Dear Author

[article]
Summary:
In my role as technical editor for AgileConnection.com and as a reviewer for my trusted colleagues, I have the opportunity to read drafts of articles and some books. I see some troublesome behavior. I know it because I exhibit it. In all cases, the author receives feedback the author doesn’t like, but doesn’t want to stop writing.

In my role as technical editor for the AgileConnection and as a reviewer for my trusted colleagues, I have the opportunity to read drafts of articles and some books. I see some troublesome behavior. I know it because I exhibit it. In all cases, the author receives feedback the author doesn’t like, but doesn’t want to stop writing.

Decide on One Idea

I am the prime example of this one, so I will use an example from my writing. I was trying to write one of my Pragmatic Manager emails last week. I sent it to Esther. It was only about 200 words. She counted the number of ideas, in the opening story of fewer than 60 words and stopped at 9 ideas. She could not read anymore.

“JR, what is the main idea of this piece?”

I just about fell out of my chair laughing at myself.

I read this in articles and chapters all the time. You need one main idea in an article or a chapter. When you are done with that idea, it’s time for another article or a chapter.

If you have lots of ideas, it’s fine to have another article or a chapter. When I write books, I have a file called, “Stuff-to-put-somewhere”. It’s ideas I can’t use now, but might have a chance to use later. Maybe you don’t need a file like that, but you need a place to put stuff you are not going to use now.

You do not need to put everything you know into this article or this book. Really. I promise you.

BTW, Joyce Statz was the first one to give me this advice on my very first paper in 1995. Joyce, I am still learning. Esther gave me this advice last week. BTW, when I see this with authors, I ask them questions, as Esther did with me to help them see which ideas they want to address, or how they want to rewrite the piece.

Boring Writing Stays Boring Until You Change Something

Unless I know you well I don’t tell you your writing is boring. I may tell you that you need a story. Or, I might tell you the writing is dry. Or, that you need a story. Or that I need an example. But, a story with people yelling at each other or working through a project is a great idea.

If I tell you need a story, believe, me. You need a story or an example. I don’t tell you that because I want to hurt your feelings. I’m telling you because I fell asleep reading your work. At 8am. After I woke up and worked out. Or, took a shower. I gave your writing the best shot I knew how. It put me to sleep.

If I tell you your writing is boring, you have several choices:

  1. You can insert a story;
  2. You can take a different perspective on the entire article;
  3. Put the piece down for a week or two and come back to it later.

When Esther and I wrote Behind Closed Doors, Jerry gave us feedback on our first draft and told us it was boring. We rewrote the entire book. He told us our second draft was more boring! Esther is the one who had the transforming idea that we should write the story of Sam the perfect manager and pull out the lessons after we told the story, and that we should pair-write the book.

Do not write more words. Please. Unless you change something. If you write more words in a piece that’s already

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About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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