This guest post is by Barb Sawyers of Sticky Communication.
When I first started to write professionally, I hated people editing my work. To deal with these personal attacks, I would rant, cry, drink too much, and otherwise freak out.
But one day I parked my ego long enough to realize that many of these editors were highly skilled. Others knew more about the subject or the organization’s perspective than I did. I needed them.
Working in corporate communication, I was still stuck with the busy-bodies who felt they had to contribute to the tangle of edits that approvals processes create. A few were convinced they were “adding value” by inserting lame jargon or grammar mistakes.
These ego critics drove me crazy, still do. But the wise ones helped me become a better writer, still do. That’s why I seek out people with the skill and tough attitude to give me the criticism I need.
Seek out tough critics
With blogging and other content marketing, the more relaxed approach means many of us are spared the pain of the ego editors. But unless we’re writing for places with lots of editorial involvement, some of us don’t receive the guidance that would help us reach the next level.
We may ask blog buddies to review our work for typos and glaring problems. But how many of these friends are skilled, knowledgeable, and strong enough to deliver the blows to demolish what’s weak so we can replace it with something better?
Few people enjoy constructive criticism, but anyone who wants to become a better at blogging (or pretty much anything in life) has to learn how to handle the petty know-it-alls, open up to the wise ones, and grow. Many young people whose parents piled on the self-esteem building trophies have trouble with this.
Practice helps, too
But if young bloggers and content marketers combine this awareness with all the practice they get, now that everyone is tethered to a computer or similar device, what a force they can be.
I see my teenagers writing all the time, texting to friends and chatting online. I’ve been closely watching the blossoming of my daughter Maddy, who will be going to university this fall. In addition to her natural talent, Maddy gets top marks for her essays and other written material because she’s getting comfortable with having her ideas and writing challenged.
For example, with a recent paper about literary censorship she read various perspectives and tossed them around in her head. Then, over a pleasant meal, she told me what she was thinking about writing. I challenged her, not to be controlling or mean, but to encourage her to refine her thinking.
After dinner, she wrote her first draft. The next day, she asked me to take a look.
In addition to pointing out the grammar flubs and awkward phrases, I told her where her arguments were weak or her connections loose. Without me, her talent would have carried her. But because she opened herself to constructive criticism, she went farther.
Separate the wise from the wacky
Better still, her fellow students in her Writers’ Craft course critique each other. Let me confess that at first I didn’t enjoy seeing these kids nitpick an essay I’d reviewed. But most of them made good points, we agreed. Maddy ignored suggestions from the ego editors only when she could make a strong case to her teacher.
If she’s going to work in any field that involves writing, and so many do, she’ll have to learn from other people, defend herself, and sometimes suck it up. I hope she starts out with thicker skin and a more open mind than I did.
This constructive criticism, let me add, is a two-way street. As a freelance writer who should have her work checked before it goes to a client or my blog, I appreciated being able to ask my daughter to help. Far more valuable than catching my typos is her frequent comment: “Mom, this doesn’t make sense.”
I’m already worried about what I’m going to do once my favorite critic leaves home. Thank goodness our wired world means we can stay connected between Toronto and Montreal.
Bring it on
While I enjoy the “awesome post”-type comments, I love people who argue, suggest, or otherwise add to the discussion.
So readers, please tell me how you would improve this post or challenge my advice. I need you.