Policy Without Procedures Is Meaningless

A long time ago, a lovely gal worked at a place that shall not be named. That place had policies but no procedures.

So the firm would put in writing that it would enforce it’s dresscode, but not actually explain how it defined dresscode or give examples of what was deemed appropriate and inappropriate.

The firm would state we will not violate laws. But not explain to the employees what the laws were, how they applied to the firm, and what the employees needed to do to make sure they followed the laws.

Policy without procedures is meaningless.

The same applies to writing.

We say show don’t tell. Great policy. But if we haven’t taken the time to explain what showing is and teach the person to identify what telling is, how in the world can anyone follow that policy?

They can’t.

What’s my point here?

Thanks for asking. Three things actually.

In order to teach self-editing, you have to pass on the procedures to writers. I’ve read books on self-editing that didn’t tell me how to replicate the process in my own work. Not very useful.

In order to be a great editor, you have to have not just understand policy but understand and execute procedures.

In order to give great feedback, you have to explain why the edit makes sense (mention the policy then explain the procedure behind the edit)

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26 Responses to Policy Without Procedures Is Meaningless

  1. Jenny says:

    Great post and a lesson to us all who offer our advice/edits and critiques to others. Do so in the manner you wish to have your work edited and critiqued.

    • Thanks Jenny! I think the why and the how are so much more important than the what. It’s easy to say what is wrong but you have to dig deeper to explain why it isn’t working and how to potentially fix it. Terms get thrown around like too much passive voice, flat characters. But it’s important to explain why you came to that conclusion. It’s the only way a writer can grow from feedback and learn new things.

  2. crubin says:

    It’s like telling your kids not to scream or hit in anger but not giving them the tools to handle that anger, so that they’ll know what to do next time. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m screaming at my manuscript…or does it?…

    • Exactly. It doesn’t change the root of the behavior.

      I’ve fallen victim to this many times. Writing groups telling me too much telling, but not explaining why it didn’t work or how to identify it going forward. I hate when it’s 6 months later and advice finally makes sense and sinks in.

      LOL. Carrie, I think we all scream at our manuscript from time to time. 🙂

  3. Cat Forsley says:


  4. jmmcdowell says:

    So true! I think I’m just beginning to get a good handle on “show, don’t tell.” I’ve never seen any clear, easy-to-follow examples of it. People love to quote Chekov’s “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint on the glass,” or whatever the exact phrase is.

    I’m sorry. But that really isn’t clear to someone just learning the writing craft. Is “The moonlight glinted on the window” a good show? I wouldn’t have known when I started writing fiction.

    And I’d hate to say how much passive construction came out of my last revision. Because while I knew “She was bitten by the cat” was clearly passive, I’d forgotten a sentence like “There was a metal band around the bones” is, too.

    If there’s a good book on writing out there that provides clear examples of the do’s and dont’s of these basic tenets that we’re all supposed to understand, I’d love to know what it is!

    • It’s a nice example, but it doesn’t teach the thought process to determine it’s showing.

      I don’t know that any one editing book advanced my understanding as much as an online study packet I downloaded. Margie Lawson’s self study packets have been the best source of process teaching materials so far. She gives examples and also explains what to look for and how to do it. I walk away from them with a better understanding of what to do and how to do it. 🙂

      I have A-ha moments months after I received feedback. I understand the policy “show don’t tell” or “make your characters uique” but have no idea how to implement it or adhere to it. And that creates such a disconnect.

  5. Samir says:

    Beutifully said… or explained 😉

  6. Leila says:

    Well said. As a good friend of mine recently said to me ‘you have to know the rules in order to break them’. 🙂

  7. Sooo, we put on our thinking caps and muddle through? A little clarity helps a great deal – thanks for the Lawson suggestion

  8. I so agree with you on “self editing” books. Reading, writing and understanding those whys and hows are vital. Thanks for another great post, Kourtney!

    • Thanks August! I’ve read several of them and it only started to click after I worked through the online self study packets by Margie Lawson. Then it was like bam I got it and I got how to identify and fix it.

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