Fresh eyes and bruised egos

Have you ever sweated over a problem only to have someone new solve it in five seconds?

I have. It’s times like that when I wonder if I’m really as smart as my mom says I am.

I mean, this person strolls over, munching on a bagel or playing Angry Birds, glances at my screen, and says, “why not just add this word there?”

Boom. Problem solved.

Of course I’m glad; on the other hand, I feel like a moron.

Fresh eyes are powerful

It’s so easy to get too close to your work. You know all the history and all the decisions that went into every comma and hyphen.

But that knowledge can hurt you.

For example, you decided not to use the word “picklehead” in sentence B because you used it in sentence A. Good call.

But then, in an unrelated revision, you moved sentence A way down in the document. Your eyes and your brain still have a bias against using “picklehead” in sentence B, but that bias is no longer valid.

The fresh-eyed intern (or editor) comes along and spots the obvious fix. Insert “picklehead” into sentence B and your woes are solved. And you feel stupid.

(Of course, you and I should NOT feel stupid. If we were the ones with fresh eyes, we’d be the ones spotting the problems. We know this intellectually, but it’s sometimes hard to get the ego on board.)

My tip: Give yourself fresh eyes

If I have the time, I let my work lie fallow for a while before I turn it in. Walk away, or work on something else. The longer the better.

If I’ve finished something a day early, I won’t turn it in (unless they need it now, of course!).

Then I come back and re-read the thing with fresh eyes. At least, they’re more fresh than they were the day before. This really works for me and I find that I deliver much better stuff this way.

And a tip for the person with fresh eyes

When looking over someone else’s work, remember that you have fresh eyes. Be gentle.

Don’t say, “why don’t you just do X?”

Instead say, “Have you tried doing X? That might help.”

Please. My ego can’t take much bruising. I’m a writer.

Anyone have thoughts about the fresh eyes phenomenon?

5 Responses to “Fresh eyes and bruised egos”

  1. December 9, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    I agree completely. This is the power of a good editor. For so many years, I’ve had customers say, “If I am paying this much for a senior writer, why do I need an editor?”

    This is the reason (among others!). Fresh eyes.

    Not so sure if an intern can do the job as well, though. 😉

    Thanks for your post.

  2. December 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Val: I’ve never even had an intern! I have no idea why I used an intern as an example.

    But whenever I’ve sent my work to an editor, it’s come back better. Probably 100% of the time.

    • February 25, 2011 at 3:48 am #

      BTW, have you read “The Secrets of Consulting” by Jerry Weinberg? I’ve just finished it – and thought it might be helpful in working out healthy ego-safe strategies of collaboration with “fresh eyes”. =)

  3. February 8, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    In my usual workflow it is a common routine – “Ok, guys with fresh eyes and ideas, who wanna review my docs? And I’m free to review someone else docs too!” – and no bruised egos. =)

  4. March 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Natalia, I’ll check out that book. I hadn’t heard of it before. Thanks!

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