Do you let your writing walk all over your personality?

Writing guides like me always preach that you should write as you speak, whoever you are. But often there are big-bully barriers that get in your way, making your writing dull, long-winded and not like the real you at all.

Does your writing walk all over your personality?

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.

Does your writing walk all over your personality?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

Does your writing walks all over your personality?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.

 

Some help to 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

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: mezone via photopin cc

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. Excellent blog. It’s a bit like putting on a “telephone voice” – you can’t keep it up for long, and it’s irritating for the person listening. There’s a happy medium, isn’t there? Iwant to make sure I get my meaning across without sounding pompous and stuffy, but at the same time I want to appear professional and as if I have taken some care over what I write.

    Still, if it was easy, we wouldn’t need Suze!

    • Thanks for the compliment Jane! However there’s no magic to it: simply write as if you were speaking to your readers. If you’re speaking to them face-to-face, you will still come across as professional and having taken care to ensure what you say is accurate, but you don’t get bogged down by technical language or excessive jargon. Try to capture that essence in what you write down, and your writing will be well under control. However I know from reading your blog posts that you achieve that very well … good for you! If you want to see what I mean, everyone, check out Jane’s site – http://evenbreak.co.uk.

  2. I usually write how I speak and for a long time was worried that it wasn’t good enough. I used to compare mine with that of fellow students: theirs was ‘posh’ (as I saw it) and full of long winded words and mine wasn’t. Or, I wrote some book reviews for a magazine. The other reviewers sometimes wrote comments I didn’t even understand, and I remember thinking ‘I can’t write like that!’ – and I didn’t. But I was was always worried it wasn’t good enough.

    Now I’m confident enough to stick to my style. Anybody, who doesn’t like it can go and read something else 🙂

    • Absolutely right, Angelika. That’s what good contemporary “writing” is all about – expressing yourself and your personality, because that’s what people are interested in – not some image that someone else has created. I’m really pleased that you’re confident enough to stick to your style!

  3. I write as I speak but am often tongue tied and hesitant. I hope it doesn’t come across in my writing. Great post as usual Suze.

  4. I used to write like I thought I had to to sound clever and intelligent and academic…and boy was it poor writing. Then I thought it had to be serious and boy was it long winded and boring. But now I let my personality come through – bit of humour, a little swish of the fact that I know what I know and can say it simply because I want others to benefit…so all the other stuff is hiding and fluff…and as for 1st paragraphs…they are so often chucked out with the bath water 😉 I guess it is writing from the heart to use my terminology!

    • Writing from the heart is what really counts, Sarupa. Provided that you think through what you’re going to write carefully so there’s a logical thread to it, the fact that it comes from the heart shouts out loud and clear – straight to the reader’s heart, which is where you want to be. Turgid, uninspired, sheepish writing may pass some safety tests but it’s second only to zopiclone for putting readers to sleep…

  5. A very liberating post—and excellent advice, especially for those hamstrung by corporate-speak.

    I love the fact that now when I write I can talk to my audience much as I would if we were chatting over a cup of coffee.

    • I love that too, Mary, and you do it perfectly. So many people in your business manage to impart good information but make their readers feel patronized and guilty for not being as fit and active as they should be … but your articles are genuinely inspiring!

Thoughts

*

css.php