The art of effectively communicating your message has long been valued by employers (and society). Nowadays, nearly everything is communicated through the Web--and can be done so instantaneously--making writing skills arguably more important than ever.
So, wanna get your writing skills up to snuff? Where should you start?
Here are five simple steps to help you improve your writing, starting today.
1. Keep a journal.
Before you tell me "I'm not one of those people," hear me out for a second. Yes, a journal can be a diary in which you share your innermost thoughts and feelings. And yes, that can be a great way to exercise your writing muscle.
But a journal can also be a notebook (or smartphone app) in which you keep random thoughts--ranging from your sudden epiphany to improve a broken process to that striking idea for a new product.
The key is to schedule time to visit your journal and translate that randomness into something you can use: a detailed task list, a short report, or a memo to be discussed at your next meeting.
Transforming these abstract ideas into something coherent can help you greatly improve your writing structure, and at the same time improve some of your company's biggest problems.
2. Write more to people you love.
Thank you notes, cards to friends, emails, and letters to my girlfriend (now wife)--that was my primary writing practice for years.
There are numerous advantages to writing friends and family:
- You learn to write with an audience in mind
- You grow your proofreading and editing skills
- You develop an honest, "let's keep it real" writing style--which is always refreshing
Most important (albeit unrelated to your writing goals), you share something of extreme value with your loved ones. Think of how you felt the last time someone you cared about took time to write a heartfelt message to you.
You can even use this as an opportunity to save relationships that need mending, or just to get an extra smile out of somebody.
3. Try blogging.
As I mentioned, writing is like a muscle: the more you work it out, the stronger it becomes. Traditional blogging is great if you're ready for the commitment, but if you're starting out you'll need to pick a blogging platform, as well as find the right Web host.
Another alternative is the LinkedIn publishing platform. Here LinkedIn does all the dirty work; in exchange, you drive more traffic (and potentially more members) to its product. If you're already a member of LinkedIn, chances are you've already been given the opportunity to publish long form posts. (If not, don't worry; LinkedIn says they're in the process of rolling this feature out to all users.)
Now all you have to do is write. Keep yourself to a deadline (maybe once a month) and work up from there.
(A word of caution: Poor grammar, multiple typos, and other big mistakes can hurt your brand. Get yourself a good proofreader/editor to take a second look at your post before going live. If you can't find one, try joining a LinkedIn group like 'Publishers and Bloggers' or 'Writers 4 Writers.' Here you can get in touch with other writers who are ready to give clear and constructive criticism.)
4. Get on Twitter.
There are plenty of haters out there who think Twitter is a nonsensical waste of time--a bane on society destroying writing skills as we know them. I know this because I used to be a hater, too.
But these days I'm singing a different tune when it comes to Twitter. The great thing about the platform is its USP: Messages are limited to 140 characters or less. This limitation teaches you to deliver something of value in a tight and concise message. Yes, 'tweeters' are forced to 'Keep It Short and Simple' (KISS).
As Strunk and White put it in The Elements of Style, the timeless style guide of English writing:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
Strunk and White were decades ahead of their time.
They were actually describing the perfect tweet.
5. Get a mentor.
I've already extolled the value of receiving good feedback, so let's take it to the next level: Where can you find a writing mentor?
If your company has a communications director, maybe he or she will take a look at some of your samples. You can also try an old college professor, or even your high school English teacher. These can be extremely undervalued sources of writing wisdom.
Now before you go inundating them with requests to review your work (for free), try having a conversation about it. They may feel flattered that you came to them. Maybe you can give them some of your widgets in exchange for their time.
Even with a limited schedule, many are happy to help when they can, as long as your requests are reasonable. Your mentor can also help you set the right short-term goals and get you on your way to better writing.
Writing has been a primary method of communicating for millennia, and it's not going anywhere soon. Improving your writing skills can only be a boon to your business, and could turn out to be a whole lot more.