Pro writers like me always preach that you should write as you speak, but often there are big bully-boy barriers that get in your way, making your writing dull, long-winded and not like the real you at all. Here’s how to get over those barriers to achieve fluent writing that sounds like the you, and
to make sure it never walks all over you again.
You feel you have to reflect the importance of your job
There’s no reason why what you write should be any different from the way you speak to your colleagues, staff, customers or clients, stakeholders, etc., when you’re in a relatively informal meeting with them.
Provided that you’re confident in yourself, your skills and talent, those will shine through in your writing without your needing to resort to long words and pompous phrasing. Keep it simple, have some faith, and your readers will hear your voice coming through those words.
You’re not too sure exactly what it is you want to express
Another thing we pro writers often admit is that once we get writing, we often delete the first paragraph because that was us just “warming up” before we really got to the point. It’s not just pro writers; everyone does that, especially when they haven’t really decide a) what they want to say or b) how to go about saying what they need to say.
By all means, take all your time to “warm up” with your writing, but be brave enough to go back with a hatchet and chop out the early sentences where you were getting the car running and the oil circulating smoothly around the motor.
You’re hampered by the need to use conventional structure and wording
This is especially true amongst “professionals” like doctors and lawyers, as well as throughout the scientific and academic communities.
Lawyers always come up with the excuse that to use sentences less than 95 words long with any punctuation at all opens them and their clients up to horrendous legal liabilities potentially costing millions. That may be true for a legal contract, but it isn’t true when writing a letter to a client or prospect. A short, snappy sentence in active rather than passive speech does not make you look like a moron; it makes you look human and alive in the 21st century.
Doctors, despite repeatedly being asked by patient representative groups (and I speak as one of those, as well as doing my day job) to write letters about your healthcare in layman’s terms, invariably fall back into medical jargon – especially if they’re writing a letter to a medical colleague with you, as the mere patient, being copied in for good measure. If the correct terminology is “radical cystectomy with formation of ileal conduit” that’s fine, but to insert (in brackets if you must) “bladder removal followed by construction of a stoma on the abdomen” would be very helpful. After all, that’s how you, the doctor, would describe it to a patient face-to-face. It may feel comfortable to chat away in jargon, but get out from behind it when non-professionals need to understand it.
Academic writing makes my eyes cross. However I mustn’t criticize it according to my undergraduate son who sends me his university essays to proof-read. These are so tightly packed with long-winded sentences and paragraphs several inches long, I need a bottle of water and a sandwich to sustain me just so I can read them to the end. If your audience is entirely academic, OK, but if non-academics – or non-specialists – need to understand what you write, once again – write it as you would tell it to their faces.
You want your text or script to sound properly “corporate”
I’ll never forget an advertising agency wallah who once rejected some copy I had written for a corporate brochure because I had written a direct, no-fuss account of what the (his) client company did and how it could achieve damned good results for its clients.
Why? It didn’t seem “corporate” enough. What do you mean? I asked. “Well, you know, there should be more long words. More formal writing. More, you know, corporate stuff.”
Much as freelancers like moi can scarcely afford to fire a client, I fired this guy and told him where he could stuff his business along with his corporate lunacy.
Don’t be silly. The fact that you and/or your corporate organization know how to use long words means nothing other than long-windedness. Don’t hide behind it and allow it to destroy the personality, zest and vigour of the organization: get off the corporate high horse and tell it like it really is.
You’re afraid to step out of a comfort zone that you learned years ago
Particularly if you studied English (or the language of your own country if that isn’t English) through high school and into tertiary education, you may still be harbouring rules and conventions that no longer apply, and perhaps never did considering that we’re now out in the big wide world beyond school.
Many of us, me included, can still hear our old English teachers’ remonstrations when we strayed away from the norm with our writing, splitting infinitives and leaving participles dangling all over the place. The reality is that we do that when we speak, and so in theory we should do that when we write.
Apologies to older English teachers, and here’s a caveat … you need to know what the rules are, before you can break them effectively. So to write “I want to utterly trash that malformed opinion” is technically wrong, but everyone can understand it because it’s only a minor transgression from what’s correct and so is easy to grasp. However to write “I think it’s essential to utterly and beyond all serious, sensible doubt trash that malformed opinion” doesn’t work.
See the difference?
Moral of the story?
Writing today – whether for personal, business, “professional” or whatever other requirements, is all about sharing information in the quickest, most effective ways. It’s not about pontificating, patronizing, posturing or any of those turgid old affectations that pervaded literature a few decades ago.
Now, it’s about being you, writing as “you,” and connecting with your business and personal communications in an honest and worthwhile way.
Provided, as always, that you use sufficient discipline in grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax so that you leave no-one in doubt as to what you really mean.
Do you still let your writing walk all over you? Or do you want to walk all over it and get it working effectively for you? TIP: check out those few ideas below.
And if I can help you some more with your writing, stick your email addie down in the box up and to the right >>>> ^^^^- guaranteed security, no spam, just useful stuff. Not too often, either.
Make sure your writing reflects who you really are:
“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English