I keep a favorite “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip by Stephan Pastis taped to my desk as a reminder of the challenges that sometimes arise with my job.
The first panel of the comic strip depicts two characters talking. “Where were you last weekend?” one asks. “I went to a writers retreat,” the other answers. The next panel shows four writers sprinting away, the pages of what are presumably their work flying behind. One writer screams. “Run. Run. Writing’s too hard.”
As much as I’m tempted on occasion to retreat, newspaper journalists seldom enjoy that option. They’ve got to slog through the process however daunting. After more than 40 years in the business, I’m still daunted.
If there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud of deadlines, by the way, it’s the limits they impose. There’s only so much time to write. Take this very column, for example. I’ve got about an hour left to complete this page and send it to the printer. If it weren’t for deadlines, I’d never finish my work. You’d never read it.
I suspect there are those who’d ask at this point if I’d like some cheese to go with my whine. I don’t blame them. Writing is hard enough for those of us who make a living writing. It’s no less difficult for those who face more challenging tasks even as they’re also expected to communicate effectively. Business owners and managers among them.
This topic raises a related question: Why is so much writing so hard to understand? I read too many stories, news releases and other submissions that leave me scratching my head. What is that about? What does that even mean?
Janet Arrowood, founder of the Write Source in Grand Junction and prolific Business Times columnist, could better address this situation than I. She makes it her business to not only write effectively, but also help her clients do so.
So I’ll reiterate three points Janet has made before.
Keep in mind who you’re writing to and what you’re asking them to do. That will help in determining — and sharpening — your message to your intended audience. Are you marketing to customers you want to purchase your products or services? How about engaging employees in a new initiative? Or maybe convincing a newspaper editor to publicize your efforts?
Consider whether or not readers will understand what you’ve written. People who’re adept at what they do sometimes encounter difficulty imagining others don’t know what they know. Avoid acronyms, catchwords and jargon. Use examples. Lots of them.
Keep it simple. I’m tempted myself to write in a manner that makes me appear more intelligent when I’d be far better off to eschew obfuscation. Plain language that’s simple and understandable is more effective language.
Writing can be hard. For me. For anyone. That’s why it’s so important not to complicate the process. Retreat isn’t an option.