5 bad writing habits (and how to quit them)

We all have bad habits. Our writing included. I’ll tell you some of my bad writing habits: I tend to get lengthy. I love filler words like “really” and “very” and “totally.” I use too many parentheses. (I guess it’s my way of trying to hide the fact that this sentence is way too long already…)

Oh, and I use ellipses too much. It’s creepy. 

Yes. Some of our writing habits can be identity markers. Little quirks that make our writing sound uniquely ours. Some of them might even be worth keeping in, for brand voice purposes. 

But that's not what this post is about. This one's about the bad habits that will confuse, turn off, or even repel readers. The ones that might be losing us subscribers, clients, and sales.

The good news? They are all easy to spot and easy to fix. Eradicate them from your writing, and your content will immediately be much more irresistible. 

5 bad writing habits, and how to quit them

Bad habit nr. 1: We don’t know who we’re writing for

Confession time: I did this wrong for so long. And then I thought I did it right because I imagined some vaguely defined group as my audience. Like “small business owners.” But I still had no real idea of what kind of business owner I was talking to. They felt like a faceless crowd to me. And as a result, my writing was bland like dressing-less salad. It was probably alright, but it didn’t truly resonate with anyone.

Ideally, you should picture just one person when you write. Imagine them vividly: what they look like, what their life is like, what their dreams and struggles are, and where they’re sitting when reading your copy. It will feel ridiculous and unnecessary, but it works. I promise. I know it can feel off-putting to mentally exclude all those other people when you’re writing. But they won’t notice. The only ones who will notice are the people you’re targeting. Because to them, it will feel like you’re inside their head, reading their mind.

Aim to blow just a handful of people away with your content. It’s a lot better than being utterly forgettable to thousands of people, don’t you agree?

Bad habit nr. 2: We use fancy or complicated language

We love to complicate things, don’t we? We love the lavishly long sentences and the smart-sounding acronyms and the clever alliterations. (Which I totally just used in that very same sentence. See? Can’t help myself.) 

We love these things because they make us sound professional. We might use industry jargon to showcase that we know our stuff. Sometimes, we’re not even aware we’re doing it. Or we figure the smarter we sound, the more we’ll impress prospective clients. 

The truth? Your clients might know all of the concepts you’re slinging around, but what will impress them is your ability to talk to them like a human being. It makes you feel more approachable.

For the ones that don’t know what you’re talking about, your jargon might confuse them, or even make them feel stupid. Confused people are usually not in a buying mood. They just want their problem solved, and it’s not their job to know how.

Your readers are busy and distracted. Do them a kindness by simplifying your language. Shorten your sentences. Loosen it up. Write like the way you'd talk to clients in a face-to-face meeting. 

It’ll make you look more pro than all the buzzwords in the world.

Bad habit nr. 3: We write more than we need to

There’s nothing wrong with long copy if the time and place are right. In fact, long-form sales copy is one of the highest converting forms of copy there is. The text in a sales letter needs to be lengthy to bring someone from a state of unawareness and doubt to a desire to buy. And the people who write compelling long-form sales copy are usually fucking geniuses.

The longer the text, the more skill is required to maintain the reader’s attention. As long as it does, it can be as long as it needs to be. But in most other cases, the more text we put in front of our readers, the less likely they are to get through it. Sad, sad, but true.

So bring out those scissors. If you can say the same thing with fewer words, do it. Always.

Bad habit nr. 4: We lack story and structure

This is not a writing thing. It’s an editing thing. I assure you: it’s not just you and me. No matter how good a writer someone is, the first version of anything they write will be more or less crappy. Overly wordy, messy, unclear, and in bad need of editing. Editing is where we take the hunk of word spaghetti we just produced and turn it into something enjoyable to read.

So what is enjoyable to read? Stories. Conversations. Texts that evoke imagery and emotion. In short: content that feels like an immersive experience.

I’ve always felt that reading great content is like going for a guided tour. You never feel lost or confused. You can sit back and enjoy the experience the writer takes you on. 

Think about your content as an amusement park ride: What kind of ride is it? What’s the setting? What's the pace? What’s the starting point and where do you want your rider/reader to end up? What will you show them along the way? What feelings and thoughts do you want to leave them with?

When you write your first draft, just write. Don’t worry about structure. But when you edit your content: think about your ride and the type of experience you want to give your reader. Use that to give your piece story and structure.

Bad habit nr. 5: We’re self-centered

It’s not our fault. It’s our nature. 

But when it comes to telling stories that make people want to be around us, and possibly give us money, we need to focus on them. We need to write in a way that makes them feel like the most important person in the universe. Because they are, in their mind. And we want to be around people that make us feel seen, understood and important.

If you can do that for your reader - make them feel seen, understood and important - you’ll be lightyears ahead of everyone else.

It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about yourself, ever. You absolutely should, that’s how you’ll create a personal connection to your audience and build trust. Be yourself, tell relevant stories from your life, show some vulnerability. But always do it to connect deeper with your reader. Always have a dialog with them in your mind.

Just like with bad habit number 1, the solution is knowing who you’re writing for. Because when you do that, you’ll know just what kind of reading experience will blow their minds. And we always wanna blow minds with our content, don’t we? We’re such high-achievers.

And there you have’em! Five (relatively easy) ways to up your writing game and win peoples’ hearts.