Every now and again, I look at my own copy, something I’ve written, and the diatribe begins: Why did you write “business person”? That’s so boring. It just sits there like a lump of poo in the middle of the yard.
What are you, an asshole? Don’t you proofread? Do you know how many people have read that by now? Do you know how much business you lost because you’re a stupid, sucky writer!
If I were to speak to a client that way, I would immediately be fired. But that’s my head trash. And I let it go on and on without once questioning why I’m speaking to myself in this abusive tone.
I wonder how many writers treat themselves this way. And I wonder when we’re going to learn to show ourselves the same grace that we extend towards our friends, peers, and colleagues.
When I tell people what I do, I hear a lot of complaints about the bad writers that they know. The conversation usually starts with misspellings, poor punctuation, awkward grammar, and typos. And there’s a lot of laughter about these “other” writers.
But the more I talk about my own clients’ struggles with organization and clear expression, juggling multiple audiences and the pressures of deadlines, people invariably begin to confess their own difficulties as well.
In fact, almost without exception, when I’m working with a client one-on-one, behind closed doors, or on the telephone, chatting on Skype or even in a series of email messages, I will eventually hear the confession: I’ve always felt like a bad writer. It’s such a struggle for me. I get so much negative feedback, and I don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing.
And this is from people who have Master’s Degrees, PhD’s, who have been writing for decades and who are supervising other writers.
Because here’s the truth: Writing is a craft. Like any other art, it is a product of the ego. And that little beast is the seat of our pride and our personality and our power, but it’s also where our all of our childish insecurity and fear sits.
So if I may make a modest suggestion: be kind.
Be kind to yourself. Recognize that not all the language instruction you have had has been “on point.” Realize that you are still learning. Understand that when you are juggling many complex ideas, multiple audiences, and tight deadlines, you will make mistakes and your writing will not always be as punchy and perfect as you would like.
Be kind to your editors. They’re here to help (most of them). Just like you, they’re oftentimes overworked and underpaid. And if they seem a little overzealous, assume that you share the common goal of wanting to produce the best possible manuscript for your readers.
Be kind to the writers you read. Believe that they wrote to be understood. Employ the principle of charity and work to understand them, even when the task seems daunting. Overlook a few flaws if you can. And remember what it feels like when the shoe is on the other foot.
Written communication matters, especially in the digital age. We’re reading now more than we ever have before. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, articles, websites—that’s all written content. Our web of knowledge grows more intricate every day and we need skilled writers who can convey complex ideas in language that is clear, simple, and powerful.
But we’re never going to attain that high standard if we continue to flagellate ourselves. Be kind. And in the soil of mercy, stretch your roots and grow.