“Be Ruthless. I’m a Writer.”

This post was written by John White on Wed, 08 Jul 2009 18:20:38 +0000
Posted Under: rapport with writer,review loop,vetting writers

Medieval public beheadingHave you ever had a writer say that to you? How did you respond?

More to the point: How can you be ruthless in your feedback on a draft?

I consider the line a good ice breaker. I’ve used it with marketing managers and engineers who appear uneasy about the process of judging my writing. It’s not really that I want them to tell me that my work is a great heap of useless nonsense, but I don’t want politeness to get in the way of information, because that will slow down the business at hand.

Here are a few ways of interpreting it:

  1. “I don’t deserve your praise, so lower the boom.” If you’ve hired a writer with an inferiority complex – or worse yet, somebody incompetent – you’ve probably hired the wrong writer. If you get ruthless with this person, you’re going to ruin the relationship and the document.
  2. “Let me put you at ease: You’re not going to hurt my feelings.” This writer is a “pleaser.” It’s hard to know whether pleasers are really working with you, or just satisfying their urge to please. They’re generally honest when they tell you that you won’t hurt their feelings, though, so don’t be afraid to criticize their work roundly.
  3. “Look, you’re the one with the information, I’m the one with the keyboard, and we both need this piece to tell your story properly. Let’s not allow politeness to interfere with the job we both have to do.” This is a pretty businesslike way of looking at the matter; “be ruthless” doesn’t really do it justice, but this is what it boils down to.

As on the Web, people usually find it easier to be ruthless when they’re not sitting across the desk from you and looking you in the eye. So, if you’re still new to the concept of being ruthless with your writer, you’ll find it easier when you’re not reviewing a draft in real time. Tell the writer you need some time to go through the piece on your own and then get back with comments.

You can be much more ruthless and businesslike when the only personality you’re dealing with is that of a red pen or a blinking cursor. Let the writer deal with it afterwards.

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