Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reasons People Criticize Your Writing—That Have Nothing to Do With Your Writing

I have a lot of friends who don’t write for a living, but who still write a lot in the context of their jobs. And I frequently hear them complain that the feedback they get from coworkers, bosses, and stakeholders in their writing is excessively critical and demoralizing. It’s a frustration I can definitely relate to. And as someone who does this as my day job, I’ve had to develop a very thick skin.

The thing is, sometimes the criticism is warranted. Sometimes there is definite room for improvement. But you always have to take into account that you might be dealing with an alternative agenda, especially when the criticism is excessively negative or looks irrational. It may not be about you at all—but about one of these things instead.

They want to prove their own expertise. Some people think of themselves as great writers—and yet for some reason, they’ve had to bring in a professional writer to do the project. These people often can’t help attacking your work with a red pen—more to prove to others and themselves that they are, indeed, writers themselves than to really help you improve the copy. If they’re getting very insistent about a grammatical rule that you broke mindfully for the sake of tone, for instance, you’re probably dealing with someone like this.

They’re not sold on this project. It’s possible that the person you’re dealing with isn’t sold on the prospect of hiring you—even after you’ve been hired. Maybe they resent the money spent—and maybe they wanted to hire someone else but were overruled. Sometimes, people in this situation may take it out on you. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard of instances where a client has been excessively critical of a project in an effort to justify withholding payment—probably the worst case scenario.

They don’t know what they want. They may have told you they wanted edgy and fun in your phone interview about the project—but when they get the copy, what they really wanted was conservative and safe (edgy projects are particularly susceptible to issues like this in my experience—I’ve written about it before). It’s possible that the person you’re dealing with wasn’t as sure as he or she sounded when they talked about tone or message—and expected you to read their mind.

They have a lot of misconceptions about writing. Some people have grammatical or craft-related misconceptions that they believe whole-heartedly. It’s sometimes difficult to persuade these people that your way is right—and it can take a lot of tact. But I always try to do it.

Excessive criticism can be difficult to deal with—and it’s hard not to take it to heart. But when it happens, take a step back and think about it objectively. If your copy followed the parameters your client laid out in your discussion, it may be that there’s an underlying reason for it that has little to do with the work you produced.


Ron's Copywriting Blog said...

As they say, get a good critic to get a worthy criticism!

Jennifer Williamson said...

Sometimes that can be tough to find :)