How Your Emotions Are Strangling the
Life Out of Your Copy

image of a hangman's noose

You battle an insidious enemy every time you sit down to write, and it usually wins.

It squeezes the impact out of your ideas, leaving a limp and lifeless copy carcass laid to rest in your text editor.

It’s your emotional needs filter, and it’s draining the message out of your message.

What’s an emotional needs filter? It’s a filter you’re running your ideas through when you write.

Whenever you feel like you’re taking a risk, an emotional response is triggered. Your emotional needs feel threatened. The filter is engaged, and your bold copy turns into a big puddle of boringness.

The good news is that this filter is only winning because you’re letting it. It’s actually possible to simply decide not to do that anymore, at which point you can actually use the tried-and-true techniques that you already know (instead of just knowing about them) and write great content.

Here’s how to ensure your content doesn’t get choked to death before it reaches your audience.

The facts

You have ideas. Ideas that come to you out of nowhere, electrifying you with inspiration. You know the ones I’m talking about.

There are lots of people out there just waiting to stumble upon your ideas because they provide the perfect solutions to their own problems.

Those people are salivating, ready to jump at your ideas like a great white shark to a sea lion. All you have to do is successfully deliver those ideas to them.

But the problem is that those ideas don’t make it from your brain to your finished copy. Your emotional needs filter kills them before you can click “publish.” And no one’s problems get resolved.

There are three components at play here:

  1. You want approval
  2. You want control
  3. You want security

These emotional responses are convincing you to suffocate your ideas.

Blast through these roadblocks and you will actually solve the problems of your audience instead of peddling to them.

You’ll define a niche instead of chasing one.

You’ll attract a tribe instead of imagining one.

Stop wanting approval

You want everyone to like you.

You’re tweaking, editing, re-wording, and omitting important parts of your ideas based solely on that. Your desire for everyone’s approval is killing your content, which in turn is getting you lost in the crowd.

Wanting everyone’s approval is pointless for two primary reasons:

  1. It will never happen
  2. It’s not useful to you or your audience

The fact is that it’s not your job to get approval. It’s your job to put your unique and creative ideas into a form that communicates them effectively.

If you keep your message true to the source, there will be people who love it. There will also be people who hate it. That’s a guarantee.

And you actually want it that way. If everyone is neutral to your content because you’ve watered it down like cheap beer, it’s not helping anyone.

Stop wanting control

You want to control everything.

You want to control how everybody reacts to your content, what they say about it, and what they do with it.

And that’s just the beginning. You also want to control how they perceive you, what they say about you, and what they do for you, too. And that’s still just the beginning.

Obviously, writing to influence your audience to take certain actions is helpful and recommended. But you’re taking it to extremes.

Let go of wanting to control everything and your ideas will actually make it into the minds of your audience.

Yes, some will dislike it, but your tribe will love it!

Stop wanting security

You want to survive.

You perceive other writers as competition, and that seems threatening. There are so many out there vying for your audience. You’ve got to make sure that you don’t offend any readers. You’ve got to make sure that you do nothing to turn readers away. Socially domesticating your content seems like the perfect solution!

Stop doing that.

Wanting security is causing you to publish bland, cliché, or just plain milquetoast content that actually works against your end goals.

Attracting an audience that is crazy about your ideas is paramount to your security. You can do that by keeping your message true to the source.

Notice when the emotional needs filter kicks in

When you write, let your creativity flow in all its glory. Say what you really want to say. Get it all down.

When you revise and edit, make sure it’s for the necessities: punctuation, conciseness, coherence, etc. Follow the tried and true mechanical and strategic guidelines.

But when you are making your edits, be sure that you’re not engaging your emotional needs filter. Go through the checklist below when you find yourself hitting the backspace key:

  • Am I making this change because I want everyone’s approval?
  • Am I making this change because I want to control everything?
  • Am I making this change because I’m obsessing over security?

If the answer to all three is “no,” you’re in good shape.

But if you answer “yes” to any of those, step away from the keyboard.

Don’t strangle the life out of your valuable message. Toss the emotional needs filter in the trash. It’s never done you any good, anyway.

About the author: Craig Wildenradt blogs about the Sedona Method, a technique that allows people to simply and easily release emotions that are holding them back. Craig also offers a free ebook and audio program that can get you started.

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Comments

  1. Fantastic article! This is so true. We want to be liked and we want to please. I find myself editing out anything that might be taken the wrong way, might offend someone or that I think makes me look less than perfect. In the end, it is boring and lifeless. I need to get over that!

    Thanks.

  2. What you’ve said is sotrue for ANYTHING we write for public consumption, not just blog posts. How many books and articles have been edited away from what the author really wanted to say because of one of the fears mentioned?

  3. Not just that, but really true for everything we do.

    I was jazzed that Craig wrote this post for us, as I’ve recently stumbled on the Sedona Method myself, and found it very helpful.

  4. Illuminating!

    I printed this out and pasted it to my computer screen.

    It will serve as my checklist going forward.

  5. I feel like I’ve learned so much reading the posts here. I just recently wrote a post Blog Honesty – Are You Guilty of Self-Censorship. It was spot on regarding the emotional filter you’re talking about. Hopefully, I’m heading in the right direction. Thanks for the post!

  6. I love what you said about perceiving other writers as competition vying for the attention of your audience. I can certainly relate to this, as I feel the same way for one of my blogs.

    Because of this, I vowed long ago to write exactly how I feel in order to make my own mark in the niche I am writing for. So far it is working beautifully.

  7. This not only applies to writing… but all types of communication.

    The moment I stopped editing my speeches for a great ‘likeability quotient’ – the resonating power of them went wayyy up… and so did my client base and income.

    I had this revelation years ago after watching a biography on Gandhi and Jesus…

    “If Jesus, Gandhi and Buddha (all pretty good guys) couldn’t have everyone like them… why the hell should I try!?”

    Completely freeing!

    All the best,

    Todd

  8. Todd, I love your comment! I am going to have to put that up on my wall.

  9. @Shelly
    If you’re recognizing that you’re doing it, you’re more than half way there. Only thing left is to stop doing it! :)

    @Brian
    Excellent points, and very true. Thanks for bringing them up!

    @Sonia
    The Sedona Method rocks, doesn’t it?

    @Lydia
    Awesome! Glad you found this so helpful.

    @Roschelle
    Welcome!

    @Luis
    Glad to hear it! It’s funny how the result is often the direct opposite of what we’re fearing will happen.

    @Todd
    So true, thanks for sharing your example.

    Thanks for the comments, guys! I’m really enjoying hearing from you all.

  10. Ah, emotions. Our best friends and worst enemies when writing. I just finished writing a concert review/blog post before reading this post and writing it came very easy. But others reviews and blog posts are not so easy. I wonder about this all the time. And I find that the struggle always comes back to my emotional expectations and getting needs met. If you get seduced by your need to be accepted when writing, it will kill your writing and bring about a massive and terrible case of writer’s block, self doubt, etc… Stay inspired, stay strong and stay aware of your emotional expectations when writing. Fighting to do these will revolutionize your writing.

    It’s great that you encourage a realistic approach and a quick checklist to help!

    It goes without saying, but Thanks for sharing!

  11. Approval, control, security: Those three questions at the end summed it up concisely. Loved it. Now I just need to do it, of course, that’s the hardest part.

    This might be a good example of what Craig is asking us not to do:
    I don’t know if it’s okay to ask a question here ( guess I want approval) about a contest I put up on my site. I’m not soliciting – you do not have to go to my site. I gave people the opportunity to win $25 or a book for commenting by giving me a piece of their Common Sense. I’ve only had 1 reply, so I’m thinking $25 is perhaps a laughable prize. And that makes me insecure and unapproved!

    Great post – thanks, Craig.

  12. This post was just like a sucker punch from a mixed martial artist that came out of the octagon on the losing end of a draw for a championship belt.

    Spending so much time wanting my content to be valuable enough to be approved by everyone I share it with has been cause the infamous line of “paralysis of analysis” to effect my ability to simply just share my thoughts.

    Maybe I should quit worrying about that, SEO, keywords, comments, retweets, traffic, sales and all of the other aspects of growing a business.

    Thanks (I think) for slapping me upside my head!

  13. Tis’ very true. The day I stopped giving a sh*t and just pumping out content is the day things changed. Scrap the sugar coating, ass-kissing and mundane generic keyword stuffing. Know your topic at hand and pump out content that’s useful. Then (if you’re actually funny) go back and make it entertaining. No… not for others, but for YOU.

    Hit publish and watch as only a handful of individuals give a sh*t about you. But that’s ok, because those that do keep coming back for more.

  14. Um, are you guys watching me? The past few Copyblogger articles have been a bulls-eye description of my writing tendencies.

    Anyways, thanks for writing such a great article. Just being aware of this will help.

  15. @Chris
    You’re welcome, thank you for sharing that practical advice.

    @The Story Woman
    I wouldn’t over-analyze the situation. Many of us have had ideas that we expected to catch more traction than they actually did. Find what you learned from the experience and use that knowledge going forward. That’ll be your best bet. Perhaps you’ll find other ways to get the word out and try again, or you’ll just move on. Whatever you decide, just make sure it’s not an emotional reaction. That’s my two cents at least!

    Thanks for sharing that.

    @Eric
    Wow! Didn’t mean to beat anyone up! ;)

    The things you mentioned are definitely components everyone who creates content online needs to consider. But a lot of times we can find ourselves compromising our message in the hopes of getting higher SE rankings, another RT, or something else. We get tunnel vision. All the sudden it’s about approval, control, and security, and not about the message in our content anymore. What I’ve found is that when I drop the emotional needs filter, opportunities become apparent where I didn’t see them before with it engaged. Emotions cloud our clear reasoning.

    @FitJerk
    In most cases, if you keep the message true to the source you end up attracting more than a handful. But regardless of the numbers, you’re absolutely right that they’ll love you.

    @Tom
    Did you find the hidden cameras and microphones we planted? :)

    You’re welcome, thanks for reading!

  16. Great post and great thoughts.
    Could I add to the mix that it is important that the “inner you” is stronger than the “outer you” if you want to write really good text and carry the story authentically about the topic you’re writing on.
    We come across the emotions of FEAR, SHAME and PRIDE in our work with small business owners and when any of these are “at play” you never get the best outcomes.

  17. This confirms the idea explained so well in Elements of Style: Put the reader first.

    Many writers put themselves first. They see themselves on stage performing for a loving audience. But good writers put themselves in the background and shine the light on their reader. If you find yourself reading something and totally caught up in the idea, without a thought about the writer, you know you’re reading good prose.

  18. This is just plain old good advice for all manner of living, not just writing.

    Fix your life, the writing will fix itself.

  19. Goodness, need for approval, control, and security can really plague clear writing! Craig, thanks for talking about each of these tendencies and providing alternatives.

  20. @Eric, that’s a good point, the metrics that we use to check our progress (number of followers or RTs or subscribers, whatever) can very, very easily feed our approval and control addictions. It becomes about a number rather than about an end result.

  21. Ah get out of my head? How did you know?

    Every creative endeavor always puts me a little bit on edge. I get going and than at some point that emotional filter kicks in. When that happens, I just try to stop thinking and do more.

    MissMentor

  22. Wow. this really hit home with me as I seem to have all three of these problems whenever I write regardless if it’s an article, Press Release or script. I think it’s difficult not to let go when you are writing for others, you want them to approve rather than letting your creativity take over. In a way I have to be reserved but I agree with what you say about taking risks, it does make writing far more interesting!

  23. There are some real gems of information here . I think it touches on a problem of mine that I struggle with daily. Sometimes I’ll start something and start thinking too much. The next thing I know, I’m crying because I went from thinking about a new photo to thinking about my dog that died lol.

    I just wanted to thank you for this one. I Think it’s something we all need to work on.

  24. This article contains some of the smartest advice I’ve read in a long time. We all want the biggest audience we can get, but ironically, chasing that goal is the path to no audience at all! Great insight.

  25. Perhaps this is why the cliche drunk writer exists. While intoxicated the filter you speak of rarely kicks in socially or otherwise.

  26. This definitely gave me something to think about. Awesome article. I’m going to consider this on my next writing. Thanks

  27. This article has great timing in my life! I have recently written a few articles with questionably offensive content, but I went with it anyway. If your you cannot freely express yourself on your blog, where can you?

  28. @Nicholai, that’s a very good insight. I think you’re spot on.

    @Jennifer, sometimes we just have to take that leap. It’s scary but it can be worthwhile.

  29. This brings up one of the biggest things I’ve started to learn blogging. People don’t want a mechanical report about a topic; they want human opinion and feeling.

    Textbooks are boring because they don’t have opinions… Don’t be a textbook. ;-)

  30. Thanks Craig for these words of wisdom, what works for me for some strange reason is I write my posts in a word document using font size ten, the small font somehow allows me to talk about the big things in my life. I edit and rewrite for concise-ness in that document and then cut and paste to my site and publish, when I see the words writ large on my site its too late! and I don’t allow myself to recensor my emotions. Its done, its out there and it feels good, all thanks to font size ten. Quirky, I know, but it works for me.

  31. Thanks for the tough love!

  32. @Andee
    Very true. And if you look closely, you’ll see that fear, shame, and pride come from wanting either approval, control, or security (or some combination of them). They are the underlying causes of those emotional energies.

    @Melissa
    You’re welcome!

    @Lisa
    I must come clean: I’ve conspired with aliens to implant mind-reading devices in random Copyblogger readers while they sleep. :)

    Seriously though, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, stopping thinking is often times a great idea!

    @Mel
    Isn’t it funny how that works?

    @Nicholai
    Great point. Intoxication takes away these inhibitions. However, one must be careful because it also takes away clear reasoning! So if you write drunk, make sure you revise sober. ;)

    @jennifer888
    Let your “you” come right on out!

    @Blake
    “Don’t be a textbook” is great advice. People really want you to have a defined stance–even those who oppose you.

    @Jimmy Kelley
    You’re welcome. Thanks for sharing what works for you!

    @Marketa
    You’re welcome (spoken with a furrowed brow). :)

    Thanks again everyone. I’ve really enjoyed the discussion here and I’m glad you found the post so helpful!

  33. City Sylvester :

    Many people miss out their greatest chance to be seen because of the fear of rejection. Trying to fit in with everyone else will kill your company branding.

    Great Post

  34. Craig seems to me that you know hows human mind work and we really appreciate that.

    I just believe in one thing and writing from my experience and heart and put it down.

    Its next to impossible that you will satisfy everyone at single time.

  35. Great article topic. I wish you would have given us more examples, instead of just telling writers what they’re doing so wrong. Because of this, your topics fight with the truth — that we WANT more emotion, control, and approval in our copy, just not roadblocking the process.

    Perhaps you’ll do a Part 2 with examples? Thanks!

  36. @Tim Schoch
    Try to look at this a bit differently. YES, you absolutely want your copy to be strong so that it’s persuasive and evokes a response from your audience. No debate there.

    But the point is that when you’re lusting over getting approval, control, and security, the byproduct is copy that does not fulfill that goal. I mention twice in the post that you should keep your message true to the source (you). I also advocate “letting your creativity flow in all its glory” when you write.

    When you obsess over approval, control, and security (personal emotional needs which have nothing to do with your content), this does not happen. You end up grossly censoring yourself and your copy ends up dry; the opposite of persuasive.

    Not sure what you’re looking for in the way of examples, but I hope this helps clear it up a bit.

  37. I fear what would happen if I completely turned off my emotional filter. I think sometimes I have the opposite problem of speaking my mind when I probably shouldn’t. In my corporate experience, I sometimes got people ticked off by speaking my mind, but often in the end, what I was seeing and expressing turned out to be right. Not to say that I know everything, but one of my key strengths is that I am pretty perceptive and have strong intuition and insight about things that may not be immediately apparent to some others. But I guess in the case of MY blog, I should feel free to speak my mind, that’s the whole point right?

  38. What a great article!!!!! I really think its COOL
    I’m a painter,,,
    And the things you’ve stated are also very true to most of us no matter long we’ve been painting..
    At times painting is great struggle
    Betty Jane

  39. @Momblebee
    Yes, this advice is geared toward creative expression (in this case copywriting) which is quite a different animal than interpersonal relations/communication in a corporate structure.

  40. How true. I agree with all that you have said.