I love getting advice about how to write. It seems like it should be easy to sit down and write a blog, or even a company Facebook post. But it’s not. The truth is, when you venture outside your comfort zone of “business” writing, which is where blogs, company Facebook pages, LinkedIn and Twitter usually take us, writing can make you feel like a third-grader all over again.
Sometimes all it takes is one solid tip to break that paralysis about what to write and where to start. But there are cases where you come up against an old maxim that should make writing easier, but really doesn’t.
Here are three common “truths” about writing that I recommend you ignore. They can actually make the task more difficult.
1. Write it the way you just said it and you’ll have no problem!
Some people can do this, but it’s not that easy. Comedians who write their lines, rehearse, write, rehearse and write, and do it again, can often make the transition from spoken word to words on a web page successfully. Not so easy for most of us. Facial expressions, gestures, vocal inflections, and timing all contribute to effective speech. It’s okay to stray from the subject when we’re face-to-face with someone and responding to their comments and cues. Unfortunately, writing is a one-way street, at least until someone responds.
What this means is: Stick to your subject when you write. It’s not a chat. Write a topic sentence, support that idea, and finish with a summary statement. Not exactly how you talk to someone, but it works for writing. The conversational tone, if that’s what you’re going for, will happen organically. Just don’t force it.
2. Write short, simple sentences.
Ernest Hemingway gave us that one. Easy for him to say. Except that everyone from Pascal to Mark Twain has been credited with saying, “If I’d had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
The point is, it’s easier to go on and on about a subject than it is to be succinct. Brevity requires editing your own words, rewrites, more edits; and sometimes you just have to start over. It’s hard! Don’t put that pressure on yourself when you’re staring at a blinking cursor. Instead, scale back the subject matter, not what you write about it.
Let’s say you want to blog about How to Make a Cold Call. Focus instead on Preparing for the Call. Even better, write a blog about one aspect of preparation:
Practicing Your Sales Pitch with the Man (Woman) in the Mirror. Write about one action, thing, word – whatever – that works for you and why, and how it’s improved your results. You’ll still have to go back and edit, but trying to jump start a blog by writing short sentences is like starting a diet by taking tiny bites of food. It probably works, but there are easier ways.
3. Write about what you know.
The problem is, you probably know a lot, especially if you’re good at what you do. So where do you start?
Our colleague at Ninthlink, Jeromy Stallings, had an interesting idea. He suggested that the writer and the graphic designer in our meeting switch jobs for a day. Stepping into another role would provide fresh insight and new perspectives for both the writer and the designer. It would also give each of them a new point of view for their blog entries.
What’s the one rule you should keep in mind? Write for a reader. No matter how out there your topic is or your opinions are, you expect someone to read it, right? (Unless you’re writing for an algorithm, but that’s another topic.) Picture your ideal reader and tell your story. Writing is less intimidating that way.
Remember what you learned about writing in fifth grade. Beginning, middle, end. That’s it. State what you’re going to say, support the idea, close the circle. If that sounds like a myth about how to overcome your fear of writing, try it. Then write to me about your experience, firstname.lastname@example.org.