Writing well

I’m currently managing a real live communications team. It’s been a great experience to work with people who care about communicating and in particular, care about writing.

For many people, writing well is not important. Most people don’t view the ability to write well as critical to their career path. They regard writing as something that everyone can do. If you can speak, you can write – right? I don’t think this is true. Good writing is required in every profession.

I come across some very poor writing every day and sometimes my own writing is less than perfect, especially if I’m tired or stressed or in a hurry. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right words and put them in the right order. I would never claim that writing is easy, but I am grateful that for me, writing isn’t scary. I know this isn’t true for other people. For them the blank page can be terrifying and being asked to write a report can be overwhelming.

One piece of advice that I always give people is that you should write with the expectation that you will need to revise. Don’t ever expect that your first draft will be perfect. Good writers are good editors. They change, polish and review their work. They know that getting the words down on the page is the hard part, editing and revising is easy once you’ve made a start.

Another tip is to stop thinking that your ideas have to be fully formed before you put them down on paper. Writing is a process of thinking and learning and you don’t need to know exactly what you are trying to say when you write your first draft. You can be ruthless later. And make sure you are, because no-one wants to read your waffle.

The saddest part about managing a team of good writers is that their skills aren’t necessarily recognised by other people in the business. We are frequently asked to publish material that is poorly written or confusing. It’s very frustrating to go back to clients with an offer to improve what they’ve written and be told that they don’t want it changed. They think that we merely want things to be shorter, when we really want them to be clearer.

Good writing isn’t necessarily simple (or simplistic). Good writing is concise, lucid, nuanced and compelling.

 

7 thoughts on “Writing well

  1. Yes! I wish I had the luxury to write drafts. Sometimes urgency dictates in a crisis and I re-read what should have been a first draft and i hate it!

  2. I think a ‘shitty first draft’ should be thought of as obligatory. It’s just a normal part of the writing process. I have always loved the quote “I write to know what I think” which has been attributed to both Joan Didion and Flannery O’Connor in different forms. The writing process really does help you clarify your ideas. The trick is to get something on the page without judging the worth of each sentence. You can be ruthless later.

  3. Margaret, I’m sitting at home trying to write a document for work and really appreciate your recommendation to just get the words down. I want the text to be perfect, which results in dreadful procrastination – thus I’m working on Sunday afternoon – thanks for the reminder that before perfection comes the “shitty first draft”. Megan

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