Fear is the Mind Killer: Writing Faux Pas That Scare Away Readers

Even professional writers make mistakes from time to time. But mistakes can lead to copy that repels readers instead of attracting them. Here's what you need to lose in your writing.

scary writing
Photo: Avery Cocozziello via Unsplash

What scares you? Is it falling asleep and never waking up? The fear of being alone? Or even just putting your phone down in a public place and forgetting to pick it back up? For the team at MarketSmiths, we fear lackluster writing. You know it when you see it. Writing that’s confusing, riddled with poor grammar, and lacking a well-thought-out central thesis that hooks you from word one—it’s terrifying. 

Fear not! We’ve devised a clear, concise list of five writing no-nos that scare away your readers. By following these tips on what not to do when writing any and everything, your writing will improve tenfold.

1. Don’t come unprepared

First thing’s first, know what you want to write before you sit down to write it. That might sound obvious, but it’s something even seasoned writers can struggle with. 

You can always tell when a writer started writing before they understood the bigger picture of what they wanted to communicate. In the end, the piece feels tepid and goes nowhere fast. 

Always start by outlining the main beats you want the work to hit, even if all you’re looking to jot down is a single line of snappy marketing copy. By having a baseline to refer back to, you’ll be able to stay the intended course and produce something that’s punchy and impactful. For example, I started this blog by writing down the five main points I wanted to communicate, then organized them in such a way to tell a story.

2. Don’t make it about yourself

Nobody likes feeling like they’re being sold to. 

I don’t just mean that for literal marketing materials—you can tell reading certain books when the writer thinks particularly highly of themselves. Instead of being focused on the reader’s perspective of the material, these kinds of writers might use flowery language and reference obscure bits of historical trivia to show off how many Wikipedia rabbit holes they’ve been down.

Unless you’re writing a personal social media post or a memoir, never assume the writer is there for you. They’re spending their time and hoping to get something meaningful out of it. In other words, you’re an accessory to the message, not the message itself.

3. Don’t overload the reader

With books, it’s acceptable and often expected for chunks of prose and dialogue to go long. But when you’re writing a script, for example, something you can read in your head in just a few seconds might take an actor half a minute to get through—which can feel exhausting.

If that sounds like something you’ve written recently, chances are there are superfluous bits to be cut. Look at song lyrics or poetry as a great example of how to construct an idea that’s short, memorable, and to the point. And speaking of points…

4. Don’t disregard your editors

Editors exist to save your writing from itself. As objective bystanders, editors can see your work more clearly for what it actually is—which can be a bitter pill for many writers to swallow.

Your editor likely has multiple years of experience delivering high-quality work. So if they say something needs to be cut or changed, there’s a pretty good chance they’re right.

That doesn’t mean you have to uncritically accept their suggestions. Maybe they missed an idea you were trying to communicate which, if edited to make it more clear, will help the piece to sing. But it should tell you something if the idea in and of itself wasn’t that apparent in the first place. 

Do yourself and your editor a favor and trust their input. And lastly…

5. Don’t hand off your work without checking it

This final tip is another that on paper should go without saying. But when you’ve worked with writers long enough, you can tell when in the heat of the moment a writer just kind of wrote, meaning they didn’t check to make sure if what they said actually made any sense. 

When you finish a draft, walk away from it for a while. Give yourself some time to forget what you said. No, really! This will help you when you come back to read it. You might immediately notice room for improvement, or realize that even you don’t know what you were trying to say!

Shining a light in the darkness 

You might be thinking: none of these tips are big secrets, really. But that’s the most frightening secret of all: each tip is so fundamental that sometimes writers (myself included) need to be reminded. By adhering to these five writing tips to improve your work, you’ll scare yourself silly. 

Need a killer writing team that’s unafraid to meet your copy needs? Meet the hauntingly good team at MarketSmiths

Devin Raposo

Devin Raposo

Forever curious, Devin writes to learn. Before becoming a ‘Smith, he studied as a software engineer while honing his craft writing short fiction as well as acerbic cultural critique in the arts space.

More from MarketSmiths

Why poets make great copywriters

How Poetry Translates into Great Copywriting

marketing copy oscars

If Marketing Copy Won Oscars, These Standouts Would Sweep the Awards

A British train in motion

The U.K.’s ‘Traingate,’ or How a Few Distracting Words Can Derail Your Brand’s Message

copywriters channel your voice

How Worthy Copywriters Find & Channel Your Voice

Inc 5000 content agency

M/WBE certified enterprise.

Design by WorstOfAllDesign. Digital Strategy by MadPipe. Photography by Chellise Michael.