Whether you are a CEO or in the PTO, chances are that at some time or another, either by choice or by mandate, you will be tasked with a writing assignment.
A WRITING ASSIGNMENT?!?!
Yes, a writing assignment. (It’s okay. Breathe.)
Look, we live in a time, an age, and a culture that is dominated by social media, and social media is dominated by posting, blogging, emailing, texting, tweeting, retweeting… in other words, words. That means for you to create “killer content” – and that is the marketing brass ring, at least for now – you are going to have to write. I know, for many of you compulsory writing evokes dreaded memories of blue essay pamphlets, red editorial comments, and a taunting landscape of white paper refusing to be occupied. But remember, you have already overcome your high school self, and I assure you that likewise, you can overcome your uncertainty of having anything worth saying, your fear of having the ability to say it well, or both.
“How can you be so sure?” (That’s your line. Hence, the quotation marks.)
Because if you are a CEO or in a PTO, then you can talk, and if you can talk then you can write. (Disclaimer: The truth is that writing is like talking… but not. To start, it is helpful to focus on the ways in which they are alike. In later posts, as we peel away the proverbial layers of our writing onion, we can focus more on the ways in which they differ.) In fact, you communicate verbally with success and ease all the time, don’t you? So the question isn’t, “Can I communicate effectively?” (You can!) The question really is, “Why is it that I struggle to communicate effectively when assigned to do so?” And the answer, at least partially, is actually quite simple; it has to do with how strongly you believe what you are saying, how interested you are in the person(s) to whom you are saying it, and where your energy is focused while executing the task.
Invest in your message:
I believe the adage, “To have a friend, first you have to be a friend.” Well, the same basic idea applies to writing: To convince a reader that what you are saying is true – and, more importantly, that it matters – you must first believe it yourself. Of course, that can be a challenge. (Remember those indignant high school proclamations? “I don’t care how a bill becomes a law.” “I don’t want to compare and contrast these novels.” “I can’t describe the various functions of the circulatory system!”) But indifference towards your subject matter not only produces poor results, it makes the writing itself a bore, a chore, and a snore. So find a way in. Regardless of the topic, approach it from a viewpoint that is truthful, specific, and yours. Determine what thoughts, insights, beliefs, or even gripes you have related to your position, company, or field that can inform your message. Consider how your personal values can help shape a unique take on your topic. Ponder your interests – even seemingly unrelated ones – to see how they can provide an engaging lens through which to discuss the material.
Know your audience:
Think about the variety of conversations you have in a given day, and then recognize this: the variety of those conversations is determined at least as much by the relationship you have with the person to whom you are speaking as it is by the topic of conversation itself. Instinctively, and as verbal communicators, we all know that, but as writers sometimes we forget. Yet, if you had a great first date with the new hottie in accounting, and then had to write about it, wouldn’t the story of that date read very differently depending on whether you were telling it to your pastor, your roommate, or the other hottie in accounting? Of course it would! Your word choice would vary from person to person, as would your inclusion (or not) of details; the length of the tale; and the descriptiveness, playfulness and tone you would employ. So before you tell your story, determine to whom you are speaking, and then make clear, specific, and purposeful, choices based on whom that audience is.
Focus your energy:
At some point you have probably seen – or perhaps been! – a public speaker hindered or overcome by nerves. “I hate speaking in public. I get so self-conscious,” the speaker might bemoan afterwards, and we understand. It is true for writers as well. But while you may feel self-conscious because you are nervous, I assure you that you are also nervous because you are self-conscious; it’s what the I-really-don’t-want-to-look/sound-stupid-in-front-of-the-class morphed into as you got older and left the old high school you behind. So while this is simple, which is not to say “easy,” adhere to this precept: If you have something to say, make sure as you say it to keep your energy focused on your message and your audience. Care about them! Make them important! I cannot count the times I have asked a student, “To whom are you speaking and toward what end?” But I have asked it countless times because that is THE question, and if you are not focused on that or cannot answer that or care more to worry about how you are coming across than that, then stop writing, take a break, and begin again when your energy is redirected.
So there you have 3 beginning steps. Add to them this: Believe that you can write, because you can, and stop confirming that you cannot. Writing is not difficult; it is just time consuming. Accept that before you begin. Then find a message you care to tell, decide to whom it should be told, and commit to the task of telling it as well, as authentically, and as honestly as you can, regardless of the effort it requires. In short order your feelings about writing may completely change, even if your feelings about your old high school English teacher do not.