Writing. We all do it, nearly every day. We text friends and family about making plans, email co-workers or clients about a task and share the latest life updates on social media.
While we may not think of these things as writing, they are. Writing is an essential skill—something we learn at a very early age and will use for the rest of our lives—and a representation of who we are.
If you work in PR, digital marketing or any other type of communications role, you know that words are your lifeline. You simply cannot do your job without them—and how you use them affects your credibility and reputation.
So in an effort to improve my own writing, I recently started reading the critically acclaimed book, Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley. Ann is a well-qualified writing expert and head of content for MarketingProfs, an online platform of marketing tools and resources.
While I highly recommend you read her book from cover to cover, I’ve listed a few of my favorite highlights from the book below:
Tackle “The Ugly First Draft”
Yes, Ann refers to an original piece of writing as “The Ugly First Draft”—and rightfully so. She explains that we often feel stumped with our words and don’t know how to begin writing, which creates a sense of fear and paralysis (AKA “writer’s block”). The best way to alleviate it? Start writing. What you write the first time will by no means be the final version, and that’s okay. The key here is that you actually get words on paper and create the initial draft.
There have been many times I’ve stared at a blank page and felt overwhelmed by the unwritten article that lay before me. After taking Ann’s advice several times now, instead of bemoaning the blank page for hours (or days!), I can attest to her method. Once I start to put my thoughts on the page, however messy it may be, I can see it begin to come together. Of course, once those initial words are on paper, you’ll want to let it rest and come back later to edit. Giving yourself time away from the piece lets you approach it with a clear perspective—helping you see gaps to fill in, word choices to exchange or excess wording to remove.
Words are important. We speak, hear, read and write them every day, and the way we use them determines their impact.
Swap Places with the Reader
When you write, it’s important to keep the reader in mind—not you as the writer. By putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, you can write according to her needs and answer her questions before they arise. Developing this type of selflessness in your writing takes practice, but it makes your content more useful and enjoyable for the reader.
Show Don’t Tell
We’re all familiar with the phrase “Show & Tell.” It may bring back warm memories of elementary school when you could bring in a prized possession—like a beloved pet or shiny new toy—to share with the class. In the same way, strong writing helps the reader see the message and feel the story, rather than simply read words that describe it. In certain types of writing, this can even be taken literally. Would your readers benefit from a graph or chart that reveals trends instead a paragraph full of statistics? Or would an image help the reader place himself in the story more than words alone? Considering these alternative elements doesn’t take away from the words with which you write but, rather, enhances them.
Let Someone Edit Your Work
This is absolutely key. Before your writing is published, let someone else edit your work. You’ve likely read your copy over and over, so you need someone with a fresh set of eyes to review your writing. He may recognize things you haven’t noticed—like points or words to add, modify or remove from the text—that can make all the difference in a good article and a great article. An editor will also help you improve as a writer over time, as he can identify writing patterns to refine and provide you with regular feedback.
Words are important. We speak, hear, read and write them every day, and the way we use them determines their impact. Some of us rely on words more heavily than others, especially those of us in PR, but words matter to every individual. So let’s aim to make the most of them!
How are you working to improve your writing skills?