The most important trait to develop is in life is that of self-reflection. It’s also probably the one we most universally fail at. Humans tend to be complete off-base when we engage in self-examination. We are notoriously too hard on ourselves and just as often too easy. And while I can see this readily in both students and instructors around me, I acknowledge it is difficult to recognize it in myself.
Writing is always an art form. This makes some people uncomfortable, particularly those in the business or scientific fields. However, regardless of the genre of writing, there is always a creative base to the communication. And creativity is difficult to evaluate because it is so personal and subjective.
Of course, this is probably most readily obvious when we think of creative writing, itself. Every creative project I’ve worked on I’ve loved. The final manuscript is the most perfect creation in my mind, wholly unique to itself and precious. The many people have compared writing a novel to giving birth and they are not far off. Creative writing in particular is a piece of oneself, spewed on paper to be shared with an audience. We cringe at critical feedback. It wounds us and makes us bleed. But it is imperative to improve our writing.
I would argue that even the driest routine email message, is also a piece of oneself. This makes any form of writing difficult to look at objectively after we write it.
I am notorious for wanting to have people read my creative work and give me feedback. Of course, I say I want all feedback but deep down I just want a pat on the back telling me how well I’ve done. Since publishing my first novel, I have routinely circulated reading drafts to a small target audience with critical questions. Those that give me the most in-depth (and ultimately useful) feedback, tend to point out weakness in the work. I always take those comments very personally, often scoffing at them and pushing them aside for several weeks before my ego calms down enough to let me read the feedback objectively and look at my work to see (most often) that the suggestions will result in a stronger piece of writing.
Now we can’t have readers for every piece of writing we do. A quick email or text message has a job to be done, so we must learn how to self-evaluate. Writing quickly, reading over that writing, seeing both grammatical errors and when we are using the wrong tone altogether is exceptionally difficulty. How can we move into the shoes of our audience: our readers?
I think the answer is learning to be less egocentric and more empathetic. Regardless of the form it takes, authentic communication requires us to open our hearts and minds to others. To see situations from perspectives other than our own. To fluidly move from the shoes of the sender to receiver and back again. And to be willing to use words that will resonate with our readers more than perhaps they may resonate with ourselves. Writing of all forms is a gift to others and if we can see it in that way, we will produce stronger and more successful writing overall.