5 terrible copywriting habits (you probably already have)

Photo credit: Pat Joyce, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/phatcontroller/

Typically, I would feel like a hideous fraud offering advice to anyone about anything.

But, with these five terrible copywriting habits, the fact that I have/do/will always suffer from them, makes it all a little less awkward.

Copywriting, in my experience, is a series of brutal humiliations punctuated by punctuation.

It is, fortunately, a profession in which wild and frequent failure is not merely excused, but expected — at least for any writer who realises that risk and triumph tend to share the same square on the board.

But even if we are taught to embrace our mistakes, that doesn’t mean our copywriting practice and process doesn’t need the occasional scab picking away.

These, as it were, are my partially picked scabs.


A copywriter is no more capable of birthing a wonderful line on-the-spot than they are of forcing a sweet potato thorough their eye socket.

Throughout your career great lines may — and hopefully will — pop into your mind without strain… but never when you are trying very, very hard to make that happen.

Remember, great copy is like a horny panda. It won’t get its willy out while you’re watching.


There are an awful lot of ‘rules’ written about copywriting — which is odd when you realise how utterly lawless an occupation it is.

Following these rules often means trying to write your ad in the order in which it will be read — as if you were writing, and thinking, in a straight line.

But it is better to write your ad in the way it falls out of your head and rearrange the pieces later.

It’s like how the realisation you’ve created an excellent Lego dinosaur only arrives when you notice the space rocket you were aiming for looks a little funny.


The most self-defeating attitude a copywriter can have is to mistake seeking inspiration for cheating.

Looking at great ads before you write is not stealing (unless you do actually steal it, and then your bad habits are even worse than mine).

The label of ‘creative’ can be an unenviable burden if it compels you to rely solely on your own inner spark for great ideas.

That’s why great writers are happy to let greater ones push them up the hill. Because things tend to look a lot clearer when they get to the top.


Copywriters should challenge themselves. They should pick apart their own words and shine beams of light through the holes.

But, quite often, a writer who sets out to challenge their work, ends up doubting their ability instead.

But here’s the thing.

When you’re a copywriter you have control of precisely no meaningful element in the entire rickety path toward success. Except, that is, for yourself.

Of course, blindly believing in bad work isn’t going to make it — or you — any better.

But refusing to believe in your own good work casts a shadow on even the brightest ideas.


The hardest thing you will ever learn to do (and probably will never fully master) is separating yourself from your words.

And, by far, the worst arguments I ever heard for a line of copy, were those where the copywriter was fighting for something they loved.

The most difficult arguments for anyone to challenge, however, are when you can demonstrate how these words will speak to the person they were designed to reach.

That is the only feeling that counts. The only perspective that should be allowed in the room.

So write as if you’re writing with a second head on your shoulder — the head of the person who might just want the thing you’re asking them to want.

It’s hard to trust a writer who puts themselves before the brief. But it’s hard to resist one who chooses to persuade rather that posture.

Andrew Boulton is a Senior Lecturer on the Creative Advertising course at the University of Lincoln.

Senior Lecturer in Creative Advertising at the University of Lincoln & Copywriter