Write, then detach

One of the hardest things a writer learns to do is separate from the work he or she just created. But it’s absolutely necessary – especially if you want to be more than “merely good” at your craft. I’ve seen junior reporters flinch at the red-penned revisions I’ve returned to them. One confided she felt being edited was a personal attack: The writing represented her unique voice, who she was as a person, and any editing made her feel like she was being criticized – even my truthful-but-nice comments.

But nothing is perfect. And if we want to go from decent to excellent, we need to not only get comfortable with editing, but actually embrace it. Editing other people’s work helps get us there. Eventually, in our own work, we need to learn how to write something and immediately lose ownership. “Mine no longer,” I say. “I don’t own it.” When they edit my work, I tell people who work for me, “Pretend I’m not your boss. You can’t offend me.” It’s fun to see what they come back with.

It helps to think that way, because when we can forget about ourselves and just look at our writing on its merits, we serve our readers far better.

We’re not writing for ourselves, anyway (usually). We’re writing to be read. So the story is a story, not a relationship. It has nothing to do with me as a person.