A client, Barbara, sent this to me today:

I am not a good writer. I am good at generating ideas, giving direction, and structuring outlines...(but) I am not good at grammar, and I am the worst speller west of the Mississippi.

I replied:

Well then you’ve got the hard parts down. Grammar and spelling do not make you a good writer any more than using 10W-30 motor oil makes you a good driver – on either side of the Mississippi.

Barbara's concern is a real one. Her grammar and spelling are an important part of the way she communicates with her clients and manages her employees. Just like using good-quality motor oil in her new Fiat 500 will help her engine last longer.

But she also misses the point about clear writing. If Barbara had impeccable grammar, flawless spelling, and yet murky writing that obscured vague ideas, she'd be a weak, ineffective manager.

But she's not. She's smart, tactful, insightful, and her staff respects her thinking.

My advice to Barbara: focus on communicating your ideas clearly by using words with intention. Then, clean up your writing by reading it out loud and hiring a proofreader. Oh, and keep a copy of Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies at your desk.

Plus, hey. She got Mississippi right. How bad a speller can she be?