When I’m coaching people on their writing skills they often start by making a huge assumption. They think they can do it all at once. Sit down, start writing and it will be perfect automatically. Worse, they ask me how long it takes to write a blog or news item.
The answer from me, honestly, is “not very long” but then I do it every day. Like or hate my style, I’ve been in the habit of putting finger to keyboard every working day of my life since 3 January 1989, my first day at the trade magazine, MicroScope.
So asking me how long it takes to write something readable is a bit like asking a marathon runner how big a sweat they’d work up running around the local park. It’s not arrogance to say I’m quite proficient, with 27 years of daily practise behind me it would be a scandal if I weren’t.
Writing takes redrafting
Even then I’m not afraid to redraft and take feedback, scrap everything and start again. Corporate writers should be the same. If it’s a lengthy document, and it often is, the first draft is effectively for fun. Write it then check through for typos, house style, non sequiturs, repetitions. Depending on the length of the document you’re almost bound to find something that doesn’t work as you thought it did.
Read through again and see whether everything makes as much sense as you thought. It often won’t because you were that close to it when you were in the process of putting it together. Show someone else if you can. Try changing the font and look at it the following day if time allows; if you can trick your brain into thinking it’s looking at something new, you’ll find it easier to spot any errors.
It’s easy to assume writing should be easy. You learned it at primary school, it should be second nature. So asking me how long it takes me to knock out a story or blog entry might make sense.
Like any skill, however, the various techniques improve with practise, and if you haven’t done a lot of it, don’t sweat. You’re allowed to be rusty.
And don’t be afraid to redraft. Your first stab at a document doesn’t have to be definitive. A bit of spit and polish can be an excellent thing.