We learn to write as children. First we scrawl our ABCs in hesitant, crooked letters. Then we learn that those sigils can be combined into words, sentences. We learn to commit our thoughts to paper, to build sentences into paragraphs into pages. We learn to shape arguments, spin fantastical worlds, immortalize a thought.
Communicators go farther. Even as technology advances, communicators consistently point to writing as the single most important skill in the profession. It’s something most do every day, whether it’s tapping out a simple email, penning a massive report or articulating a strategy.
But even though it’s ingrained in us since childhood, even though we write most every day, why can it still feel so hard?
This is a question that can take a lifetime to untangle. But on a philosophical level, there are a few things that can cause the chronic and all-too-familiar aversion to setting fingers to keys.
Good writing is good thinking.
Writing is an extension of your thoughts. What you put into words must first be formed in your mind — and minds can be a messy place. That becomes doubly true when you’re a communicator and trying to sort through the competing demands of various stakeholders, bringing in data and experts as needed, fitting it to the medium, and executing your own vision and imprint.
Taming all that noise enough to think clearly is no easy feat.
Some people like to write everything out in their heads, taking long walks or relying on the creative powers of “shower thoughts” to help them lay out the solution. Others bang at the keyboard first, moving pieces around like a puzzle until the solution appears.
Whatever the method, this process of thinking must precede any successful writing endeavor. And battling your own thoughts is often the most difficult task of all.
Tip: Loosen up the barriers in your overcrowded brain by giving yourself space to think. When you hit a block, disengage from your professional thicket and take a walk, read a poem or listen to a favorite song before returning to your project.
Good writing is a mathematical equation and an artistic endeavor.
Writing is often considered the domain of creatives, a purely right-brained endeavor that requires radical thinking and wild ideas.
And it often does.
But like music, it also demands the left brain’s love of logic and precision — especially for communicators.
You must follow grammatical rules that dictate form and structure to ever hope to be understood — or at least understand the rules enough to break them judiciously. In communications, you must often interpret data and set it to words — or do the opposite and tie your words back to business goals, which almost always involve dollar signs.
Either way, you’re stuck in an endless tug-of-war between logic and emotion, creativity and the bottom line. Pull too far in either direction and you’ll end up with nothing at all.
Tip: If you find yourself stuck on some of the more mathematical aspects of writing, try making a game of it, or seek inspiration from similar work. Set a timer for 60 seconds and brainstorm as many synonyms as you can for a keyword in your press release. Search for data visualization inspiration and see how others have written about it.
Good writing is taking infinite possibilities and narrowing them to a single finite solution.
Have you ever stared at a blank page and felt overwhelmed by the possibilities before you?
You can — must — string together some combination of the 1 million words in the English language to convey the right thought to the right people in the right way.
And in that moment, with the blank page, every door is open to you, with all the wonder and terror that brings with it.
Every word we type closes another door. Locks off another possibility.
Until eventually, we are left with one solution. Hopefully the right one. But you can’t know for sure. Not until you put it into the world and see what comes back.
Tip: If you’re not loving a piece of writing — if that email copy feels flat or you’re not quite nailing the tone of that corporate comms message — stand up and try reading it out loud in front of a mirror. Hearing it may open up more possibilities.
No matter what, spinning stories and crafting communications never stops being scary. Not if you care about the work.
But it keeps being worth it.