Becoming A Writer: Why You Absolutely Must Have Good Writing Skills
I write six days a week an average of 3000 or more words a day.
This writing includes blog posts, books I'm working on, as well as materials for self-improvement courses I create. That adds up to about 936,400 words a year.
According to Amazon’s Text Stats feature, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words. So I’ve written the equivalent of over 14 books in the past year. (I actually did write and publish 8 books this year.)
That’s a lot of writing. It’s more writing than I ever did in college as an English major. In fact, I’ve written more in the last few years as a blogger than I’ve written in all of the years of my life prior to that.
I didn’t begin my blogging career as a confident writer or even a very good one. But I’ve grown into both. As an English major in college, I had a good foundation for writing, but once I graduated most of my writing was for business. I was in public relations for 20+ years and wrote lots of press releases, proposals, and speeches. I didn’t do any creative writing and never considered myself a “real writer.”
Now I do. And I now understand, more than I ever did as a publicist, how valuable the skill of writing is to career success. Nearly every business has an online presence, and since many businesses (like my own) are run solely online if you can’t write decently, you won’t make it.
This isn’t going away. According to Mary Meeker’s annual report on internet trends, in 2012 the world had 2.4 billion internet users, with a growth of 8 percent since 2011.
Research published by McKinsey & Company states, “The Internet’s impact on global growth is rising rapidly. The Internet accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth over the last five years among the developed countries MGI studied, a sharp acceleration from the 10 percent contribution over 15 years. Most of the economic value created by the Internet falls outside of the technology sector, with 75 percent of the benefits captured by companies in more traditional industries.”
Clearly, if you have an internet presence, you absolutely must be able to write with skill, regardless of your career choice. When I first started my coaching consultancy, I saw the writing on the wall (no pun intended) regarding learning online technology and improving my writing ability. I’d avoided both for a long time, thinking they weren’t really necessary for my business. But they are necessary skills for every business, whether you’re a painter or an online entrepreneur.
Here are the reasons becoming a writer is so imperative:
Writing well doesn’t just leverage your chances of building a solid internet presence. It impacts your leadership abilities and credibility. I love what John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co., has to say in an article on Linkedin about why leaders need to have good writing skills:
Whether you’re scribbling a quick note to your team or crafting a feature-length article, you reveal a part of yourself in what you write. The nuances of your writing — word choice, sentence structure, references, and tone — are like interlocking puzzle pieces; they come together in your reader’s mind to create an image of you, the writer.
If this sounds too much like an English major defending his choice of degree, consider the importance of image in the business world. Leaders devote a tremendous amount of energy to managing their image — and for good reason. Image shapes perception and perception is currency.
Therefore, the ability to write well is a critical skill for any leader. When your writing is strong, it garners respect; people listen to what you have to say. Bad writing, on the other hand, saps you of credibility and damages your personal and company brands.
Leaders can't hand off all of their writing to someone else anymore. Virtually all business communication is presented in some written form, and whether we like it or not, our writing is evaluated and judged by those who read it. Poor communication not only diminishes your credibility but also it can get you fired. Consider the now infamous communications executive who was let go over a thoughtless and insensitive tweet.
In addition to learning to write well, you should understand the power your words have for good or ill. Through your writing, you have the opportunity to make a profound impact on the world — now more than ever in the history of the written word. You can write your own blog, publish your own book, and send out your ideas to thousands of social media followers at the push of a button.
What if you don’t like to write?
All of this is good news for those who love to write, but what about those of you who hate writing or who have doubts about your writing abilities? How can you develop confidence in your writing so you can compete in a world that is more and more writing focused? People avoid writing for a variety of reasons, and you might see yourself in one of these descriptions.
- You didn’t learn or retain the writing skills and grammar taught in school.
- You worry about rejection by potential readers.
- You fear you aren’t good enough and don’t believe people will want to read what you have to say.
- You find writing boring and tedious.
- You don’t know how to get started or how to craft a cohesive sentence or paragraph.
- You think it might involve too much research.
- You don't think you have the time to write.
Even for the least confident writers, the basic skills of writing can be learned and improved upon over time. As with any skill, your writing will get better and you’ll feel more confident with regular practice. After writing 936,400 words a year for several years, I can personally attest to the truth of this statement.
Here are some ideas for writing with confidence:
1. Refresh the basics.
You don’t have to be an eloquent writer to be successful. But you do need to know basic grammar, punctuation, and structure. Poor grammar detracts from your message and your credibility. However, it’s better to start by knowing the rules before you begin to break them. Here’s a list of blogs and websites devoted to grammar. The definitive style manual for writers is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
2. When in doubt, spell check.
Misspelled words scream to the reader, “I didn’t proofread or care enough to check my spelling.” The spell checker on your computer should help with this, but when in doubt, look it up. I've been embarrassed too many times when I received an email from a reader pointing out a misspelled word. It's taught me the hard way to carefully proofread everything before I hit “publish” or “send.”
3. Write for your reader.
Whatever you are writing, write with the reader at the forefront of your mind. Think about the information they are seeking, the solutions they want for their problems or questions, or the words that will offer them motivation and inspiration. Consider the demographics of your readers which can impact your style of writing. For example, a loose conversational writing style isn’t generally appropriate for an article written for CEO’s. Avoid business jargon or slang for readers who wouldn’t understand or appreciate it. You can take some liberties when writing online, especially with blog posts or conversational writing.
4. Be concise and clear.
Concise writing is respectful of your reader’s time. You need to make your point quickly and clearly without padding your sentences with extraneous fluff. Enough said.
Reading blog posts, books, and articles by writers you respect will improve your writing. You will learn new skills, additional vocabulary, and style techniques simply by observing other writers and reading regularly.
6. Keep a journal.
A journal is not only a great place to jot down ideas and inspiration but also it’s an excellent way to practice your writing without judgment or fear. Write about your day, your observations, your thoughts, and insights. Make a practice of writing for fun so that all writing doesn’t feel laborious.
7. Seek feedback.
When you first begin writing, it’s difficult to share your work with others. Find someone you know who is a strong writer, and ask them to critique your work. Try to put your emotions aside and give this person permission to be honest and constructive. It’s always good to have someone proofread your writing, even when you grow more skilled and proficient.
8. Hit “publish.”
Publishing your work is even more daunting than having a trusted friend review it for you. Now the eyes of the world are on your writing, and it feels like you’re standing naked on a stage. In order to gain confidence in writing, you must write and publish. More than likely, the positive reactions to your writing will far outweigh any negatives. But criticisms do happen, so learn what you can from them, and keep writing. I promise after those first 936,400 words, criticisms don’t bother you so much!
9. Make writing a habit.
In order to improve as a writer, you have to write. Even if you write for just 10-15 minutes a day, develop the daily habit of writing. Set aside a specific time to write, set your timer, and don't stop writing until the timer goes off — even if you think the writing is bad. You can always go back and edit your writing later. In fact, serious writers set a minimum word count goal per day, and they don't stop writing until they reach their goal. You'll be surprised at how quickly your writing improves when you write every day.
10. Don't be hard on yourself.
Writers tend to be their own worst enemies. We judge our own work much more harshly than our readers do. Of course, any criticism from a reader, justified or not, can send us spiraling into a pit of self-doubt and despair. As you work to improve your writing (which should be a lifelong process), be kind to yourself. Maintain a learner's mindset even as you become more skilled. Writing is fun and can be a joyful process if you don't allow those critical voices in your head too much power.
There’s no doubt basic writing is a skill you should master in order to be competitive in your career or business. You don’t need to be an outstanding writer in order to succeed, but you do need to be proficient enough that you communicate clearly and properly.
Writing is also a skill that can stimulate creativity, broaden your perspective, advance your knowledge, and make you a more interesting person in general. You have something important and valuable to offer the world — a skill, a product, or an idea. There are billions of people online who want to learn about what you offer. There's no better time than right now to brush up on your writing skills to leverage more opportunities for success in your business and in life.
Do you enjoy writing or do you hate it? What have you done to improve your writing skills? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Are you interested in writing a bestselling book and would like to learn more about writing, publishing, and marketing your book?