I used to cringe every time someone gave me constructive criticism.
It’s still not my favorite thing to swallow. Feedback from my editor is a given — professionals are trained to give a balance of praise and criticism to motivate writers to continuously improve from assignment to assignment. Clients, on the other hand, aren’t always trained editors or even experienced writers. Sometimes their “feedback” is a little too blunt for my self-esteem to take lightly, I’m not going to lie.
The phrase that used to trip me up the most, though, has become one of my favorite lines of feedback from people I’m writing for: “You could do better.”
It’s not always spoken straight — it’s not the nicest-sounding phrase you’ll ever hear or offer to another person. But its implications are actually more motivational than the most inspirational quote on Tunblr.
It means: “This was fine. But I know you’re capable of more.”
“Great. Now let’s make the next one even better.”
“Awesome! So here are some things you can do next time to double the awesomeness.”
You can always — ALWAYS — do better.
In the past, I always took this to mean the work I was doing wasn’t good to begin with. But that’s usually not the case. Most of the time, “better” means above average, while your original work was simply average. You did all right the first time. But you’re not reaching your full potential yet.
I don’t believe you’re ever doing your absolute best, especially in writing. You’re always improving, even when you don’t notice it. It’s very difficult to track subtle, gradual changes in your style, but it’s happening. So the writing you’re doing right now might be great. But it’s not as good as something you’re going to write a year, a month, maybe even a week from now. If you write with the mindset that your best work is yet to come, you’ll never stop striving to improve.
And that’s probably one of the best things that will ever happen to you, writer.
There’s unlimited motivation hidden in that thought pattern. “You could do better” could become the primary driving force of your entire creative operation. It’s become mine. I’ve accepted that things like views and followers and the like are usually meaningless when it comes to the quality of my work — but the better I get at what I do, the more satisfied I am with myself.
If I do happen to write a bad article every once in awhile — it happens — it doesn’t destroy my confidence. Someone telling me to do better next time is literally just telling me to do better next time. It’s not commentary on my skill level or the value of my existence as a writer. It’s just the truth.
You can always do better. Don’t forget that. You haven’t peaked, you’re not exactly where you want to be. You’re where you are right now. And they’re SO much more ahead of you, as long as you keep moving forward.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.