I now have a second guest post by John Simmons.
The sum of reading and writing
Reading, writing, arithmetic – somewhat bizarrely called the three R’s. I always inclined towards the first two, but increasingly see them as two sides of the same equation. To become a better writer, become a better reader.
I always wanted to be a writer. And I’ve always read. But it wasn’t until I started training others to write with more impact that I fully appreciated the importance of reading for any writer, particularly to be effective writers at work.
In probing what makes writing ‘effective’ I realised that writing had to be ‘creative’. Now as I was training people to be better writers in the business world – rather than to be novelists, poets, playwrights etc – this was quite a leap for some people to make. Can business writing really be creative? Doesn’t it just need to communicate clearly and factually, with no frills, like the Ronseal ad to do just what it says on the tin? Well, no, because that will only take you so far and people – customers of any kind – are actually looking for a greater human connection. They are not inert recipients of information. Those customers respond to stories and the emotions that are unlocked by stories; stories that help them hear the individual human voice rather than the anonymous corporate one.
So my workshops were not ‘top ten tips to target higher sales’ but were about helping people to tell better stories. Of course, for those stories to work they have to be authentic, true to the writer and the organisation. So I have a fundamental mantra ‘put your personality into your writing’ – because it works. You realise as a writer that you are communicating not with a faceless mass categorised into A/B/C demographics but with one individual at a time – and that individual is your reader.
What are your readers reading by choice? Probably they are reading novels, biographies, poems. One of my fundamental workshop exercises became ‘your favourite book’. By asking a group of writers to talk about a book that represents their best-loved reading, enormous animation enters the room. When I then ask them to produce fictional writing based on, say, To Kill a Mockingbird or Girl on the Train, they begin to find out important elements of writing that can be applied to business writing. You learn by doing, discovering a novelist’s skills and realising that those same skills can be applied to the next strategy document you have to write.
So too with poetry. The techniques of rhythm, alliteration, assonance can all – used well – lift the quality of your business writing. You learn to influence people by using the emotional value of words chosen with care and used with deliberation.
To sum up, you can become a better writer of any kind if we break down the barriers between different kinds of writing. Read well, by which I mean read widely. Reading a good novel will give you pleasure and help you to become a better writer at work.
Matthew Smith is kindly giving away three copies of ‘Leaves’. To enter just leave a comment about the book cover.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 3rd April 2016.
The winners will be randomly chosen within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.