Most jobs today require writing of some kind—email, forms, reports, presentation slides, social media, instructions, ads. And if your job doesn’t demand writing skills, your social life does. Social media posts, text messages, and emails keep you from being late, help you get a date, or even help you find a mate.
Enough said about motivation. Here are my seven first and last words on writing that works.
1) Think: Find the “So What?” Remember that your readers are always asking, “So why do I need to know this? So why will this be of interest to me?” In most situations, you could include any number of details. But your mission should be to focus on your audience: What’s the new information for them? Don’t tell them what they already know. And don’t tell them what they have no interest in knowing. Can you roll up the essence of a situation into a summary statement that tells all? If so, that’s your opener.
2) Switch: Assign your subconscious to the task. When stumped while writing, I often switch to another project. My subconscious mind goes to work on finding that creative analogy, that jaw-dropping headline, that improved structure, or that more tactful phrasing. Suddenly, my subconscious pops the answer into my conscious mind, and the writing dilemma is solved.
3) Listen: Write in your own voice. Use your own words—not pompous language or jargon. To test for authenticity, once you’ve finished your document, read what you’ve written aloud. If it sounds unnatural to your own ears, it will sound stuffy to your reader as well.
4) Rewrite: The key to all good writing is rewriting. Write the first draft quickly. Unlike with brain surgery, you don’t have to get it right the first time. Just get the ideas down in reasonably good order. Then you can improve the sentence structure and phrasing later.
5) Ask: Get editorial feedback. I’m not talking about just having someone proofread for typos or grammar errors—although that’s a good idea. Ask a colleague to read what you write and allow them the freedom to answer your specific questions honestly. You’ll ask different questions for different documents, of course. But editorial feedback would include opinions on things such as these: Is the structure easy to follow? Do the analogies improve clarity? Is the tone appropriate? Are the actions clear and specific? What details should I omit? Are key details missing?
6) Reflect: Allow a cool-off period of a few hours or a few days. Time will tell you much about what you need to revise in your writing. Strong sentences slap you upside the head. Good writing soars. Weak writing limps along like a bird with a broken wing.
7) Read: Read good writers. Your ear will develop rhythm for the language.
When people ask me how I’ve published 46 books with major publishers—and they want a serious, not flippant, answer––these tips, based on trial-and-error writing experiences, are my words to the wise. What are yours?