If you fall in love with a turn of phrase you’ve created, you won’t want to change it — even when you should. You’ll make the words around it do backbends so you can keep it. Reviewers will be uncannily drawn to your phrase and try to change it. And you will react out of proportion to their criticism, which could leave you frustrated and cost you credibility points.
It’s that phrase, sentence or paragraph you think really shines. You smile every time you read it — and congratulate yourself on the inspiration that led you to create it. Then why in the world is everyone who reads it trying to change it?
Here are the tips we can use to see if it’s “us” or “them” on this one.
Trick #1: Whose purpose does it serve?
Does our deathless prose actually help readers understand the point we’re making — or is its point to make us look good?
Let’s be honest: anyone who writes something for others must have a bit of an ego — otherwise she wouldn’t be able to write. But let’s keep the emphasis on “bit of” rather than “an ego.” It’s quaint to read Victorian novels that address us as “dear reader,” reminding us that the author has an active role in what we’re reading. However, it’s death to a communication or piece that’s meant to persuade when our writerly fingerprints smear the important points.
Trick #2: Do others’ suggestions improve what we wrote?
This is perhaps the best test of the amount of ego in your writing. Spend that extra second asking, “What will my readers better understand: my approach or the new one?” And if it’s the new one, make the change. (Then find a way to work your beloved phase into a conversation with friends and colleagues who will appreciate it.) When your goal is to communicate with others, their needs trump yours.
Sometimes the suggestion doesn’t improve the text, and your idea is the better solution. Then keep it. Some people don’t believe they’ve done their job unless they change something they’re reviewing, so know when this is happening to you.
Trick #3: Don’t argue about it.
If you are (inwardly) jutting out your jaw as you explain to someone why your words are better than theirs, then you’ve already lost the battle. There’s no way you can come off as anything but defensive or egotistical — calling your credibility into question. It’s just not worth it.
Over your career, you’ll create many wonderful communications — if you don’t antagonize the people who pay you to do this. Live to write another day.