By Alexandra Franzen
Do you enjoy writing? Does it come naturally to you? Do colleagues praise you for your crisp, articulate, Nobel Laureate-worthy email updates?
Congratulations! Because if you work in an office or run your own business, you’re likely to spend about a quarter of your workday doing one thing:
Oh, and that’s just the portion of your day that you’ll spend writing emails.
That figure doesn’t account for reports, proposals, best practice guidelines, blog posts, Facebook updates, tweets, texts, chapters of your forthcoming memoirs, that TED Talk script you’ve been tinkering with for the last 18 months, and the occasional hand-written “thank you” note.
We live in an era where the written word is King.
And if you’re going to write 40,000+ words this year—at minimum!—you might as well learn how to do your absolute best.
Here are 10 ways to become a better writer, right away.
(The kind of writer whose words get results.)
1. Get Clear
Before you sit down to write (anything), ask yourself: Why am I writing?
What’s the desired outcome that you want with this particular piece of writing?
Are you writing to brighten someone’s morning? Motivate your team to head back into the ring after a crushing defeat? Encourage folks to say “yes” to your new meeting time?
The best writing tends to have one clear, ringing intention. Choose it—and commit.
2. Get to the Point
In the business world, brevity is gold. (Related: Are Your Emails Too Long? Probably)
If you’re struggling to get to the point, take a moment to think about the person (or people) that you’re writing to, and create a roadmap for yourself by filling in the following statements:
The reason I am writing is:
What I want you to know is:
What I want you to do is:
Get those three points down pat. Then refer to them as you write to keep yourself on track.
3. Strip it Down
Albert Einstein once said, “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Imagine that you’re writing for an audience of little kids—impatient, easily distracted, with zero tolerance for jargon.
You can practice—out in the real world—by having actual conversations with kids. Try explaining to a toddler what you do for a living, for starters. You’ll see, very quickly, if your elevator pitch is clear and intriguing—or not. (If not? Here are my tips for how to tell people what you do—and be remembered.)
4. Write From Your Happy Place
Ever notice how when you’re stressed out and trying to “force” yourself to write something amazing, it almost never works?
Research shows that getting yourself into a happy, relaxed state—think: taking a shower—is the key to creativity-on-command. When your body is experiencing a rush of dopamine, that’s when those a-ha! moments (“Ooh! I’ve got the perfect title for my presentation!”) tend to happen.
Can’t take a shower at work? No worries. There are plenty of other ways to get into your happy place before you sit down to write. Play energizing music, light a scented candle, bounce on an exercise ball—whatever it takes to help you unclench and relax!
5. Give Yourself a Time Limit
For most people, the longer you fuss over a piece of writing, the worse it gets.
When you have a clear reason for writing and feel happy and relaxed (see tip #4), your first draft is usually best. There’s no need to endlessly chew it over.
Clearing out your inbox, for example? Give yourself a time limit—say, two minutes per email—to prevent yourself from slipping into analysis-paralysis.
(You can set up a “smart playlist” in iTunes comprised entirely of two-minute songs, to keep yourself rockin’ along. When the song changes—hit “send” and move on!)
6. Ask, “What Would My Hero Write?”
If you’re struggling with a sensitive piece of writing where hitting the right emotional tone is essential, try channeling one of your personal heroes.
“What would Mister Rogers write in this situation?” “What would the Dalai Lama say?” “How would Richard Branson handle this email chain?”
7. Close Strong
Lost in a sea of never-ending email threads? Questions building upon questions, never leading to decisive action?
Try taking a decisive stance, rather than wrapping up your writing with an open-ended prompt.
Think: “In my opinion, the following approach is the best choice. If you agree, write back to say ‘yes,’ and I’ll get started.”
Not: “So, what do you guys think? I’m open to everyone’s input!”
8. Use the 7 Magic Words
“All I need from you right now.”
Kick these words up to the top of your correspondence, as in:
“I’m so excited that you’re going to deliver a keynote at our annual conference.
All I need from you right now is the title of your talk, a headshot, and your bio.”
These seven magic words give your reader a clear assignment, and put them at ease. (“Ahhh—that’s all? No problem. Done.”)
You can always add more information down below, if necessary (“Here are a few other things to know—for later.”)
9. Say it Out Loud
Whenever possible, read your writing out loud.
Does it sound like it was written by a human being or a cyborg? Are you stumbling over excessively long sentences? Catch any typos or duplicate words? If so, tweak and read it out loud again.
If reading aloud isn’t possible—because you don’t want to disturb your colleagues—try lightly tapping a finger on your desk or thigh as you silently read each word in your head. (It’s bizarre, but it works almost as well as reading out loud.)
10. Be a Daymaker
David Wagner, CEO of Juut Salonspa, often speaks about being a “Daymaker”—not just going through the motions at work, but actively choosing to be a source of positivity and encouragement. Choosing to make someone’s day.
With everything you write—every email, every text, every tweet—you have an opportunity to make someone’s day. (Or not.)
Often, all it takes is a few words of kindness, a thoughtful compliment, or the kind of insightful reminder that leaves people thinking, “Yeah. I needed that.”
Set “Daymaker” as your barometer of success—for your writing, and for everything you do.
Whether your writing is “perfect” or not, your intent will shine through.
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