Edits and Egos

Asking for feedback on your work is an important part of improving. Sometimes, receiving that feedback can feel extremely personal. Whether it’s writing, slides, code or anything else we can tie ourselves up in our creations. Learning to separate ourselves from our work is an important step, one I’ll admit I sometimes forget.

Sometimes I’ll ask for feedback knowing it will make the work better but end up feeling insulted when people provide edits. Objectively I know my first draft is never perfect but somehow I get it in my head that a missing comma is tantamount to me being a failure. 

Once the moment passes, those edits almost always make the work better. My PhD thesis had a whopping 35 pages of recommended edits over its 200 odd pages. If I had tied each one of those to my ego it would have never been finished.

Why it matters: In many contexts, the things we create should have a high bar for quality. Work for publication, code we write for our job, ideas we present to others. Baked into that work are ideas and meaning, we’re responsible for ensuring those ideas reach the world in a refined form.

  • In a professional context it is probably the simplest to understand. We’re being paid to produce our work, getting feedback on it helps it improve and helps our customers or colleagues receive better output.
  • When we’re making things ourselves the situation is more difficult. We cannot hide behind the banner of our corporation, in many ways our work does reflect us. Even still, feedback and editing are a key part of that process. The world sees our final draft, not the count of missing commas along the way.

How to detach yourself from your work: Remember is that the beauty is often in some intangible core of your work, not the work itself. I am a terrible painter, I could try to capture a beautiful scene on a canvas and it would likely look terrible. This doesn’t mean the original scene was ugly, only that I didn’t manage to capture it well. Think of editing not as a reflection on the core, but a refinement in capturing it.

  • I still get a little frustrated and defensive when I get feedback. That in the moment response is tough to change in a hurry. What’s important is what you do next. Take the time to consider feedback before acting (or responding).
  • Like anything else, practice will help. Ask for feedback more often than you think you need it.
  • Ask for the right type of feedback. People should be able to point out that a sentence doesn’t land or some code looks messy without giving you an alternative. In the end it is still your work to change and produce.

Choosing when to skip the edit: Sometimes editing can become a barrier to putting out work. There’s no doubt that editing adds time. Depending on the context sometimes the more important thing to do is just publish.

  • These posts for example. They usually get a light edit with something like Hemingway Editor but don’t go out to other people before I post them.
  • Keeping the number of editors low is also important. Ask enough people and you’ll eventually round off all the edges in your work and end up with something horribly generic.

Almost everyone will find something to mention if you ask for a review. They don’t want to seem silly. You also have full license to ignore any suggestions you receive. Including those in this post.

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