How to open up and create better work
An introvert’s guide to a more collaborative writing process
Once upon a time, I thought being a writer meant waking up late and spending hours in a dimly lit room hunched over a laptop with my brow furrowed, in my own private world.
And yet, as a UX writer on a product design team, my days are full of stand-ups, brainstorms, project kick-offs, writing workshops, and design sessions.
Go figure. Projects move fast, and there’s little time to withdraw into an interior writing world to perfect ideas before sharing them.
Beware of silos
Before I joined a design team, my creative writing and publishing background trained me to keep unfinished work private.
Work-in-progress seemed like a sacred personal space where I could burrow into my own ideas.
And for team projects, I might spend hours in private docs, refining concepts, and polishing language.
Here’s the problem. Eventually, you emerge triumphantly, ready to present your work to the team, only to realize that the project has changed direction or new constraints have emerged.
Time to start over.
Sure, sharing a crude sketch or your messy, unorganized notes can feel awkward, even risky. But as a UX writer, sharing early saves me time and breeds creativity.
A more collaborative approach could make you a more nimble, savvy writer too.
First person, plural
Think about the last thing you wrote for work. Was it a design spec, an error message, a splash screen, or creative brief?
Have something in mind? Good.
No matter the format or style, writing is about getting your point across. And it usually helps to get feedback from people along the way.
The next time you’re working on a spec or a project with multiple stakeholders, take a look around.
Is it just you and the tumbleweeds in that Super-Important-Project-Doc?
If so, proceed with caution. It’s easy to get blocked and stuck in your own head. Writing for products can’t be done on your own. You need partners.
Taking cues from product designers and other UX writers, I’ve traded in my reclusive writing habits for more inclusive ones.
Collecting feedback from designers, engineers, and product managers in copy docs throughout my writing process shapes how and what I write.
Together, we craft more creative solutions informed by our diverse perspectives.
Make your work a team effort
Welcoming people into your process may take practice. Here are 5 ways to make your writing process more collaborative.
1. Lay out the welcome mat
First things first. You’ll be getting feedback from people with different expertise and approaches to problem-solving. You’ll need an open mind and a way to share ideas in a central place.
You could use a collaborative editing tool like Dropbox Paper. Create a doc and share it with your team.
Try thinking of your shared doc like a writing salon, a comfy living room full of color and light where everyone is welcome to add ideas.
Welcome exploration and encourage people to share their thoughts.
Humans inspire humans
Seeing a coworker’s face show up in your doc can motivate you to keep working and build out your ideas.
I like to imagine that the faces in my doc belong to a crowd of supporters sitting on cold metal bleachers at a track meet, cheering me on, some even ready to jump in and grab the baton when I get winded.
2. Timing is everything ⏰
Are you ready to share? Think about it.
You’ll be inviting people to share and help inform your thinking and writing choices. Before you do, you might want to pause. Sharing too early can put you on edge and make it hard to get down ideas.
So, give yourself a moment to capture your initial thoughts before inviting people to comment and add their own.
Capture your initial spark and outline your vision for the project: sketches, handwritten notes, brainstorms.
Decide on a set amount of time you want to work in “solo writer mode.” This could be 30 minutes, an hour, or a few days. The point is to be specific and track your time.
The simple act of sharing can move your work forward, so go ahead and invite someone you trust to weigh in.
After you’ve heard from one person, reflect on their feedback. Make changes if you need to, then start inviting more people.
Give ’em a bird’s eye view
Make your plans visible at the top of your doc or at the very bottom. Even if you’re not sure of everything, push yourself to share anyway.
If you like outlines, go ahead and include one in your doc, or try including a sketch or to-do list.
It may be tempting to apologize for mistakes and half-finished sections. Instead, add a brief comment in the doc that sums up what you want to work on.
3. How are things going? 💬
You can use your shared doc to make sure you’re on the same page with your team.
When you share work-in-progress, be specific about the type of feedback you‘d like. For example:
Trying to decide between 3 different directions? Ask people to comment on what they think is and isn’t working.
Struggling with a problem section? Highlight that part of the doc and ask for advice.
Or share a list of questions at the top of the doc and check them off as you gather answers.
Nearly finished? Bravo! Ask someone for a quick proofread.
Banish writer’s block
Words are hard. Feel like you’re stumbling around in the dark? Check in with design partners and stakeholders.
Are unanswered questions holding you back? Is the purpose of the project clear? Do you need more data?
Let people know that you’d like their help clarifying the goals.
Whatever’s going on, capture your concerns in a doc. You could start a section called “Open Questions.” Or just pin comments throughout a brainstorm or meeting notes doc.
Then, invite someone else and get things moving together.
4. We’re in this together ✊
Master the social side of sharing your work-in-progress.
Find a buddy
Inviting someone to “look over your shoulder” can increase focus and build momentum. Keeping a specific person in mind can give you a greater awareness of writing for an audience and lend purpose to your work.
After all, a sense of community and accountability makes movements like National Novel Writing Month so good at making people productive writers.
When it comes to getting writing done, there’s a lot to be said for positive peer pressure. Let a friend know how your writing project is going. Tell them when you expect to finish and encourage them to ask you about it later.
Have you ever had the instinct to copy everything into a private doc where you can “clean it up” when you see that someone else has opened your shared doc?
Yeah? I’ve been there.
Let’s say that you’re typing away in a first draft, feeling pretty good about your progress. Plenty left to do, but things are starting to come together.
Suddenly, your lead’s face appears in the upper-right hand corner of your doc.
Why is she looking at this now? I’m not done!
Mid-sentence, your fingers freeze over the keyboard.
Ugh!!! I never asked him about doing it this way. What if he hates it?
If your flight-or-fight instincts kick in, you may feel an intense desire to hide your vulnerabilities. Instead, try staying present.
Stay calm and type on
It’s great when your teammates show interest in your work. But, when you’re in a state of flow, comments from others can seem like distractions.
It can be hard to process feedback and continue writing at the same time.
If you’re working in a shared doc and feeling overwhelmed by an onslaught of comments, it’s probably fine to ignore them until you’re ready to review them.
Yep. That’s what I said. Ignore feedback…at least for a while.
Try adding a comment at the top of the doc letting everyone know you’ll respond later.
5. Feedback is a gift 🎁
Absorb, evaluate, and prioritize comments and suggestions from your team.
Stay curious. Stay focused.
Ever received feedback that just seemed way off-base? Not every suggestion will be helpful or even relevant, but resist getting defensive and dismissing ideas outright.
Being respectful of a variety of perspectives is part of the creative process for team projects, even when you’re facing deadlines or have a very different opinion.
Feedback is a conversation. Ask follow-up questions to be sure you understand. Sometimes, a face-to-face conversation can prevent misunderstandings and add clarity.
Put things in context. Return to your plan or outline and prioritize feedback that helps with the goals of the project. Try applying that feedback and ask people to take another look.
You did good
It’s easy to overlook positive feedback and dwell on negative comments.
If you’re working on something challenging, try keeping encouraging comments open in your doc.
It may sound silly, but glancing at a little praise every now and then can keep up your morale as you refine your writing.
All for one
This first person, plural approach could save time, reveal new ideas, and help you get unstuck.
I think it makes writing things like specs, UX copy, reports, and project plans more fun and rewarding. For me, a more transparent and inclusive process helps things fall into place faster and makes it easier to get buy-in from team members.
Has sharing early ideas ever helped you create better work? Tell us about it in the comments.