How to open up and create better work

An introvert’s guide to a more collaborative writing process

Angela Gorden
Nov 13, 2018 · 7 min read
Illustration by Fanny Luor

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

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

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.

Share broadly

Collecting feedback from designers, engineers, and product managers in copy docs throughout my writing process shapes how and what I write.

Creatures of different shapes, sizes, colors — Photo

Together, we craft more creative solutions informed by our diverse perspectives.

Make your work a team effort

1. Lay out the welcome mat

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

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 ⏰

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.

Share early

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

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? 💬

Ask questions

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

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.

People working on a laptop together — Photo

4. We’re in this together ✊

Find a buddy

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.

Stay put

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 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 🎁

Stay curious. Stay focused.

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.

Remember:

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

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.


Thanks to Andrea Drugay, Fanny Luor, John Saito, Kate Apostolou, Liana Dumitru, Roxy Aliaga, and the Dropbox Writers’ Circle for their feedback.

Want more from the Dropbox Design team? Follow our publication, Twitter, and Dribbble. Want to make magic together? We’re hiring!

Dropbox Design

We believe joy is the engine that powers the best ideas.

Angela Gorden

Written by

100% human. Product writing and content design.

Dropbox Design

We believe joy is the engine that powers the best ideas. We’re designing a more enlightened of working, so you can love the way you work. More on dropbox.design.

Angela Gorden

Written by

100% human. Product writing and content design.

Dropbox Design

We believe joy is the engine that powers the best ideas. We’re designing a more enlightened of working, so you can love the way you work. More on dropbox.design.

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