A writer is as good as the feedback you give them.
The rest is up to them.
Learning how to develop writers has been one of the most rewarding and by far one of my favorite experiences in my career. Today I want to give back everything I know about what's within your power to help your team of writers, freelance or full-time, grow alongside you.
📖 Here's what I'll cover:
- How to give (and get) feedback that births great content
- How to have writers turn in easier-to-edit first drafts
Part 1: How to give (and get) feedback that births great content
🔥 Ignite their competitive fire
It was something in their eyes that'd turn on like the flick of a switch. It never failed me.
Even the best writers I've worked with tend to make mistakes on the intro. Here's what tends to go wrong...
Whenever I said this to a writer it was like yeah they're on the call but now they're leaning in all ears waiting for the tea to spill. I found sharing where others, in general, tend to make mistakes is an angle that piques a writer's curiosity.
Anyone who's passionate about what they do will be eager to know how the competition tends to slip up so they can do better.
🧠 Contextualize and ask open-ended questions
You're assembling a whole set of IKEA furniture using a manual without illustrations alongside your partner who has a manual with illustrations and they refuse to share.
Y'all are gonna be raising your voices by step 2 and ugly crying as you break up by step 3 🤣
You can't expect writers to write the entire piece or fix that paragraph if you don't help them visualize what the end goal looks like. This is especially true if you have a lower budget and therefore can only afford more junior writers.
You'll both become frustrated and part ways.
- Provide context for visualization: what does great look like and how do the words on the page in question stray away from this?
- Show them you value their voice: ask them how/what they'd do to fix it with this context in mind.
Yes, you will spend more time in the beginning doing edits and sharing examples. But it'll pay off with dividends if you invest in your writer's development.
💩 Don't sugarcoat a word turd
This one is simple.
Call things what they are.
- A writer who didn't follow a brief at all is a writer who didn't read the brief
- A redundant sentence is a redundant sentence
- A fluffy intro is a fluffy intro
You're doing nobody a favor with this brand of "nice" where it's basically just you avoiding saying the hard things because you have a deeply-rooted fear of not being liked.
In fact, you might play it so "nice" the critique is drowned out to the point the writer never realized they were messing up.
And so the same mistakes keep popping up.
In the end that's not helpful for anyone.
That's not nice is it?
🤝 Thank writers for disagreeing
You know you've built up a healthy environment when writer's tell you they disagree with you, share why, and even provide alternative solutions.
It can be a big deal for some writers to overcome the barriers that make giving feedback hard. For some it's shyness. For some female writers it's about not being used to having a voice as a woman.
Great content is a collaborative effort. Most of the time you have to plant those seeds as you invest in relationships with writers you see potential in. Get to know them so you can learn how to grow them.
Whether they're right or wrong when they disagree with you, thank them.
This event marks the start of a new chapter of growth for you both as individuals, as a team, and for your content.
Part 2: How to have writers turn in easier-to-edit first drafts
Your content brief is like a map for a writer to navigate. Your "map" will be as good as the research you do and the brief you built from that research.
Here's simplified summary of my process:
- Invest more time into researching a topic
- Build more contextually-rich briefs
- Improve your briefs as you learn
Let's dig in to these three points a bit more.
If you want to give meaningful editing feedback and build stronger content you can't skimp on research.
In a world where quality content is vastly outnumbered by chatGPT-generated and half-assed content, research is your competitive advantage. Most of your competitors are lazy. But the few that are really hard to beat are going above and beyond to to dissect what great looks like and how they can be so great they're near-impossible to beat.
Writers aren't psychics with a crystal ball that can guess the type of content you have in mind.
Share your research. Plug in examples where possible. Provide all the context a writer could possibly need to make exactly the content your company needs. If you're dealing with freelancers, they won't know shit about your product 99% of the time. Make sure to give them context (and time) to get to know it.
But with more junior to mid-level writers I've found this approach effective especially if you're dealing with freelancers who don't live and breathe your product on a daily basis like you.
My briefs for VEED in 2021 looked totally different from my briefs by the end of that year. The briefs the team builds now have gotten another facelift.
As you grow and foster a culture of open communication you'll learn from observing and receiving feedback from writers. Be proactive.
- Ask them how your briefs could be better.
- Do they find anything is missing or particularly confusing?
- Ask them how you can help them feel more confident in their work.
You'll be pleasantly surprised with how your relationship and workflow will improve as you get into this habit.
Before I sign off on this month's email, I'll leave you with some food for thought.
If there's anything I've learned as a hiring manager it's to listen to your gut and don't take yourself so seriously. Content is supposed to be fun to make. It's soul-destroying to do that with a stick up your ass and your intuition clogged up with your lack of trust in your own voice.
There's all this content, including what you're reading right now, that tries to help guide you. That's great. Sometimes it's exactly what you need.
But other times you just need to get better at listening to that voice within and learning to ask questions that'll give you the custom-tailored insights no newsletter, blog, or course can give you.
I'll see you again around this time next month!