The Writer’s Dilemma: Coping with Edits

writingPeople are naturally protective of anything they create. And as writers, we’re particularly prideful of our work.

As a result, what may only be minor edits to our work can feel akin to the flying monkeys shredding apart the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.” (They took my headline and threw it over there! Then they took my call to action and threw it over there!).

The truth is we often take edits as criticism. And we often take criticism to heart.

These feelings can reach a whole new level of distress if you’re having ongoing differences of opinion with your “editor” (e.g. your client, your colleague, your boss, etc.). On one hand, disputing too many edits isn’t an option. You don’t want to convey the perception that you’re overly defensive and difficult to work with.

Conversely, you can’t abandon good judgment and common sense by hitting the “Accept All Changes Shown” button following every round of edits. After all, none of us want to be head-nodding “yes, boss” task monkeys.

Addressing the situation can make your life a little less stressful, and help ensure you deliver the best content possible.

Separate the Personal

Before reacting to edits, try to consider them through an objective prism. It’s important to remember that your writing is part of a larger purpose. Hard as it can be, sometimes we need to separate our personal attachment to our writing and accept what others can bring to it.

If anything, we should embrace our editors. Orson Welles once said, “All of the eloquence of film is created in the editing room.” The same goes for writing. The longer writers stare at their work, the more likely they’ll become word drunk and bleary eyed.

Yes, self-editing is important. But a good editor can offer a clear and sober assessment that can help refine a piece – or even elevate it.

And if you’re thinking, “I already wholly removed all personal attachment to my writing and appreciate meaningful editing. My editor and I just can’t get on the same page.”

Well, OK then. Let’s always remember to heed Jules’ advice from “Pulp Fiction” and be like little Fonzies – because Fonzie was cool.

Context Is Everything

Most writers in our business juggle several objectives in their work. They need to inform and persuade an audience, adhere to industry and brand standards, keep the legal department happy, support business or marketing goals, etc. However, your editor may not fully understand or appreciate this.

Don’t assume reviewers already grasp the many factors you’ve considered in your composition. Tell them. This can be as simple as elaborating about your copy, be it in an email, in the comments section of a Word document, or even a quick face-to-face discussion or phone call.

Some simple stage setting can go a long way in getting others on board with your writing. It can also help illustrate the deeper value that you bring to your writing that may not otherwise be evident in the writing itself.

Talk It Out

Sometimes, writers and editors have different ideas of what a communications piece should accomplish. It’s not unlike a Magic Eye picture. You may see an image hidden within a glob of dots. All I see is a glob of dots. (Seriously, I’ve never seen a single image in those silly things. I’m convinced it’s a hoax.)

Anyway, sometimes disagreements over writing may have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Rather, two parties may simply be working toward different end goals.

Establish a clear objective up front, before you start writing. And, of course, confirm those little but important details – audience, length, call to action, tone, etc. – that set the parameters for your writing. Discussing these things at the onset can help identify any points of disagreement before you start writing, and help ensure you and your editor are on the same page.

And keep the conversation going. It may feel awkward asking someone to explain their edits, but ideally you and your editor can discuss edits and changes either face-to-face or over the phone. This approach can be more constructive than simply challenging your reviewer, and gives you an opportunity to learn from the edits and apply that knowledge in your future work.

As with most things in life, a breakdown in communication is one of the biggest causes of strife and struggle between people in the workplace. And we are communicators, so talk it out.

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