and my writing is unfocused.

    4. Chunk into manageable slices. I generally write about 1000 words in a sitting. If the piece is longer than that, then I have to divide it. Otherwise, I’ll lose my train of thought and end up having to edit to restore continuity.

    5. Prime my brain by reading good writing. If I’m writing an article or blog post, I read a couple of posts by Seth Godin to get my brain going. If it’s for a book, I usually read a bit of On Writing by Stephen King. It gets me in the right rhythm.

    If I do those things, then my editor is usually happy anyway, so there’s no need to turn him off. It still takes me a little longer to write a first draft than many other writers, but typically, I never write a second draft, so that probably puts me ahead.

  14. Most times, especially when I draw near the close of a letter or piece of copy- is it good enough? When to stop editing…

    I guess i feel that the most, that the letter is not “good enough” at least right now I do with a certain challenge I am facing that is 7 pages long…

    This feeling of being not good enough creeps up on my during the last day or two of writing and editing a long sales letter.

    So, what to do?

    •• Can you guys recommend a few great sources to get feedback from? I don’t want to post threads here but was curious as to what the CB plp recommend.

    Thanks!

    Lawton

  15. Thanks for that return to proper focus. Content will always be king.

  16. Great article. I always find mistakes at the worst time (after hitting publish). I really need to do a better job proof reading my work before considering it finished lol.

  17. hmm.. I suffer more from bad grammer

    I do need to heed number 7 more though….

  18. Chris, this was such a timely piece for me, thank you. The past week I have been feeling the time crunch bear in for my blog. I felt that I was prepared on every single topic. The more the week has flown by, the more I have found like a hamster on the wheel…needing more hours to get my pieces done.

    Well, no man is an island. I had a great conversation with a friend last night who alerted me to this fact. At this time, I normally would have been working. It made me realize that taking a break isn’t just human, it can be necessary to let the words free flow.

    I am printing this post and will keep it by my desk today, thanks again.

  19. Hm…I find myself in all of these symptoms. I thought I was the only one.

  20. Hi Chris.

    These curses don’t torment me when I’m writing blog posts because I enjoy writing blog posts (whenever I write, that is). Yes, when I’m writing for the clients — at least while submitting the first document or the first draft, I go through the regular jitters thinking about the response of the client. More than not getting paid, I fret about the negative feedback.

  21. Great post!

    I find the best way to write a first draft is to turn off my “internal editor”. I know it’s easier said than done, but the editor that lives inside all of us can really stifle creativity.

    Ideally, when your piece is ready, you should have a second pair of eyes do the proofreading. It’s hard to catch your own mistakes.

  22. great post chris…

    i have been through all these symptoms and i think deadlines make it even worse. i surely read a lot about the subject before beginning to write. it gives me a clear focus of the flow of the script.

    i feel it is difficult to edit your own work and the worst part is that you have no choice. if someone else edits and sends across negative comments, it will make you feel even worse. just the thought of it makes me give my best to the script- edit it thoroughly, check the facts, etc.

  23. You are right. Perfectionism, lack of confidence. It is all about internal harmony. Without it, you won’t produce a proper writing. It is similar with everything – if you hesitate to much, are afraid of making mistakes you will never succeed.

  24. Yep, I reckon I have at some point recognised all seven of the symptoms to have applied to me. However I am optimistic that as a relative newcomer to Copywriting I am at the bottom rung of the ladder and so can only improve. Lets hope I’m right.

  25. There’s been a time or two that I’ve been bit by the perfectionist bug.

    The one thing that pushes me through is understanding that each unique writing post gives me an opportunity to push out a golden nugget or two that will benefit my reader.

    So…focusing my attention on creating bottom-line value for my reader prevents me from getting too caught up into the vicious perfectionist trap.

  26. All very true.

    Over the last year, I’ve transitioned from academic writing (back) to commercial writing. One of the challenges has been to get out of a polishing, polishing work method and into a mindset where the copy goes out *now*. As you say, it doesn’t mean abolishing the editor but keeping him/her in the proper place.

  27. Thankfully, I don’t suffer from any of these. To be honest, most of them had never even occurred to me. That said, I do have two of my own problems.

    1. Getting started. Each new job seems like a huge mountain, until I actually get started and discover it’s a mole hill.

    2. Staying focused. Sometimes I can stay focused and get a huge amount of work done. At other times, my focus wavers and each task takes a lot longer to complete than it should.

    Best wishes,

    Nick

  28. Great post Chris, I do experience the same problems.

    But sometimes I rather have a non-perfectionism problem, that I delay the project to much until I got just a day left to write an entire letter.

    I don’t do that anymore, except for my own businesses. But I value clients a lot more then my own sites ;)

    -Dave

  29. Good to know that I am not the only one!!! Even after reading this article, I know I will still nit-pick my work but maybe not as much…hopefully ;-)

  30. Right on, Chris… blogged you over at thegoldenpencil… perfection… no evidence procedure… truth is I wouldn’t recognize it if it walked in the door and said “hi”… so I don’t worry.

    Anne Wayman

  31. Thanks, great article. I sooo recognize myself.

    Cheers,
    Mikael

  32. Nick U. – typing too fast and missing the “c” in the .com of your domain/name/link ..is that to keep traffic down? All the best, rb

    Chris – excellent post. not perfect, and that’s the point. Right?

  33. Hiya.

    Been ‘netting since ’95 and have pretty much ignored the rise of the blogosphere believing it would be filled with nothing but the trite, libidinal dribblings of the masses and that the signal to noise ratio would be too low to make it worthwhile.

    However, recently stumbling across useful pages like yours and others suggest I had better put on my mucky boots and start trawling otherwise I may be missing out!

  34. If you can’t find a partner to proofread your work, might I suggest checking out your local library or other places in the town you live in for any writers groups. Just about every library branch in my area has one. It doesn’t hurt to even join more than one of them for different opinions on your work.

    It’s where many writers meet, all different, from novice writers to experienced, and published writers of all kinds. Here’s a place to actually improve your writing, if they are like the ones in our area do when they critiqueing each others work. BUT, you must be able to let them do same, and not get upset with suggestions about your writings. They mean well and want to help new writers improve. You can even give your opinions on other group members writings too.

    Even the experienced writers who have several published books like to hear what others have to say about their work, even before it is published. Some of them use these groups as sounding boards to see if there are any possible flaws in their train of thought, especially when writing stories, both mysteries and love stories, etc. And they accept such suggestions about their own work just as much as the novice and the beginner do.

  35. Yes, when I’m writing the editor mode definitely interferes with the writing mode and takes me longer to write my article or blog post. I need to be more aware of when the editor is trying to takeover during the writing phase so that I can write more effectively and efficient.