Posted June 19, 2018
Ego is poisonous to good writing, as it erodes quality in numerous ways.
Sometimes, for example, writers try to make themselves sound important, funny, or clever at the expense of clarity and impact. Other times, business writers will prioritize their own goals over those of the business. People in technical industries, for instance, might see bylines in trade publications as an important part of personal career development, and other businesspeople may see writing as an opportunity to stand out when it comes to promotions or performance feedback.
But even in those cases, the core purpose of the article, paper, or other written piece is not to make the writer look good; it’s to inform, educate, and move the reader (and hopefully generate positive results for the business). When the writing becomes an outpouring of ego, writers start writing to themselves more than to the intended readers, and the writing becomes less effective.
Similarly, ego can cause writers to be less than conscientious about their writing. Revisions are often the most important stage of the writing process – where the real writing happens, as we’ve explained before – but overconfident writers won’t look at the text with truly objective eyes. They’ll resist feedback and critiques that could improve the piece and perhaps grow resentful when colleagues fail to offer praise.
Your work will benefit greatly if you can divorce your ego from your writing and steer clear of the dangers of overconfidence. But how? Here are six ways to write for your audience, not for yourself.
1: Be humble.Even genuinely gifted writers still have room to improve. Ernest Hemingway put it perfectly: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Approach each writing project with the intent to improve on the previous one, knowing that you haven’t yet reached the height of what you can do.
2: Take a break.Time away from a draft can help drain egotistical attachment to it. That, in turn, will help you find the objectivity needed to revise well. Try to step away for as long as you can. In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends writers wait at least six weeks before tackling revisions on a major document.
3: Solicit feedback.You can’t get more objective than another human being who has no stake in the writing. A trusted colleague can often help shine light on areas for improvement in your writing. Even better, get feedback from multiple people throughout the writing process instead of waiting until the document is finished. Doing so can save you valuable time.
4: Ask a pro.Writing may be a craft with no masters, but some people are certainly more practiced and experienced at writing than others. Professional writers spend their entire career honing their writing abilities, and they can often spot issues and help others grow in the craft.
5: Push yourself into the unknown.Not all writing is the same, and you can often flush your ego from the project by extending your reach into unknown territory. Write a different kind of piece, or in a new medium, or for a different audience. The newness of it will remind you that you still have much to learn; that openness to learning banishes ego.
6: Think about the greater good.If ego can sometimes lead writers to prioritize their own needs, the antidote is to do the opposite: remember that the writing is about the business, not about the writer, and its impact could benefit the whole team.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.