There are tons of outside forces that can influence your writing and keep you from turning in your best work. A last-minute deadline or an unclear assignment can trip up even the best writer.
But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today.
Today, let’s focus on the ways you get in your own way. These are all easy traps to fall into — but ones we can find our way back out of with a little awareness and thought.
- You don’t have a clear goal.
Good writing starts with good thinking. And in most cases, that means understanding why you’re writing. If you don’t have a firm understanding of the purpose behind whatever piece of content you’re creating, you’re most likely going to end up with writing that’s aimless, disconnected from an audience and overall meh.
If you’re struggling to define your goals, ask yourself these questions:
- Who is this for?
- How will they receive this information? (Email, social media, after a Google search?)
- What do I want that person to know/think/do after they read this?
- How will I know I’ve achieved the above goal? (We’ll come back to this one)
Taking just a few minutes on the front-end to answer these questions can make the entire writing process so much easier.
- You overthink it.
When it’s just you and a blank document, it’s so easy to get into your head — to doubt yourself, to doubt your goals, to just feel paralyzed by that blinking cursor that demands so much from you.
Maybe you over-research, going over the materials you need to write the piece until everything blurs together into a soft fuzz. Maybe you procrastinate on social media or by doing literally anything else, including organizing your emails from 2019.
We’ve all been there. You’re not alone in those feelings.
But reassure yourself that there’s a reason you have your job. Whatever the challenge is, you can face it. The most important thing is to start writing. Get out of your head and put words to the page.
Only once you have something on the page can you make those words not suck.
- You don’t have a style guide.
This might sound like an oddly nitpicky thing that can sabotage you. Is a style guide really that important?
Yes and no. On an organizational level, it’s important for consistency. But on a personal level, it eliminates some of the grammatical uncertainty you can face when writing.
Oxford comma or no Oxford comma? Do compound modifiers need hyphens? Do any words need unusual capitalization?
When you try to address these questions one by one, they can chip away at your mental energy. Each one is a tiny road bump between you and smooth writing that’s more focused on messaging than form.
If your organization doesn’t have its own in-house style guide, or a preferred guide that they use (ahem, AP style), pick one, if only for your own sanity.Consult it for those questions rather than using your precious brain space to make those individual decisions.
- You don’t give yourself enough time to let it sit.
Congratulations, you wrote something!
Unfortunately, the hardest work is just beginning.
You need some distance from a piece to be able to accurately see if it’s meeting your goals. You need to emotionally disengage from your writing so you can begin making it better, sharper, tighter.
Whether you have another person editing or you’re going it solo, always try to build in some time to let a piece simmer before you go over it again. This could take as long as a week or as little as the time it takes you to go make a cup of tea. The more the better, but this pause is vital to re-set your brain and allow you to move forward with improvements.
- You aren’t doing post-evaluation.
You’ve finally got the piece finished, edited, approved and sent out into the world. Now you never have to think about it again!
Nope. Take this outlook and you’re setting future you up to make the same mistakes all over again.
Remember when you set those goals at the beginning? Now it’s time to evaluate how well you achieved them.
Sometimes this might be simple. How many bites did you get off the press release or pitch? How many clickthroughs on your email? These are quantitative metrics that can give us instant feedback on our success or room for improvement.
But sometimes it’s more subtle. Maybe it’s asking a mentor for feedback on the deck you presented to leadership, even if the C-suite had poker faces while you were talking. Maybe it’s simply re-reading the piece after publication and asking yourself: Did this really speak to my audience? If I’d never seen this before, would I walk away with a different perspective?
The intent of this exercise isn’t to beat yourself up. It’s to celebrate what you did well and identify what you can do even better next time.
So stop being your own saboteur. Get your head on straight and write copy that resonates.