The Other Side: Receiving Edits

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything that needed substantive edits from a subject matter expert or other approver. The other day, I masochistically watched my screen as three other approvers deleted clauses, added sentences, rewrote friendly turns of phrase, and grossly inflated what had been a tight little doc.

Countless times, I’ve talked to friends and colleagues about how to take feedback from others. But that day I realized I needed a refresher in my own course. A common refrain around my desk is “it’s not about you, it’s about the work.”

Well the truth is out: I can dish it out, but I can’t take it.

Sometimes, it helps to have something written out in black and white. So here it is, for the next time I lose sight of the process: a few tips for responding to edits from others.

1. Walk away from it.

First things first: take a step back.

If this is stressful to you, you’re probably involved emotionally, and that means it’s time for a break.

Eddie had a rough day too.

Emotional involvement can look different to different folks: you feel invested in an outcome of the project, you worry your reputation is on the line, you’re passionate about a subject, you want your point of view to be accepted or praised, and so many more.

You won’t be able to remove yourself from the editorial process if you don’t take a physical break from it.

2. Affirm yourself.

While you’re enjoying your coffee or taking a walk, or even planning to sleep on it, take at least a couple of minutes to affirm yourself.

Yes, I am being serious. How you affirm yourself is up to you. If it actually helps you to read, say aloud, or repeat affirmations in your head, here are a few to try:

  • I am a great communicator.
  • I have the skills I need to make this something excellent.
  • The people around me are smart and understanding.
  • My team creates content that meets our readers’ needs.
  • I am calm and confident, and ready to do this thing.

If affirmations aren’t your thing, then just remember this: you are the reason this document exists. Without you, the information would still be stuck in someone’s head, useless to anyone else. Communicators perform an invaluable service to others, by shedding light on new or hidden information.

Even if you are looking at a page covered in strikethroughs, there are kernels of knowledge there, and you’re to thank for that. You’re on the right path.

3. Reassess the goal of the piece.

Think back to why you started writing this thing in the first place. What problem does it solve? What’s the desired behavior for people who read it?

There are some great tools for this type of assessment, like job stories and problem statements.

Write down why the piece exists, what it needs to ‘do,’ and maybe a few statements or topics that must be included to achieve those goals.

4. Review those edits.

Now that you have had a break, feel good about yourself, and have confirmed what the document is all about, you can start working through the notes.

Consider each edit through the lens of those goals you jotted down. If you feel strongly about something, it’s always your prerogative to push back with evidence. But be real about who submitted the changes, and whether they’re likely to be receptive to your suggestion. Editors and mentors should be, but policy SMEs may not.

Keep going back to the goals. Are they met? Then you and your work are doing great.

You should be proud of yourself. Anthony Michael is.

I can attest that this is easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. And I forgot that.

So often, the things we write aren’t really ours. At work, writing should be an iterative process like anything else, and there’s rarely a single owner of it.

Similarly, your professional writing isn’t for you. It’s for your reader. It serves a purpose, meets a need, or achieves a business goal at a specific time or place. And it might take a few cooks in the kitchen to make sure those kernels of knowledge turn into the right solution for the right people.

Welcome it when you can, and keep it moving.