The reason we struggle when we write

March 13, 2018 | Writing

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry: “Writing is always about momentum. Momentum is more important than finesse. Finesse is what you do on the second or third draft. Getting the story out is what you’ve got to do first.”

When was the last time you enjoyed reading a business document?

Let’s face it, business writing is boring. In most cases, business writing is so dense it is impenetrable. Those are sweeping but warranted statements.

Very few business people know how to write, and most of them are quick to admit that. What’s more, they have no idea why they are such poor writers, meaning they cannot even begin to do something about it.

Why do so many of us dislike writing?

Why do we procrastinate when facing a writing assignment?

Why do so many of us write poorly?

The answer to all three of those questions is interrelated. At the core of the problem is that almost none of us were taught to write properly during our years of primary schooling. English teachers drilled us on the rules of grammar, then punished us for every infraction we committed. It was a punitive system that sucked all the joy, freedom and adventure out of writing. A good English instructor would have emphasized that a successful writing assignment produces a document filled with imagination, vivid characters and fearless expressions of the language. Instead, writing became an intimidating, painstaking task offering few rewards and a lot of red ink.

This punitive system of instruction taught us a tremendously bad habit — to simultaneously write and edit. In effect, we second-guess ever word, phrase and sentence we produce. It’s like driving a vehicle with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake at the same time. Yes, progress is made, but it’s frustratingly slow, making it impossible to build real momentum, which is essential to vigorous writing. This gives rise to that nagging sense that we are capable of being much better writers, yet we do not understand what is holding us back.

No one ever told most of us that writing (producing copy) and editing (applying matters of grammar and punctuation to that copy) are two distinct activities that should be kept mutually exclusive.

First we write. Then we edit.

As novelist Erica Jong puts it: “Compose with utter freedom and edit with utter discipline.”

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.


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