A Piece of Poo

Yesterday I had a rough finish to my workday. I’d spent most of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday working very hard on an urgent marketing piece. By the end of yesterday I thought the marketing guy and I had it buttoned up. We’d gone through two rounds of edits by the final approver, and just sent it back for one last confirmation that our last tweaks met the need.

Apparently not.

The approver shredded (metaphorically; it was a digital file) the document, rewriting vast swathes, stomping like an elephant through the delicately crafted savannah of my work. I’d put in almost three days of work on this, and now the approver — who is not a writer and who knows next to nothing about good writing — took my work, tossed it out the window, and rewrote the entire thing in their own words.

I’m not normally protective of my work. You’ve got to develop a thick skin when it comes to editorial revisions if you write professionally. You have to let even the loveliest turn of phrase go to the chopping block, if need be. While it’s painful, I think I do an okay job accepting even really deep editorial changes when it’s appropriate.

But the approver didn’t offer editorial suggestions; they rewrote in whole cloth, changing sections that the approver hadn’t mentioned as having issues in previous reviews, axing perfectly fine sentences and paragraphs and replacing them with the same thing in the approver’s own words. The approver clearly thinks they are a better writer than the professional writers they have on staff.

It sent such a negative message to me, I still feel sick. I didn’t sleep much, and I’m dreading going to work for the first time in my two years at my job. By completely rewriting my hard-earned work, the approver implied:

  • My work is crap. The approver, who’s a company executive, thinks they know more about writing than I do. I worked really hard to write something good, that I was proud of, and the product of that hard work — which I thought was actually pretty good — is worthless to the approver.
  • The approver doesn’t trust me to do my job. They previously provided (in my opinion excessively) detailed, line-by-line feedback, which we incorporated. But that wasn’t good enough. The only person the approver trusts to write it is themselves.
  • My three days of work don’t matter. I put aside an enormous, challenging, high-pressure tech writing project to work on this marketing article. That project remains unfinished, other deadlines are fast approaching, and this marketing article has turned into a zombie project that just won’t die. Also, presumably the approver has their own work to do — you know, doing whatever executives do. Making high-level decisions, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll never be an executive, thankfully. Don’t they have anything better to do than nitpick (honestly, “nitpick” implies a smallness to the scale that really isn’t accurate) a perfectly good piece?

When I told my boss all this, he said, “Well, the approver isn’t good at people.” He wanted me to understand that this drawing and quartering of my document wasn’t personal; the approver wasn’t trying to send me a message.

To which I say: If you’re in an executive position, it’s your job to be good at people. You cast a huge shadow, and you have to be aware of the impact to everyone it touches. I’m not giving them any grace here, because they are completely in the wrong. They are wrong to go in and do someone else’s job. They are wrong not to consider the impact of doing so. And they are wrong to make our company look worse by sending out low-quality marketing copy.

The article was good; it was ready to go, and their “edits” made it substantially worse — and I know it won’t matter. They’ll get their way, my company will look like incompetent communicators when we send out this ugly, kludgy piece of trash, and I’ll still feel like a piece of poo on the bottom of the approver’s shoe.

I’m starting to think that maybe marketing writing isn’t for me after all.

*Note: I know I’ve misused “they” and “themselves” throughout. English doesn’t have a good neutral pronoun, and I didn’t want to get into any specifics, so “they” it is.