To Be a Better Writer, Accept Edits with Grace (5 Steps)

Image via Ivan Prole
Image via Ivan Prole

When co-workers offer comments about something you wrote, do you accept their feedback with grace and ease or do you bristle like a threatened porcupine?

If it’s the latter, be careful. You could get tagged as “difficult” — the Sean Young of the workplace.

Never heard of Sean Young? There’s a reason: she was difficult. (But do be sure to rent No Way Out sometime to see her in the breakout role that should have made her forever famous, instead of infamous.)

Being Edited is Not as Bad as Root Canal

I personally have a visceral objection to being edited, but I appreciate its value. It’s like going to the dentist — I don’t necessarily like doing it, but I know it’s good for me. It almost always produces some useful insights and results in a better product.

Learning how to handle being edited is an important skill, because no matter what you do, somebody — a boss, colleague, board, attorney or some (other) busybody — is going to have a say in what you write.

So here are a few tips for making the process easier on everyone.

1. Be open to constructive criticism

That’s what edits are — they’re criticism. So it’s natural that we don’t always react positively when we’re edited. Suppress the urge to dismiss people’s comments out of hand. Go into the process with the outlook that every piece of writing, even your own, can stand improvement.

2. Don’t get defensive

This is business; it’s not personal. Take emotion out of the equation. Approach the process rationally and logically. Nobody’s saying your baby is ugly.

3. Choose your battles

If you resist every little change and argue with equal conviction against every little comment or revision,¬†you’ll appear unreasonable. People will assume you’re driven by ego and not the desire to get the best possible result. Let the little things go so you preserve the credibility necessary to defend the things you truly feel strongly about.

4. Approach it like a negotiation

As with any negotiation, you need to learn how to read the other party’s personality and mood. Listen to their concerns, push back if necessary, but understand the limits of their patience and tolerance for dissent.

5. Remember: it’s not art, and you’re not Shakespeare

Don’t get too wedded to your beautiful prose. In business, pragmatism is more important than purity, and style must sometimes take a backseat to substance.

Of course, this all assumes that the people giving you feedback are well-intentioned and skilled at editing. If they’re not, you might want to find a diplomatic way to share these essential tips for being a better editor.