One of the tougher sides (or “awesomeness-builders”, for those of you feeling extra positive today) of the word biz is that you’ve gotta get comfy with The Big C.
Ok, before everyone hops aboard their proverbial high horses: I don’t hate criticism. If you wan’t to get technical, I can’t hate it. I need it to learn – to thrive. And so do you.
Let me explain.
Writers: taking criticism
Writing (like all endeavors, particularly creative ones) has its ups and downs. But when you’re writing on a deadline, there’s no walking away from the blank page. When the clock strikes ‘due’, you’ve got to produce something. Sometimes, words pour out of you so easily you wonder if your blood is really alphabet soup. Other days are spent squinting laboriously into the same paragraph, trying to will the missing pieces into place.
Yet somewhere amongst the unpredictable tempests and tangles of your mind, you build your masterpiece. Brick by brick.
Then, the draft is sent in. Your work of carefully constructed words that represent an odyssey of hours, defeats and glories is handed over. Every red line is a barb. Every struck sentence, a knife to the gullet.
I know it’s about serving the client’s vision, but did they have to drop that adjective? I spent hours making sure ‘egregious’ was a fit… Oh man, I’m terrible. Why does anyone want to work with me?! The horrorrrrrrr.
At least, it is at first. With every draft and edit call, it gets easier. (It’s amazing the kind of durability the will to listen provides the spirit.)
Why? Because creative work, especially if it’s meant to be an empowered representation of another person’s voice, requires collaboration.
There comes a time in every copywriter’s life when they realize there’s no way around that. As much as we all want to hit a home run on the first swing, perfection is a hard-won reward in this business – not an automatic result. You have to keep pushing forward without repeating the same mistakes.
But there’s a huge difference between striding towards the finish line together, and feeling blindly around in the dark for it.
Clients: giving criticism
Constructive feedback must be just that – constructive. It’s the client’s responsibility to be a tuning fork for their ultimate vision. In order to do that, they must have a firm understanding of their business, and the direction of their brand.
Copywriter-users of the present and future, may I remind you: if you’re not certain of exactly what you want… you probably won’t get it.
Building a message is like building a house. If you want a mansion, you wouldn’t provide only enough materials for a garden shed, right? Even if you bring a master architect on board, there’s no way it could ever be enough.
What a lot of people don’t realize is accepting criticism is actually the easy part. It’s dishing it that’s really challenging. It’s tough to spearhead anything, and clients also falter because, well, they’re really nice people. But a truly great idea needs a powerful guiding force to drive it into reality. You have to be willing to take the wheel.
So because I try to avoid ranting without purpose…
People of the world: how to make the most of the next critique you give.
Get clear on your idea first. Then call in the big guns.
Whenever you’re starting a project, take the time to ask yourself – “Am I ready to build this? Or do I need to work on the blueprint some more?” While most writers, myself included, are always on board to swap and refine ideas, you’re responsible for 100% of the foundation. I say this not to intimidate you, but rather to help you prepare to direct a project with confidence and certainty.
Reference the draft directly.
I know this might seem obvious, but if I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to pull a client back from soliloquizing into the abyss… let’s just say I’d have an extraordinarily large nickel collection. When giving a critique, it doesn’t help your writer much if you send over a paragraph response just talking about the project. Provide concrete examples.
You don’t necessarily need to go word-by-word, but let the draft act as a guide. Highlight the phrases you really like/hate, or make notes on which precise sentences need work and why. This allows your writer to get a better feel for the flow of your words, and the tone you’re going for.
Be firm, but not rigid.
This goes along with avoiding blunt points out of fear of being “mean”. You need to be forthright in your explanation of what you want, but not so stubborn that you ignore every point the copywriter chooses to raise. It’s a give and take process. Consider their professional advice, but remember at the end of the day, the decision is yours.
Please, for the love of all that is holy, leave the meaningless adjectives at home.
Ladies and gents of the internet, I think I speak for a good chunk of the creative community when I stress that words like ‘juicy’, ‘spicy’, ‘sparkle’, ‘pow’, ‘sizzle’, and ‘snap’ do not a constructive critique make. If something doesn’t resonate with you, doesn’t sound like you, or isn’t the tone you were going for, that’s fine – but we need to know why. And if you can’t come up with a reason why? Step away from your computer for an hour, think about it, and try again.
Critiques and feedback are the fuel that fires the engines of collaborative creation. They can propel an idea forward with a mighty roar, or cause it to sputter and backfire.
It really is up to you!
4 thoughts on “The Big C: how to take it, how to give it, and how to make the most of it”
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