LawProse Lesson #216: Embracing constructive criticism.
Embrace constructive criticism. Undeveloped writers feel instinctively that if someone else criticizes their writing, it’s a personal affront. But more experienced writers know that if you insulate yourself from criticism, you’ll find it difficult to improve. Every document can benefit from a review by a fresh pair of eyes—as many as possible, in fact. Good writers embrace that fact and welcome the help. Ideally, every serious writing project receives a series of good edits late in the writing process. Not just heavy edits, but good edits. The best situation is having an experienced editor look at your document. But even nonprofessional editors and less-experienced juniors can give you valuable comments. They might find a particular sentence awkward or a particular word jarring. If they do, other readers probably will too. Or they may point out a flaw or gap in your reasoning or argument. The more secure you are as a writer, the more you’ll seek out independent, objective scrutiny of your writing. It won’t come naturally—you’ll have to put aside your ego. Writing is a humbling affair. I recently met a senior lawyer who took me aside and confided that he never lets anyone edit his prose. “Who would be qualified?” he asked rhetorically. But his colleagues, I’m sure, are more adept than he believes. And I’d wager that his prose isn’t nearly what he thinks it is. Further reading: Legal Writing in Plain English 161–62 (2d ed. 2013). The Winning Brief 67–74 (3d ed. 2014).