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Copywriting challenges – this week’s axe to grind

Person sharpening the blade of an axe on a grinding machine

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Why read this? : Great copywriting helps you connect with customers and brings the voice of your brand to life. But it’s a tricky skill to master. We share some of the most common copywriting challenges you’ll run into. Read this to learn how to identify and deal with the challenges of copywriting.

OK, a small confession to start. The original title for this post was going to be the unbearable shiteness of copywriting. But, the stupid Autocorrect changed it to whiteness. And then shiftiness. Sigh. That was a sign. 

And then, we thought about what image we might find to go with a headline which talked about shiteness.

Hmmmm.

That would have taken us into the world of politicians and reality TV shows. And that definitely wasn’t where we wanted to go.

Another sign.

And finally, even though it would have been an attention-grabbing headline, it sounded a bit like we wanted to belittle copywriting as a skill. And that’s not at all what we wanted to do. In fact, quite the opposite. So that was our final sign. 

So copywriting challenges it is. And our axe to grind about them. 

Take a breath, and throw away that great headline, because … 

Copywriting means throwing away 95% of your work

So, here’s the first of our copywriting challenges. 

The process of great writing starts with a draft. Then you edit those drafts. And edit them again. And again. And again.

What comes out as your final published work might well end up being the third, thirteenth or even thirtieth version of what you started with. 

Along the way, you’ll have had some brilliant ideas. Amazing anecdotes. Brilliant bon mots. Inspiring idioms. And frustratingly, desperately, annoyingly, you find they’re “just not right for this job”.

Trash sign - illustration of person putting trash in a bin

So they get thrown away. Or at best you save them in a big future-use file, which you only remember to look in when you get really stuck for ideas.  

Urgh.

This is by far one of the toughest parts of copywriting. It takes a lot of discipline and resilience not to let that get you down.

Like a parent giving away their child (well, not really, but hey writers get to use hyperbole), this ability to let things go, to focus on the 5% that really works, and park the 95% that doesn’t. That makes copywriting tough. There’s not many other jobs with that type of attrition rate. 

Writers sometimes call this part of writing Killing Your Darlings. It’s a big part of what you do as a copywriter. 

It takes a level of pragmatism and bloody-mindedness. Not everyone can do it. 

Which brings us on to copywriting challenge number 2.

Everyone thinks they know more about writing than you

Why is it everyone thinks they know more about writing than you

Your writing is up for constant criticism, feedback and comments. Because reading and writing are such widespread life skills, everyone has opinions. 

But let’s be clear, there’s a pretty big difference between reading and writing. 

Because when you read, you passively consume someone else’s creative work. But when you write, you’re the one actively putting that creative work out there. Being active is a tougher job. It’s much harder to be a creator than a critic

And yet, there are many untrained and unskilled critics out there. Look at most client marketing teams and agency leadership teams for example. How much time do any them spend practising the skill of creating, editing and publishing great copy?

Not much, in our experience.  

Of course, it’s important to ask for and incorporate feedback when copywriting. It’s an important writing habit to get into.

When you write copy, it needs to have an impact on someone else, not you. But, having everything you do commented on by people who can’t actually do it themselves?

Urgh. Again. 

This constant criticism is another copywriting challenge you face. You need a lot of resilience and discipline to be a copywriter. Your critics will be quick to point out when your writing isn’t working. But they’ll be slow to say thanks when it does work. They won’t appreciate your hard work.

Writing copy is hard work and frustrating

When you write your own copy, that’s when you realise what a tough gig it is.

There’s the time you spend researching the topic. Then, there’s the mental energy to grind out that first draft to hit the word count. And that horrible feeling, when you read back the first draft, and think, ah. That needs a lot of work. 

Very frustrating.

Let’s face it, copywriting is one of the more masochistic jobs / skills you could have. 

Man with hands behind head and a frustrated look on his face

The writing process itself is pretty exhausting really. Get that first draft out. Go back and find all the typos, grammar errors and factual inaccuracies. Check the rules on swear words in advertising to make sure you’re allowed to use that rude word. 

The tedium of getting content approved and then published, whether it’s online or in traditional print channels. And then when it’s out there, dealing with the shitty responses. Or even worse, the lack of response. 

Copywriting takes a lot of time. 

And it takes a lot of energy. 

And yet …

Copywriting is undervalued

As per one of our very early posts, most businesses outsource their copywriting to a freelancer or an agency. But just think about that for a moment. 

Businesses succeed or fail based on how well they connect with their target audience. And words play a big part in how that connection works. 

But when you outsource copywriting, the words which create and sustain that connection don’t come from inside your business. 

Nope. Some professional wordsmith waves their magic pen over your brand identity and suddenly words come out which educate and entertain your audience. That persuade and influence them to connect with your brand and buy from you, with clear calls to action.

Even though they aren’t really your words. Your advertising copy, your blog posts and your sales copy speak to your audience. But actually, how often do they actually come from inside your business? 

And let’s face it, the copywriter themselves is probably getting screwed quite hard on the freelancing site. Or if they work through an agency, what the client pays and what the copywriter gets will be very different. Because someone’s got to pay for the agency leadership team and all those admin costs. Yes, including that fancy office and those after-work drinks.

In fact, copywriters are almost as chronically undervalued and overlooked as graphic designers. Most clients have little to no idea of the skill involved. They only care if it drives sales numbers. And to be fair, that brings us to our final point. 

Copywriting challenges - So why do it?

So, why does copywriting matter in business? If it’s got all these challenges, why bother? 

Well, for us, when you create a great piece of copy, and it delivers against the objective, it makes a difference to the target audience. It makes a difference to the brand. And it more than makes up for the rest of the shiteness that sits around copywriting. 

Writing talks to your customers when you aren’t there. It’s how they find you online. It supports your brand identity through blogs and advertising. It impacts almost every part of the customer experience

Because creating something is better than criticising something. Because creating something is better than doing nothing. 

And the more you do it, the better you get.

The more you do it, the more knowledge you spread. And knowledge actually matters. If just one person learns something from your copywriting, that knowledge has made an impact which could then spread to other customers. 

It could grow your business. 

From shiteness to brightness

Sometimes you just can’t throw away that 95%. We did like that unbearable shiteness of copywriting headline, for example.

So we’ve at least managed to keep it in some form. And we’d like to think we made sure we also included some of the brightness, as well as the shiteness of copywriting. 

Because, we’re always looking to make our writing sharper. 

Sharper? 

Person sharpening the blade of an axe on a grinding machine

Aha. 

Now that gives us a different thought for our headline and image. That’s definitely a better axe to grind about copywriting challenges and how to overcome them. 

Check out our guides on advertising and sales copy to find out more. Or contact us, if you need help with specific copywriting challenges. 

Photo credits 

Grinding an axe : Photo by C D-X on Unsplash

Trash signPhoto by Gary Chan on Unsplash

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

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