Editing is Translating

Editing is translating—translating someone else’s thoughts and technical language into something practical and useful.

Someone recently told me that knowing Hebrew will help me read government documents because they’re written in a foreign language. Academics and lawyers alike don’t write in English; they compose documents in specialist-English. Even specialists don’t like to read the work of other specialists. That’s why they hire graduate students, paralegals, assistants and interns to summarize things for them. They want the raw data. So why do we hide the raw data behind bad writing? Because it’s safe.

If you can’t understand what I have written, you can’t argue with me. If I’ve modified one phrase five times, how will you know what I’m really saying?

Unapproachable is unhelpful, unless being unapproachable gives you and your work clout. In that scenario, it’s job security.

I fight this battle every day. I take the words of other people and I translate them. This makes what I write, edit and publish easy to attack. You know exactly what I’m saying. You know exactly what hills I’m willing to die on. And if you don’t, then I haven’t done my job.

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Your Elevator Pitch about You: 7 Tips

You never know when someone important will ask you, “Tell me a little bit about you—your background, etc.” You don’t want to freeze, look stupid or forget to say the right things. You also don’t want to ramble because that’s boring. You want to state just the facts. (Who can argue with the facts?) If you are really awesome, the facts will speak for themselves.

I recently spent some time developing my elevator pitch about me—my 60-second pitch about who I am. I have one for Bible Study Magazine, one about my company, and one about my publishing projects. But I didn’t have one about me: the things that define me.

Sounds very existential: Who are you? Seriously, though, everyone needs an elevator pitch. If it doesn’t fit into an elevator ride, then you need to edit it. (With the help of my wife, I edited mine.)

I learned seven things by editing my elevator pitch:

  1. Transition words are important. Try “In addition,” “And,” “During that time,” “But,” and “Also.” Transition words are your mental cue. They also help you be succinct.
  2. Use a narrative arc. Tell the story of your life: some conflicts, challenges, climaxes and successes. Also try adding a failure that you learned from, or a failure that you turned into a success. Continue Reading…

Would You Cry If They Left?

Would you want to cry if they left your team? Would it make your life miserable? Would your team suffer if that person started working on my team? If so, then I probably want to hire them.

I don’t want the employee that another manager will easily part with. I want the person they think they can’t live without.

Ask yourself: Could you hire someone to do your job, tomorrow? If the answer is yes, then you need to rethink the way you do your job. You need to change your job description. Figure out what your unique skill set is and then do that. After that, find your calling and pursue that.

I want to work on a team of people that challenge me.

I want to go to work everyday thinking, “I’m not good enough to be this team’s leader.” Because if I don’t feel that way, then my team is not making me better—they’re not making us better.

Incredible teams produce incredible projects, and incredible projects can change the world.

If I want to change the world, I need an incredible team who will turn me into an incredible leader.

I don’t feel good enough today, so today we’re on track. I hope I don’t feel good enough tomorrow. How do you feel?

What Happens after You Publish: The Medieval Rendition

Publishing a book is exhilarating. My favorite work days are those when we send a magazine to the printer. But sometimes we work so hard leading up to ship day that we forget to focus on what happens after the customer receives the product.

Will the customer get it? Will they like it? Does it matter? And perhaps the most important question: Will you be able to laugh if part of the world hates what you publish? Because that’s the risk you take when you publish.

This may help you think about the customer. It may just make you laugh. Either way, it’s worth watching.

(Thanks to Aaron Walters, pastor of The Table, the church I’m a part of in Bellingham, for pointing me to this.)

How will you introduce your next big idea to customers?

Experience is Not Good Enough

The adage, “Some things you just learn with time” is true, but the person with the most experience is not always the best candidate for the next project. I care more about a diverse skill set and creativity than I do about experience. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Experience can be used as a crutch. You’ve heard people say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Or, “It must be right; it’s worked before.” If you want to do something creative, the old way of doing things is likely not the answer.
  2. The best candidate is the one who has spent the most time diversifying their skill set and asking the most questions. Chance has it that the person who has been a copy editor their whole life is probably an incredible copy editor. I’m sure they can take me to task on The Chicago Manual of Style trivia. I will likely contract them for my next copy editing job, but I’m not going to ask them to lead the next project. Why? They’re likely to treat it like everything they’ve done before. Continue Reading…

Why Paying Attention Matters

I pay attention to emails like this—most people delete them. You’re about to understand why I ask “What can I learn from this?” before clicking delete:

Sent: Wed 2/9/2011 12:05 PM

To: John Barry, Joe Media, Cindy Publicist, Christina Marketer

Cc: Jack Editor, Sally Publisher, Jill CEO, Fran VP, Lloyd Author, Mike Agent

Subject: My Book is Incredible, You Should Review It

I just published my new book. I would love to send you a review copy. What’s your address?

–Neil Writer

P.S. I only want publicity, but knowing you would be cool. (Ghost writer exaggeration minimal.)

I could see the (often bad) query emails I receive as a nuasince, but I view them as an opportunity. In addition to being an opportunity to be kind and helpful, sometimes they’re an opportunity to meet new people.

Three lessons from Neil Writer’s email:

  1. Don’t bulk email your friends, or people you want to be friends with. This seems like common sense, yet people still do it. Building relationships is different than marketing a product.
  2. Don’t share someone’s contact info with the world. I don’t mind—my contact info is on this site—but other people do. (If you shared my cell phone number, though, I may feel differently.)
  3. Always see who is on the Cc line. You could make a new friend.

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Business is about Friendships

In business, we tend to spend most of our energy making deals, but in the rest of life our priorities are different. We buy things for our family members, we have friends over for dinner, and we give our time freely to those in need. The idea of treating business relationships differently perplexes me.

When I first started negotiating I thought it was all about the deal. It’s true that closing is all that matters when negotiating—just like shipping is all that matters when creating a product—but you rarely close because you spoke the right words. Closing is about trust.

Fast, smooth talking people are on their way out; soon they won’t have a place in the business world. The era of people willing to invest in relationships has begun, again. Many people predicted that social media would isolate us, but it’s done the opposite in business: It’s made it easier to get to know someone. Social media has done something else as well, that I don’t think many people have noticed. Social media has made it easier to find out if someone is telling the truth. It’s made it easier for me to trust some people, and it’s also made it easier for me to prove that someone is untrustworthy. (You heard that last line right—I’m verifying what you tell me.)

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Say Hi to the New Guy

I’ve often heard people say, “He’s not worth talking with, he’s new to their company—our ideas won’t get far with him.” I’ve found the opposite to be true. The person new at a company is the most likely to talk with you and promote your ideas.

When you’re new to a company, you want to prove that you’re valuable. Thus, you’re likely to promote any good idea that comes across your desk. Given, some people will just hunker down and do what they’re told instead of promoting new ideas, but these aren’t the decision makers. These aren’t the marketing managers, publishers, editors and vice presidents.

When I want help from another company where I don’t have a contact yet, I try to find the newest decision maker. Like me, they want new friends. And they’re willing to think outside the box, because that’s why they were hired.

The same is true in your own company. The new person on the team is the most likely to have crazy ideas, and to bring a new mindshare. I have a habit of taking the new person at the company out to lunch or to coffee. I genuinely want to get to know them, and let them know that I’m someone they can count on; I also want to hear their ideas, and help them promote the best ones.

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The Best and Worst Writing

“The best and worst of reading can be found in academic journals. A subscription to an academic journal that touches on your business, product, or service is guaranteed to provide something exciting enough to keep you up all night as well as hundreds of pages of text that can help you get back to sleep.” —Bob Pritchett, Fire Someone Today, pg. 131.

Academic writing can teach us two things: give us great ideas, and help us realize how bad writing can be.

Most academic writing is bad. Why is it that some of the most educated people in the world are the worst writers? Academics often speak jargon. As a consequence, the quality of their writing is diminished. Less jargon equals better writing. Simplicity is preferred. But if you get past the jargon, as Bob Pritchett (who I work for), says: you will find “something exciting enough to keep you up all night.”

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Here’s the Truth

“Here’s the truth that you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map. Don’t you hate that? I love that there’s no map.” —Seth Godin, Linchpin, pg. 188

Where’s the fun in having a map? We have too many people who live their lives in compliance—without questioning, or thinking for themselves. I’ve often said,May God keep us from being like thinkers.” That phrase holds true in business as well.

We need more people who are willing to risk everything for the sake of making something beautiful. Why do you do what you do? Be honest with yourself. Are rebels really that bad? No. Rebels against bad systems are great leaders, fantastic CEOs—they’re Michelangelos and William Blakes.

You may want a bunch of compliant lemmings working for you—I don’t. I want people who will challenge me. I want people who think all of my ideas are bad, and all of my writing stinks. Because if they don’t, my ideas and writing will never get better. I want people who will convince me that I can be better than I am. And I want people who are convinced that they can be better than they are. I want people who want to change the world. If they don’t want that, I don’t want to work with them.

But wanting something isn’t enough. You have to be willing to hire those kind of people, and then listen when they do what you hired them for: rabble rousing. If we really want free thinking, then we need to help other people be free.

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