I recently visited a Web site promoting leadership training. Curious about what skills were taught, I typed “writing” in the search box. The search engine sputtered for a moment and posted: “Did you mean ‘working’?” No, I meant writing. I tried again with “writing skills.” This time I got: “no results.” And without writing skills, that’s exactly what we get: no results.
Writing skills are essential—the mortar that sets the foundation for good communications in the business world. And the number of written communications is increasing. Last year, American workers sent 1.4 trillion e-mails, 80 percent of them reporting that they’d rather do business on the Internet. With no tone of voice or facial expressions, no gestures or inflections, e-mail, letters, reports or any business documents rely solely on words to communicate our message. Words help us influence, sell, encourage, promote, persuade, explain and change. But only if we choose the right words.
Victory or TKO?
Writing today is like Ali vs. Frazier in the last round. It takes a jab from computers and e-mail, a hook from school systems that can’t figure out how to teach it, and a knockout punch from fear, perhaps writing’s most formidable opponent.
Fear confuses us. It makes us think we have no interest in writing. It makes us freeze, procrastinate, even clean our offices before we write. But when that fear is lifted, when people understand how important writing is to their careers and that everyone can learn to write, incredible things happen.
The 1-2-3 punch
How do we get there? Try three quick tips for overcoming your fear of writing:
1. Brain dump. When you have a complex subject to write about—or just something you’re dreading—set a timer for 10 minutes, type without stopping, and let both your left and right brains help you. Your left brain gets all those jumbled facts down on screen; your right brain sweeps in (somehow triggered by the timer and not stopping) with clever ideas you didn’t know you had. Now you’ve got the makings for your…
2. Dreadful first drafts. Don’t beat up on yourself about a crummy beginning. The first draft isn’t even about writing—it’s about concept. It’s rough and ugly. We all write them. Join the club. Now, you’re ready for…
3. Good writing is really good editing. Take that first draft and do something fine with it. Organize it, make it more conversational, change boring verbs to vivid verbs, and most of all, tell stories. People love to read stories—so why not use them to explain and instruct?
Used together, these three ideas help eliminate fear, foster great ideas and yield professional—and persuasive—results.