Working in public relations isn’t all phone calls, emails, pitches and press releases. Occasionally, we get to put on our creative hats and write for a living! Sometimes it’s for us and sometimes it’s for a client, but whatever the case, it’s important to give your writing a “voice” and let the style and personality of the author shine through clearly and (hopefully) effortlessly. If you’re writing for yourself, this may come naturally. However, writing for a client (or anyone else that’s not you), can present challenges, as you seek to write from another person’s point of view.
Here are six ways you can improve your writing, both for yourself – and the people who pay you to do it:
Make an outline, and don’t edit as you go. Whether you’re writing a newspaper column or your first novel, make an outline before you start writing. You don’t need anything formal – just a skeleton to guide where to start, what the middle looks like, examples to use to illustrate your point and how you’re going to conclude. Then begin to fill in the specifics. If you prefer a more detailed outline and you have time to built it, that’s fine, but don’t let not having one hold you back from starting. And, once you’ve begun to write, resist the temptation to edit as you go. If you stop and start throughout the process, you’ll stifle your creativity and interrupt your flow. Get your “first draft” done. There will be plenty of time to edit once you’re through.
Become an expert. Admittedly, you may never be an “expert” in everything you write about, but you can certainly improve your knowledge base. If you’re writing a blog entry about your recent trip to Australia, there is likely no greater expert on your experience than you. However, if you’re tasked with writing an op-ed about commercial real estate or a column comparing two different healthcare data platforms, you’re going to need to do some research. A little time spent diving into your topic at the start will make the process easier, and save you time (and headaches).
Pay attention to the musicality of your sentences…Make sure to strike a “conversational style” whenever possible.
Write how you talk. Whether you’re writing a technical blog, an op-ed or even a satirical piece, you don’t want your writing to sound forced or stilted. Pay attention to the musicality of your sentences. Do the words flow easily? Do they sound as if someone could be saying them out loud? Make sure to strike a “conversational style” whenever possible. This doesn’t mean that you should throw out any and all formalities. Just make sure you’re work doesn’t read like an instruction manual, or people will stop reading. (Please tell me you’re still reading.)
Keep it simple. In the words of Mark Twain, “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” Get it? ‘Nuff said.
Get a buddy read. Don’t rely on your editing skills alone and don’t assume you’ve written the greatest thing ever put to paper (or computer screen). Find someone you respect and ask her to give you feedback on what you’ve written. Then, find someone else (maybe someone you don’t respect – just to keep it interesting) to give your work a read. Consider both opinions, especially the places where the two opinion intersect, and make changes accordingly. In the end, trust your instincts, but don’t assume you can go it alone.
Finally – and this is the most important thing:
Read and listen. That’s right. You don’t have to dive into War and Peace right this minute, and everything you read doesn’t have to be a classic. However, it’s important to surround yourself with words and ideas on a daily basis. Maybe it’s the newspaper, your favorite magazine or a classic Stephen King novel. Maybe it’s an audiobook or podcast. Whatever you choose, pay attention to word choice and style. Notice how different writers and speakers approach the same topics – and how the same writer approaches different ones. The more you read and listen, the more information you’ll have to draw from when you sit down to write.
Not everyone loves to write, and that’s okay. Maybe you’re scarred from writing last-minute term papers in high-school, or perhaps you stayed up for a full week in college, living off Skittles and coffee in order finish your thesis (I might have done that). Even if all that is true, writing is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, and the more you do it the better you’ll get. So, go for it, and don’t judge yourself if you’re not perfect. Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master,” so give yourself a break. Be thoughtful, take it one step at a time and make the process fun. Before you know it, you’ll be writing your conclusion, and putting a period at the end of the last sentence.