Fine Writing + Foolish Edits
...equals frustrated writer. Herewith, tips for dealing with clients who are sure they're improving perfection when they're just messing it up.
or me, the toughest thing about professional writing (besides actually doing it) has long been seeing a piece of my own good work subjected to unnecessary and even damaging changes. When it happens, you have more to deal with than your own hurt feelings.
Making an issue of changes can damage your reputation and diminish the chances that a client will call on you again. The balm for many problems associated with ghostwriting is the paycheck – money changes everything
– but dealing with bad edits and dealing with them constructively are not always the same things.
A professional writer is retained not only for his writing, but also for his judgment.
Learn the difference between changes in substance, changes in structure, and matters of taste.
You owe your client your professional judgment on all three, and objecting to a poorly advised change affecting the first two is a matter of professional obligation. If your client wants to change something that alters the structure, ask yourself if this diminishes the speech or essay in terms of making its point, keeping things interesting, or making sense at all. Structural changes are the riskiest changes to make, and removing a story or replacing it with some other element often undermines all that comes after. Examine matters of substance with the same test in mind. Does the change, removal, or addition of some matter of fact make the piece harder to understand? Does it make the piece less clear or less persuasive?
Do not argue matters of taste unless it reduces clarity
and persuasiveness. If your client prefers one adjective or illustrative story over another, compliment him on his good taste and make the change. In fact, the speaker or signer may know better than you do what he does best. None of this will keep you from having hurt feelings, however, which is why I have one more suggestion:
Write the first version for yourself.
Produce what you know the client needs, write to the specification, and use your best professional judgment. Do not compromise what you know is the right choice, and do not lessen the quality to accommodate what your client mistakenly believes she needs. A professional writer is paid not only for his writing but for his judgment.
A successful leader will tell you that sometimes the job is to tell people what they need, not to ask them. More often than you expect, your first, best-judgment version will end up as the thing your client didn't know she needed, but ends up loving.
When requests for changes come back, accept or argue against them according to structure, substance, and taste. To hold onto your satisfaction with the work, consider any changes to be carpentry – customization of an already excellent product provided to get the paycheck. Cling to that first version as the evidence of your talent, and take your pleasure from having written something so good, even if it never escapes your hard drive and your client's harsh opinion.
In a phrase, learn to let the work be enough.