Here’s another way to help a new writer grow without resorting to tracked changes. Try highlights.
On Oct. 8, I riffed about bad editors being bad for business. For the purposes of this blog, “bad editors” means “people who re-write the work of others.” Let me say it again: Re-writing is not editing.
Today, I’ll show you an example of a new employee’s work and what I said to influence her second draft. I didn’t touch a hair on her document’s head. She wrote every word of both versions herself.
From: Edwards, Lauren
Sent: Thursday, [Month XX], 2009 11:54 AM
To: [Name Removed – I’ll call her Sarah]
Subject: suggestions here FW: Draft Pitch on Acme SmartTech
Hi again, Sarah. If you have time before we meet, try restructuring this slightly so that the yellow is the first line of the pitch and the green comes soon after that, and then the blue. (See below.)
Also consider writing as if to a blogger. Did you take the class on writing for social media? Write to a person, not so much “about” something.
Talk to you later.
The "after" version is concise, newsy & to the point
Here’s the first line of her original:
For years, families with autistic children lived with frustration, despair, and little chance of any substantial treatment.
Here’s the first line of her second (and much improved) draft:
Non-verbal autistic children no longer have to suffer in silence.
I like Draft 2 better because it’s shorter, shows a break in the normal flow of events (“news”), and gets right to the point without wasting words on setting up what she’ll say before she says it.
Here’s her second sentence:
Original: New technology from Acme is offering hope for these families and empowering autistic kids to communicate in ways once never thought possible.
You don’t care, right? I mean, you’d like to think you are a caring person and all, but really …do you care while reading that sentence? Her writing mechanics are fine, but this is not compelling.
Here’s her second draft’s second sentence: For the first time, they can tell their teachers, “My head hurts,” or communicate that they are hungry or tired, thanks to technology from Acme being used at the Ryde Technology School in San Francisco.
I’d include video links to the broadcast hits that resulted from this pitch, but in this blog I’m deliberately masking identities to preserve confidentiality. In these excerpts, I’ve changed the names of the city, school, client, technology and writer. I’ve also left out the exact date.
Aside: [I can't resist, however, sharing one line of a particular broadcast story about an autistic teen who had never been able to speak until he began using this new technology. He said, "I'm funny, but nobody knows it." He gave a wry smile. My heart broke open and I said, "Awww."
Can you imagine these kids going through life fluent and with things to say but unable to say them!! This is why I love my job. Our clients really do make the world a better place.]
"Sarah" is now powerful, successful & motivated
From my perspective as writing coach, the best outcome is not the hits. It’s that “Sarah” is now powerful. She’s stoked, successful and knows how to do better from the start next time. She feels ownership, pride and hope -- all of which are energizing and motivating.
If her work had been re-written, or if she’d been told to “make it more compelling” or some such vague advice, she’d be some combination of confused and demoralized, whether she fully realized it or not.
If you want to see the yellow, green and blue highlights referenced in my e-mail, here they are. You’ll see that she grasps the point of my highlights, but provides her own words, pacing and content decisions for the re-write.
Original w/ highlights (but not tracked changes!):
For years, families with autistic children lived with frustration, despair, and little chance of any substantial treatment. New technology from Acme is offering hope for these families and empowering autistic kids to communicate in ways once never thought possible.
The Ryde Technology School in San Francisco is now using the Acme SmartTech device with voice recording technology to make progress in teaching non-verbal autistic children to speak. By using the SmartTech, students who have never verbalized their thoughts are finally given a voice. For the first time, they can tell their parents “I love you” or communicate to their teachers that they are hungry or tired.
This is a testament to the amazing potential of technology to help people overcome special needs and improve lives. For years, Acme has been committed to developing products and services that are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and age-related impairments. …
It goes on, but that’s enough to show you what I mean about using highlights. Amazing what a great substitute they can be for tracked changes.
It’s also worth noting that her first version was an overly long 312 words; her second, 186 words. And I didn't even have to ask her to "be more concise," which is another thing bad editors often say. (If writers knew *how* to be concise, they already would have done that. Be more specific.)
Anyway, atta girl, “Sarah”!
Editors, try this yourself and please let me know how it goes.