Copywriting is a creative endeavor guided by strict sets of rules. Writers follow endless grammar and style guidelines, contain themselves within boundaries outlined in instructions from managers or clients, and stay within the limits of their editors’ requests. Despite the endless rules, few guidelines show them the way. Often, writers bounce between the creative and business worlds, hoping they’re pleasing everyone and doing their jobs well.

The following six pieces of advice aren’t more rules: They’re guidelines writers can live by when they’re starting out in their careers. By following these ideas, you will soon be on your way to a great content creation career.

Only Accept What You Can Handle

Image via Flickr by Adikos

On the in-house side, many writers don’t have a say in their workloads, but freelance writers can decide how much they accept and when. When you’re first starting out, make sure you know exactly how much you can handle and base your schedule on that level of work. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew to the point of missing deadlines and frustrating editors. Your best bet is to set goals for the day and leave room to take on more if you complete your assignments.

From the in-house side, talk to your managers if you feel like your workload is overwhelming. Your supervisors may think that you can handle the work, but they may not understand the stress they’re causing. Discuss their expectations early on instead of waiting for your work to suffer and getting asked about your performance.

Pad Extra Space for Edits, Rewrites, and Personal Crises

Whether you’re an in-house writer or a freelancer, you’re going to watch deadlines closely. If you’re lucky, you will have some say — or at least negotiating power — when you need to submit content. Smart copywriters treat their deadlines like they treat their finances: Always pad a little more than you need.

First, budget flexibility removes the stress from writing. Not all writers can work well under pressure, and they end up producing worse content than they would in a calm scenario. Second, extra space leaves room for meetings, calls, and general crises to occur. On the corporate side, the internet could go down or a company meeting could stop work for the day. On the freelance side, a power outage could strike or a sick child could need your attention. By padding your schedule, the odds increase that you will hit your deadlines and continue to be known as one of the most reliable copywriters out there.

Take a Step Back Before Editing or Submitting

Another benefit to padding your schedule with extra space is the ability to set aside time to regroup before submitting. While you may be tempted to push through and end the day well, you could end up with typos slipping through the cracks. Sentences that sounded great in your head could actually be muddled by exhaustion. Step away from the keyboard before you start editing.

You don’t necessarily need a long break. Sometimes, a trip to the bathroom or mailbox can clear your head enough for fresh editing; however, you may need to walk away from a piece for a few hours — or even a day — before you’re ready to read it with fresh eyes. The benefits will be worth your effort. You will find problems with flow and errors that you would not have caught with a tired brain.

Write Like Everything Has a Byline

Most copywriters would like to believe their work is interesting and worthy of the Pulitzer Prize, but that thinking isn’t practical. Eventually, you’re going to end up writing something that’s bland and technical, something no one reads. You can be tempted to slack off and do only the bare minimum, but that idea could hurt you in the long run.

Failing to do your best can result in rewrites, making a difficult assignment take more time than you intended. Your lackluster efforts could frustrate editors, and they could become reluctant to assign content to you in the future. Staying motivated isn’t always easy, but if you treat every piece of content like your name — and reputation — is at stake, then you’re sure to continue impressing clients, editors, and managers.

Accepting Criticism Is Hard, But Make It a Crucial Part of Your Writing

Even the best writers are at the mercy of their editors and clients. Accepting feedback and making changes are hard pills to swallow, but they are key to thriving in the content industry. If you understand that your editors have your best interest in mind and want to make your content better, then you will (eventually) become more receptive to their comments. On the client-feedback side, you have to understand that clients seek something specific, and they pay you for your services.

If you struggle to accept feedback, use some of the deadline padding we mentioned earlier in this post. Read the feedback and take a walk to accept it. Wait until you’re in a relaxed place to accept criticism and make the requested changes. Your writing, and your professional relationships, will improve.

Read Your Writing Out Loud to Hear Whether The Words Make Sense

Our brains become wired to fill in gaps with incorrect or missing words. A writer or editor can more easily catch a misspelled word or incorrect “to” compared to spotting the word “bill” instead of “pill.”

From a proofreading flow side, our brains can easily turn on autopilot and make sense of sentences as we read them. To solve this issue, find a quiet space and read your writing out loud as if you were presenting your writing as a speech. You will inevitably find typos and grammar errors, but you will also find problems with flow and thoughts that don’t make sense. Your mouth and brain force you to become a better editor.

Writers have their own secret mantras and guidelines for working successfully in the content marketing industry, but most will agree with the above six copywriting guidelines. By following them, you and your clients will be happier and more successful with your writing work.

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