Write Now

Software professionals excel at writing code, test plans, and other types of technically oriented documents. However, many of them struggle when it comes to writing of a non-technical nature. Naomi Karten offers tips for strengthening your ability to write articulately and compellingly.

"I came to a fondness for chickens late in life."

If this were an article on creativity, I might challenge you to come up with some parallels between that sentence and software development. In response, you might point out that lateness is a common attribute of software projects, that your boss is too chicken to back your proposal, or that you came to a fondness for programming late in life.

But this is not an article on creativity. I opened this article as I did to demonstrate the power of an attention-getter to pique your curiosity and make you want to read more. Actually, the opening sentence came from a book I found in the library titled Riddled with Life by Marlene Zuk. The subtitle, by the way, is Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are.

I wasn't looking for a book on ladybug sex (really, I wasn't!), but the title caught my attention. When I flipped open the book, I landed on the chicken sentence. That sentence was all it took to convince me that this was an author who could write engagingly on any topic.

Of course, these days, with email, ezines, and blogs, everyone who wants to be a writer has an outlet. Nevertheless, I've met software professionals who have a disdain for writing and seem unsure if it's worth the effort to improve. But as I learned for myself when I was an IT manager, writing can be a powerful credential for advancement.

It was actually my introversion that drove me to rely on writing to get my ideas across to my management, customers, and others. But although I didn't foresee it happening, becoming skilled at producing well-written proposals, recommendations, and reports gave me visibility all over the company that I doubt I'd have attained otherwise. I'm certain that my written material contributed heavily to my superiors' viewing me as a contender for pro¬motion when a vacancy opened up at the next level.

Of course, it didn't hurt my case that many of the other IT managers were atrocious writers. Run-on sentences, grammatical flaws, punctuation errors, and participles that dangled and drooped--you name it, these managers were guilty of it. Most of these managers were bright, articulate people who didn't lack for opinions and the ability to express their opinions in spoken form. But the more they put in writing, the better my writing looked.

Because writing served me so well back then and has been such a valuable marketing vehicle in my training and consulting business, I like to encourage people to develop their writing skills to suit their own ends. If you'd like to strengthen your writing, whether for professional or personal purposes, here are some suggestions: 

    • Don't expect your early efforts at any writing project to result in brilliant, elegant prose; in fact, a mishmash of bumpy, illogical, and incoherent thoughts may be more like it. View whatever you first get down on paper as the raw data. It's the starting point from which you revise, edit, and revise some more. It's this rework that makes all the difference. Rest assured: The writing of some of your favorite authors needed editing--often lots of editing.
    • Trust yourself. There's a voice in your head that will guide your writing provided you stifle your self-judgment and just let the writing flow. Often I sit down at the keyboard with barely any idea of what I want to say, and something takes over. I lose track of time and the next thing I know, I've filled pages with ideas I didn't know I had until I sat down to write.
    • If you get stuck, take a break and do something else. If some downtime and a change of activity don't get you going again, try an alternate method of surfacing your ideas. For example, call or email a friend and explain what you're trying to write about. Surprisingly often, something as simple as this can shake loose the thought process.
    • Take a break even if you don't get stuck. Your mind keeps working on your writing even when you're not pounding the keys. When you give yourself time away from your writing--whether it's a few hours, a week, or a month--you'll bring fresh eyes and a fresh perspective to it when you resume.
    • Do your editing on a printed copy of your work. If you edit on the screen, you'll miss the big picture, such as a paragraph in the middle of page one that would make more sense on page three, or you might not see that you used the same example in two different places.
    • Get feedback from friends and colleagues and, where appropriate, from professional editors. We are too close to our own writing to see where it needs attention. Other people will see what we can't. The StickyMinds editorial staff doesn't just edit my articles; they save me from making a total fool of myself. (Thank you, StickyMinds editorial staff!)
    • Think of creative ways of saying things. Creativity may not be welcome in business writing, but just contemplating the possibilities is likely to liven up your writing. And when you write articles for print or online publications, let your imagination run free. Be inspired by those who came to chickens late in life.
    • Make a commitment to enjoy writing. Take any negative feelings you have about writing, pack them up in a box, and store them on a high shelf, out of reach. When you actively decide to come at your writing with a positive mindset, it becomes a lot more fun.
    • Writing is a skill like any other. The more you do it, the better you'll get, even if you do just a little bit everyday. So, no excuses. Don't wait until tomorrow. Write now.

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