What is it about writing that makes us question ourselves?
Why can we speak our minds in meetings, run ideas by people, and express our feelings without having input from someone before we open our mouths, but when words go to paper (or screen), we think they need someone else’s approval, or that someone else knows best?
Something about writing is tripping people up; something prompting people to ask, “Hey, can you look at this?” to not just one, but two, three people — sometimes even an entire company.
Then comes the ‘feedback’. The questions like “Are we sure we want to say it this way?” Next thing you know, unique and differently thinking brains collide in a medley of tones, voices, and input. The original copy veers from its original intention, lost in a sea of “How about this instead?”.
To be clear, having an editor review your work for typos, grammar, and general opportunities for clarity and improvement is something the toth shop team encourages. But editing loses all meaning when it becomes personal opinion and debate; it’s what we call editing by committee. And it’s holding your writing skills (yes, you — you have them) back.
Why is editing by committee an issue?
There are many reasons why editing by committee will set you back personally and professionally, but here are our top four:
Strikethroughs, comments, red text — a Google Doc with multiple users in it is more than an eyesore-kind-of-messy; it’s challenging for the document owner and original writer to piece it all together in a cohesive way. It becomes overwhelming, the original goal or direction might get lost, and the author feels they must factor in everyone’s suggestions.
Organizing this information takes time, especially when everything needs to be taken into consideration and workshopped together. What if one person likes one idea and another disagrees? How many back-and-forths will there be? How many rounds of edits are enough? And how long will you put off launching whatever it is you want to share?
It’s a blow to your confidence.
Chaos and the clock ticking aside, seeing your writing marked up to oblivion sucks – plain and simple. It’s disheartening to put work into copy only to have people shut it down and prioritize their vision.
It stifles writing and creativity.
The hit to your writing confidence could be enough to stifle your creativity altogether, turning writing into the role of a Kindergarten teacher who needs to ensure everyone gets along and plays nice.
The difference between giving feedback and editing by committee
People often confuse editing by committee with “giving feedback”. They say feedback is a gift, but we’ll argue the skill of giving good feedback is an ever greater one. To transform editing by committee into actionable and helpful feedback, here’s what we’ve come to learn:
Good feedback is not personal.
It removes emotion from the equation in favor of the end goal. Hot tip: remove the word “I” from your feedback to keep it objective and neutral. For example, “I’m not sure about this sentence.” can be “Something about this sentence isn’t landing. How about saying (XYZ) instead.” This brings us to the next point…
Good feedback is specific.
Good feedback provides clear direction on what might need to be fixed or reconsidered. Highlighting something and saying “Not sure about this part” is not feedback; it’s thinking out loud. If there’s something you’re not sure about, flag it for yourself to mull over until you have something to offer that provides value for the writer.
Good feedback permits disagreement.
A telltale sign of editing by committee is when the author doesn’t feel comfortable disagreeing with a suggestion. Feedback should permit the writer to decline a perspective and not feel like they need to accept and apply everything that’s offered to them.
Good feedback provides the opportunity to improve, not alter.
True feedback offers ways to make something better, not change it to suit someone else's interests. In a business environment, this is why it’s crucial for teams to be aligned in their vision/mission/values before the writing process begins. All feedback should be given with the larger vision in mind and finding the best way to get there using words.
Next time you want to edit by committee, remember this:
If writing still has you or your team feeling gun-shy, here are our pep talk points to keep in mind.
What you write means something.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist. Value every draft and, remember, they’re drafts — they’re the building blocks toward the final product. If you think/feel/are curious about it, write it. Just get started.
Handpick your writers’ table.
When tackling a large content project (like a website rewrite), handpick two to three editors to sit at the writers' table at the beginning of the process, and then close the door. There’s no need for more than four sets of eyeballs on a writing project.
Nothing is permanent.
This is the beautiful thing about living in the digital era — copy can be a living, breathing thing. It can evolve and change with you. But in order for it to do that, it needs to exist in the first place. So get it out there, and sooner than you think you’re ready to.
“But what about print?” you might ask. Our response — own what you do. Maybe you didn’t use the *perfect* word, or nail down the *perfect* mission statement. It’s ok. Embrace each step of your writing journey, for better or for worse.