I Read Your Piece. Want the Good News First?
By Caroline Vella, freelance content writer & editor
How do I put this nicely?
It’s been almost a year since I started working with Chris at Find A Way Media and we both still chuckle about how we met. It began with an email with the subject line: Do you want the good news first?
I came across his blog for writers as I was surfing around for articles and work prospects. I’m always interested in writerly advice, which is probably more of a distraction from actually writing but that’s a whole other blog. It led me to his site and I was immediately impressed by the company and the content. And he was hiring.
I admired that he was putting his thoughts and ideas out there. He was making something happen – or as marketing mind and best-selling author Seth Godin puts it, he was ‘shipping.’ He wasn’t just shipping words but he was also making a successful business out of it. As any writer knows, that’s not an easy task. I signed up for his weekly newsletter for writers and perused more of his articles. Then I spotted a typo (or two, or three).
Casting judgement aside, I reverted back to the very first words I heard in Marketing 101 many years ago: FIND A NEED AND FILL IT. I thought perhaps he could use another set of eyes to help him carry out his vision.
So I sent the email, which opened with how much I enjoyed his work and looked forward to following his blog. But then I had to break it to him: I did, however, find some typos. As a writer who knows that horror, I’d hate to see something so fixable tarnish the quality of his output. Then back to more good news: I offered my services as a copy editor.
That email got his attention. He says he appreciated my honesty and clever but diplomatic handling of the touchy subject – refreshing in the land of internet trolls. (I only recently discovered just how much he doesn’t love criticism.) From there, we struck up a dialogue, worked on a couple of test runs, and I’ve been Find A Way’s go-to copy editor ever since.
So, what’s the moral of this story? There are actually a few things going on here. First, if you are writing and publishing with any regularity, get yourself a good copy editor or proofreader. It’s not an area to skimp on. Or at the very least, enlist a trusted friend or coworker to give your writing a once-over. Even the best of us miss edits so it’s always best to ask for backup.
Having said that, don’t let the fear of imperfection stop you from shipping. While you should take every precaution to avoid pesky typos, don’t let that paralyze you and keep you from putting your work out there. Even Ann Handley, content expert and author of Everybody Writes recently mused on LinkedIn about “….proofing her work dozens of times only to catch the typo immediately after hitting publish.” Typos happen, even to experts.
Also, if you want to shine as a savvy marketing writer, you have to show, not tell, how your skills will stand out from the crowd. Anyone can say they’re a top-notch writer but actually earning rave reviews and thunderous applause is a skill all its own. The only way you get to that place is through consistent practice. No shortcuts. You wouldn’t call yourself a race car driver if you don’t spend any time behind the wheel. The same goes for writing. You have to take your craft out for a spin. A lot.
And that requires taking some chances. As with any creative endeavor, whenever you put yourself out there, you open the door to feedback. Be it from a client or editor or worse, the internet-at-large, you run the risk of being critiqued. Sure, praise is a possibility but that’s generally not what keeps writers frozen at their keyboard. You’ve put your heart and soul into it and though precious to you, your work may not always be received how you’d like – and that could be scary. (Even right now, I’m sweating it knowing I have to show this to Chris!) But fear is the dragon that all writers slay daily.
It’s as prominent researcher, author and wildly popular TED talker Brené Brown extols in her best-selling book Daring Greatly. The book’s title comes from this Teddy Roosevelt quote:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
In other words, anyone can sit in the stands and mock the guy in the arena. But until you’re willing to leave your comfort zone, put yourself out there and make something happen, you’ll never experience the exhilaration of daring – and you’ll never get anywhere.
I took a chance reaching out to Chris and he took a chance on a critic. If either of us were on our high horse, it would have never worked. I was careful not to attack him and he responded in kind. We’ve got a system that works for both of us and we learn something from each other with every project. We don’t agree on everything but we won’t let something as contentious, er, minor as an Oxford comma come between us. (He’s for. I’m against.) Because we both know first-hand the great joy that comes from daring to call yourself a writer. Mistakes and all.