Your first draft is completely wrong — now what?

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Do you ever get "HOLYSHITISUCKATMYJOB" paranoia?

Like when your first draft comes back smothered in red pen? Or when your Google Doc is so annotated, you can't read it for all the amendment requests?

Yeah, man. We've all been there.

If I had balls, I imagine that's how it would feel to be punched in them.

Here are some handy steps on how to tackle feedback and turn out a bangin' second draft (and what to do if it all goes tits up).

1. Listen to feedback (like, properly)

It's hard not to fly into defensive mode when you listen to feedback, especially if the client isn't awesome at giving it. Tuck your emotions into your back pocket and actively listento the problems being flagged. I'd recommend making your own detailed notes on the draft so you have a really clear idea of what/why the changes need to happen and how you'll tackle them when you sit down to write.


2. Ask clever questions

Okay, so the title isn't 'catchy' enough. The copy sounds 'stiff'. They 'don't like' this or that.

As writers, we know that feedback like this isn't helpful. So here's what you do...

Ask for a point of reference. Which words or copy examples are 'too fun' and which 'aren't fun enough'. Which connotations are your words stirring up that they'd like to avoid? Binary feedback like this is pretty damn subjective, so try to get an anchor for what they consider to be toomuch of something or not enough.

The tricky bit is the 'likes' and 'dislikes' in the feedback. Effective writing isn't about what the client likes or doesn't like—it comes down to three very crucial things:

1. What does the target reader like/dislike?

2. What do the brand guidelines say?

3. Does your work answer the brief?

If you've measured your creative choices against these three success benchmarks, ya'lls gonna have to move on to stage three...


3. When in doubt—test

So Johnny Client is still kicking up a fuss about something they don't like, despite you reasoning that it answers the three points above. In this case, why not propose an A/B test? Theirs against yours? If you lose, at least you learned something. If you win, you have artillery for the next time there's a clash of creative difference.

And what if they refuse a test? All you can do is advise against the choice and explain why. If they choose to go ahead with it, there's not much you can do.

Save your fucks for another day, my friend.


4. Strike while the iron is hot, then let it 'bake'

I find it's best to make as many changes to the draft as poss right after the initial feedback meeting. I have all the notes fresh in my head and am already in the creative space. Once I've gone through my list, checking feedback off as I work, I leave the draft to 'bake'. I may have made errors or missed something because I was feeling bruised about my fuck-up. I can then revisit later with fresh eyes and make sure all my ducks are in a row before sending the second draft.

5. Be kind to yourself

Dude, don't sweat it. When a client is new, your very first draft is going to be a stab in the dark based on what you think is right. You only get really good once you've fucked up a few times. If you've slipped up with a regular client, it's no biggie. Again—it's how you learn.

Don't take it to heart! You don't suck.


6. Learn when to let it go

I once had a client that repeatedly paid me to write their website. During the months I worked for them, I re-wrote it four times. They approached the project from different angles each time, first working with a web design company, then a PR agency, then a UX designer, then they took matters into their own hands.

Each time I attempted the task, I tried to get concrete details from the company founders regarding correct language to use and what the focus of the copy should be. Each business founder had feedback which conflicted with the other. Each revision had new changes which jarred with the information I'd been given.

I didn't want to give up on the project (or that sweet-ass paycheck) but I was getting frustrated. They insisted it wasn't my fault but still failed to provide me with a clear vision or concrete information. Without it, I couldn't do my job.

I chucked the towel in after those 6 months and fired the client.

The moral of the story is this: sometimes, clients are just a horrible nightmare. They don't know what they want until they see it and, sometimes, not even then. They aren't worth your time or your effort, so ya'lls need to learn when to let them go and release the project back into the ether.

Emma Cownley