Easy to be hard.
People in my workshops often ask me why writing can be so hard. My answer is usually something like “Well, one reason writing can be challenging is because it’s easier to make it difficult.”
That may seem like a contradiction, but think of the idea in another context. For example, it’s easier to eat food that is unhealthy. Just stop by your local McDonald’s drive-through on the way home from work tonight. You can order, pay for, and consume a Big Mac, large order of fries, and a Coke in about fifteen minutes. Or less.
On the other hand, if you yearn to wander the produce department searching for the sweetest organic tomatoes, and you long to admire the choicest glistening salmon on ice, and you cherish pondering a delectable wine to accompany it all, you’ll likely spend two hours shopping, preparing, and savoring your dinner. But you’ll make a healthier meal. Plus, you’ll stay trim and keep your heart and soul happier.
So too with writing. We get mired in the wrong priorities. Finish it quickly. Include lots of detail. Make it sound like business writing. In fact, when clients tell me they want business writing training for their employees, I’m tempted to reply “I actually encourage people to NOT churn out business writing!”
Another reason writing can be difficult is because in their effort to get it done quickly, many people jump right in and start writing without thinking first. It’s pretty much impossible to write clearly without first thinking clearly.
Again, consider an analogy. No competent cook in the world would randomly toss handfuls of ingredients into a bowl, stir it once, pop it in the microwave, and expect a palatable outcome.
So here are four simple ways to make your writing more wholesome:
1. Outline your ideas. Forget the Roman numerals and five-space indenting outline format your eighth grade teacher taught you. An outline is simply putting your ideas in logical order. Decide how to begin, what to include, what to leave out, and how to end.
2. Be your reader. Look at your topic from your reader’s point of view. Would you want to receive the email you’re about to send? Do you make it easy for your reader to understand your ideas, or make a decision?
3. Describe what you want your reader to learn. Not what you think you want to say. If you want me to know something that will help me, I’m happy. If you want to tell me a bunch of stuff, I don’t have time to listen.
4. Define what you expect to accomplish. Clearly describe what decision or action you want your reader to take. Ask yourself: Have I clearly stated my expectation? Is it a reasonable expectation to have of my reader? Have I clearly defined variables like time, place, process, and deliverables?
Try these four ideas as you plan your next email. You’ll discover clear writing can be a piece of cake.