I recently dealt with a problem I don't often face, and, in all honesty, it threw me for a moment. I was working with a new editor on web articles for his employer. The company was a local credit union and the pieces were of a financial nature - a topic with which I'm well acquainted and experienced. So, feeling pretty confident in my abilities - a product of more than 20 years in the industry - I went to work, happy in one of my many writing comfort zones.
However, the writing and the editing process that followed, didn't run true to form.
It goes without saying that I didn't expect the two rounds of edits that came next, nor the struggle to successfully portray the company's "voice" in my writing. The editor kept telling me the piece didn't "fit the brand" and even sent me several published articles to demonstrate exactly what he wanted. I painstakingly read through those pieces line by line, comparing and contrasting them with my work. No matter how much I pored over the text, I just couldn't see the issue. I felt defeated and frustrated.
But I soldiered on. The editor and I went back and forth a bit, each time with me submitting a new draft and him telling me it still wasn't quite right. I was thoroughly stumped, and pretty annoyed the whole mess, if I'm being completely honest.
I needed to get it right, both for my client and for my own need of a job well down. How could I elicit from my editor the direction I needed to complete the job to his satisfaction, to find the right "voice?"
As it turns out, after much frustration and churning of tummy, I remembered a colleague's sage advice: "Simply communicate."
So, I decided to stop searching for the elusive "brand voice" in the sample articles the editor sent over and, instead, to simply asked him to describe precisely what he wanted, i.e., the tone and type of writing he was looking for. After all, my own guessing game wasn't getting me anywhere, and it was time to course correct.
His answer? "Colloquial." Definition: "(of language) used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary."
Bingo! Not only did his answer specify in my mind just what he was after, it also provided me a completely different way of looking at the writing samples, With his "brand" descriptor in mind, I could apply fresh eyes to the writing samples and identify passages and formats that better mimicked the "ordinary" i.e. "colloquial" style and apply them to my own work in a way I couldn't before. This enabled me to successfully complete the project and gave me a newfound sense of confidence around new challenges.
But the best part? The process around the second article the editor had tasked me with proved much smoother and I found myself back on familiar ground, submitting work that requires minimal edits and direction to get it to a place where my client is happy.
The moral of the story? Though these experiences are often uncomfortable, particularly at first, like anything that challenges us, it ultimately improves us.
Color me improved!