While the world is still waiting for the “revenge of the English majors” to formally occur — and for companies to recognize the full importance of business writing skills — there’s no question that written communication has become a larger and larger part of today’s professional sphere. Look around you, and you’ll find numerous exciting new communication channels (such as this blog) that are 100% driven by keyboard.
So for those of you out there ready to take the leap, and ratchet your writing capabilities up to the next level, I’ve got just the book for you! Lynda McDaniel, a business writing coach and Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing (of which I’m admittedly a proud Board member) has just released a short book called Words @ Work that contains twelve chapters of great advice on how to become a better writer. You’ll find this book on Amazon.com (search by author name) as well as on Lynda’s own site if you click here. As you’d expect, it’s very well-written. That’s a given. But the most noteworthy aspect of the book (in my opinion) is how Lynda opens up and shares many of the personal trials, travails, and struggles she’s suffered through on her quest to becoming an expert writer herself. Her belief is that good writers don’t necessarily have to be born — they can also be made, if you’re willing to apply yourself and invest some sweat equity in improving your craft.
Some of the specific highlights of the book I’d call out include Lynda’s suggestion that many writing projects start out with a 10-15 minute “brain dump” where you simply pull out a sheet of paper, roll up your sleeves, and start writing whatever enters into your head related to the subject. Don’t edit your work as you go. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t grant writer’s block even a millisecond to take hold. Just let the ink flow, see what ideas materialize, and before you know it you’ll likely see some useful themes emerge and have a workable starting point.
I also love her mantra that “good writing is really good editing” and that even the best writers fight their way through multiple drafts before a final polished product emerges. In my own case, I’ve had many people over the years compliment my writing style and express their wish that they could bang out copy as quickly and naturally as I do. What they DON’T realize is that behind the scenes I’ve usually reworked almost every piece I put out at least a dozen times before it goes to print. It’s not a speedy process by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m flattered, nonetheless, that they like the end result!
Another final snippet from the book I won’t soon forget is her advice related to sentence structure. In one of my favorite passages, she writes “Long sentences. Short sentences. Complex and incomplete. Just as a salad gets better with more texture — diced avocado, chunky tomatoes, and thinly sliced cucumber — a good paragraph needs a variety of sentence structures.” Remembering this “chunky salad” metaphor could help quite a few job hunters to improve their cover letters and job search documents, since one of the fastest ways to bore a hiring manager to death is to have all of your sentences run approximately the same length. An even greater sin? Start each sentence with the “I” pronoun.
At any rate, if you’re even remotely interested in the craft of writing or in improving your skills in this regard, I’d urge you to pick up a copy of Words @ Work in the near future. It’s an extremely practical and useful guide for getting better at this stuff. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Lynda’s friend. Heck, I couldn’t even persuade her to give me a kickback for each new customer I sent her way. Then again, though, I guess she did give me a spot on her Board… :)