When I first started to work, as a reporter at a daily newspaper, my editor would, grrrrrrrr, edit my precious writing. How dare he!
Sometimes I would rush to the washroom, bang my fist or shed a few tears, smoke a cigarette and squirt some Visine into my eyes before slinking back to my electric typewriter.
One day the light went on and I realized his advice was good. I learned. My writing improved.
The dangerous approvals hole
When I switched to government communication, a lot more people left their finger prints on the speech or press release I was crafting. They called this the approvals process. Often my back would go up, especially with those bureaucrats whose aim was to add pretentious jargon, but little value.
But I learned to love the suggestions that came from the experts on the topic I was writing about.
I also got better at sorting the gems of wisdom from the stones that would weigh down the copy. As I grew more confident, I would enlighten people on why I was rejecting specific feedback. Yes, I said rejecting.
I know it’s easiest to simply select “accept all” to those track-edited changes. I know it saves time, avoids conflict and makes important people like you. I also know it can weaken copy.
No participation trophies
Although now facing brutal competition, many of the younger generation of content creators were raised on “participation” trophies and self-esteem building parents. My folks called this spoiling your kids.
Because of this coddling, getting used to approvals may be even more difficult for them than it was for me. Plus they can no longer rush to the washroom for a smoke and sulk.
Years of therapy aside, hearing my mom natter about my slouching or seeing my dad wince at my clumsy attempt to connect bat with ball made me tough. And better able to accept, and stand up to, criticism.
So here are my nine tips, from more than 30 years of clenching my shoulder blades over squiggles and track changes. I dedicate them to you whose shelves groan under the weight of “participation” trophies.
1. Evaluate each change that has been suggested. Go with the helpful ones. Reject the silly ones. Do not succumb to well-educated, powerful people who change “its” to “it’s” when you know they are wrong.
2. Be prepared to explain. With people I expect to push back, I’ll often document my reasons in an email I draft while I go through the changes. For example, you may need specific wording to support the brand your company has so painstakingly created. They will see your point if you explain, but may miss it if you don’t.
3. Keep your mind open or you’ll miss recommendations that may improve your piece. Just as ego-driven people are the worst approvers, remember that ego-driven writers can end up with the worst content.
4. Don’t try to accommodate everyone when you’re dealing with multiple approvals. You will go insane. Focus on what’s correct grammatically, accurate factually and on message precisely.
5. Don’t muddy the waters with or add volume through multiple voices. Your next draft still needs to be clear and concise.
6. Remember the smart people will appreciate the back-and-forth collaboration that goes into improvement.
7. To make sure everything flows, rewrite and retighten after you have sorted all the gems from the stones.
8. Go boldly. When the words are important, fight for them.
9. Learn how to accept constructive criticism, the key to collaboration, thoughtfully and gracefully. It’s not about you. It’s about sorting the gems from all the stones you sometimes feels like they’re throwing at you.