Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.
Clear, crisp writing is an important communication skill. Successful people are able to get across their ideas in an easily readable way. I’ve been blessed. Writing has always come easy to me. I enjoy it. Studying Journalism in college helped too. There’s nothing like a critique from a Journalism professor to help you clean up your writing.
However, this blessing can become a bit of a curse. Because writing comes easy to me, I sometimes get lazy and don’t do a good job of rewriting. James Michener, a great writer, once said, "I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter." Rewriting is the key to good writing, just as James Michener, who wrote more than 40 books and won a Pulitzer prize, says. Let me repeat that. Rewriting is the key to good writing.
In yesterday’s post, I talked about the relationship between hard work and outstanding performance. Rewriting is the hard work of writing. All writing can improve. I have rewritten all of my books at least three or four times. Yet, I can open any one of them at random and find a better way to get my point across.
I’m not saying that you have to rewrite endlessly – just enough to make what you’ve written better. Often, I fall into the trap of beginning sentences with unnecessary words or phrases. I often will begin a sentence with these words, "To begin with…" I cut them out when I rewrite. It should be obvious when I am beginning a new thought.
"To tell you the truth," or "To be perfectly honest with you," are also sentence beginners that come up often; more so in conversation, but sometimes in writing. These phrases are a problem for two reasons. 1) They are unnecessary. You should tell the truth. 2) They put me on guard. When I hear "To be perfectly honest with you," I assume what follows is going to be a lie.
My purpose in this post, however, is not to teach you how to rewrite, but to get you to realize that rewriting is the key to good writing. Read what you’ve written. If you’re honest with yourself, you know you can be more clear, more concise. Then do what you need to do to make what you’ve written more clear and concise.
"No matter how much preparation I do, I always find that I can improve on the first draft. That’s partly because when I’m writing that first version, my main focus is to get the essence of my thoughts down on paper. At that stage I don’t worry about perfect phrasing, grammar or logic. My main mission the first time through is to make sure that I capture the critical words and phrases that form the core meaning of what I want to communicate."
Shaun also suggests that one good way to begin the rewriting process is to read what you’ve written out loud.
"Some people who haven’t tried it may laugh when they read this, but it really works. At any point during the drafting process, but definitely at the draft final stage, read your report or letter to yourself "out loud". It’s amazing what one picks up when they actually "hear" their words as if they were being spoken to them as the addressee. I find this helps me the most in picking up awkward phrasing and unnecessary repetition of words or terms."
I agree with both of Shaun’s points. I always advise my executive coaching clients to "Write fast and rewrite slowly." In other words, get your thoughts down on paper or the screen quickly, and then spend a lot of time refining what you’ve written to make sure it communicates exactly what you want to say.
Second, I find that reading out loud what I’ve written is a great way to make sure that my writing is user friendly. Most of the people who read what I write read out loud in their mind. In other words, it needs to sound good as well as look good.
The common sense point here is simple. Rewriting is the key to good writing. Rewrite everything you write once or twice. It will get better, I guarantee it. This goes foe e mails, as well as longer pieces. Also, follow Shaun Fawcett’s advice – write quickly, rewrite slowly; read what you’ve written out loud to see how it "sounds to your reader."
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading. Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense. I am not posting regularly on my www.CommonSenseGuy.com blog right now, as I want to concentrate on this one. It is still up though. Please don’t cancel your RSS feed as I will be posting there occasionally. And, you can still get a free ebook version of my book 4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations by visiting www.CommonSenseGuy.com.
I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open. Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.