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Over My Shoulder

I'm one of those people who forget how to breathe if someone's watching me.

Make coffee? Type in my password? Nope, not if you're watching. My brain shuts down and refuses to pull up instructions on how to do even the most mindless tasks if someone's over my shoulder.

This is a problem, especially since I work as part of a design team. Collaboration is important, and that often means sharing screens, brainstorming, and finding solutions in real-time.

I often say that I need some time to work on a problem on my own; in general, there's nothing wrong with this approach. I know I'm a slow processor and that figuring out my own opinion takes time. I want to digest the information first. Writing is also something that needs to be seen before its accepted; something that sounds good in my head won't necessarily work on paper or within a flow.

I'll never fully give up this method. But I am challenging myself to be more comfortable with the over the shoulder approach: where I attempt to craft copy during a meeting with other stakeholders. This is sometimes necessary if a flow is complex or we're unsure about what exactly needs to be included.

The first few times I did this, I hated it. Mostly because my writing process for the more difficult cases looks something like this:

  1. Debrief with designers and PMs to understand the feature.

  2. Try to magically write the perfect copy and fail.

  3. Question if this is the right time and place for the copy.

  4. Write out the bad ideas to get them out of my head.

  5. List out the info that we could potentially include.

  6. Discard extraneous info and rearrange what's left.

  7. Write the main points in an absolute garbage sentence.

  8. Break for coffee.

  9. Refine, polish, and breathe.

It's not exactly a dignified or pretty system. Like many other "creative" processes, there's a level of trial and error involved. And I didn't like showing that to people.

What took me some time to learn, though, is that my discomfort was unwarranted. Showing my process actually demystified the world of UX writing to other colleagues, and they now feel more comfortable using these exercises to figure out what to include in their design. It's also been a reminder that very few people have a "clean" way of working: I've watched others work in similar ways, and I respect them just as much.

This type of collaboration has led to better communication, bilateral learning, and a deeper level of trust and openness. I still add caveats to my process ("Okay, let's just write out the garbage first") to explain which stage we're at. And I still ask to step away sometimes so I can chew on a few options alone. Both are okay, and necessary, even for more introverted writers like myself.


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