BUSINESS WRITING AND COMMUNICATION

BUSINESS WRITING AND COMMUNICATION 15
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AustinMcmahon,United Kingdom,Researcher
Published Date:16-07-2017
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INTRODUCTION: MANAGE YOUR WRITING n this knowledge economy, writing is the chief value-producing activity. But you may not be writing as well as you could. That may be because you think writing requires a special talent that some people have and some people don’t. I In fact, writing is a process that can be managed like any other business process. If you can manage people, money, or time, then you can manage your writing. And you can profit from the results. This book will give you the tools to become—in the next 36 hours— a more effective, efficient manager of your own writing. • You’ll become more effective because you’ll learn to produce writing that gets things done. • You’ll become more efficient because you’ll learn to produce more effective writing in less time. How can this magic happen in just 36 hours? It’ll happen because you’ll learn to take the management skills you already have and apply them to the process of writing. Remember, whether or not the word man- ager is part of your job title, you clearly are a successful manager. Oth- erwise, you wouldn’t have 12 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication • the money to buy this book, • the position to have somebody else buy it for you, • or the time and initiative to be browsing through it in a bookstore. Through your experience in business and in life, you’ve learned to manage: to manage people, to manage money, to manage time. This book will teach you how to use these same skills when you write. Let me tell you a story. When I was a kid growing up in rural Iowa, there was a local fisherman who had more money than common sense. He always had the newest, most expensive fishing gear, but he didn’t always know how to use it. One fall he decided to take up ice fishing. He ordered the very best cold-weather clothing, the very best portable shelter, the very best ice saw and tackle. The first winter day our local reservoir had frozen over enough, he was out on the ice at dawn. He set up his shelter, sawed his hole in the ice, sat on his new folding stool, and waited. Three hours passed without even a sign of a fish. The disgusted fisherman was about to call it quits and head home when he saw a teen- age kid in faded blue jeans and a faded green Army field jacket head out onto the ice. The kid whacked a hole in the ice with a hammer, baited a hook, and immediately pulled out a nice fish. Within 10 minutes, the kid had a bucketful and turned back for the shore. The older man yelled for him, but the kid was apparently out of voice range. So the man started walking fast toward him and finally caught up with him at the shore. “Son,” the man said, “I’ve been out here three hours without catch- ing a fish, and you’ve pulled out half a dozen in 10 minutes. What’s your secret?” “Hmrm hmrm,” the boy muttered. “What’s that?” asked the man. “HMRM HMRM,” answered the boy, louder. “I’m sorry, son; I can’t understand you. What’s your secret?” The boy moved his hand to his face, took a handful of something out of his mouth, and explained.Introduction: Manage Your Writing 3 “WARM WORMS.” Well, OK, that story didn’t really happen. But I wanted you to believe, for a while, that it had happened in order to make two points: 1. Writing can change and even create reality. For a while, my words made that story real for you. And the writing you do on the job can create a new, better reality for you in your work life. On his blog, my favorite management guru, Tom Peters, quoted novelist James Baldwin that “you write in order to change the world.” Tom continued, “Call me hopelessly naïve, but I believe there is no excuse for any variety of ‘business writing’ that should be crafted any less carefully or aim any less high than a great novel or great inaugural address. After all, we do aim—day in and day out—to change the world via our human collectivities called enterprises. Right?” 2. This will be a “warm worms” book. It will give you practical, down-to-earth tools—the equivalent of a hammer, a bucket, and a mouthful of night crawlers—to re-create yourself as a more effective, efficient writer. BE YOUR OWN COMMUNICATION DEPARTMENT A New Yorker cartoon shows a tiny newsstand with a big sign. “Fred’s Newsstand—,” it reads, “Forefront of the New Post-Industrial Informa- tion Society.” We’re all Fred, of course. The information society is a fact, and it affects the work every one of us does, from building cars to selling news- papers. As futurist John Naisbitt wrote, “The information society is an economic reality, not an intellectual abstraction.” Yet most of us haven’t learned the skills we need to survive and thrive in this new knowledge economy. This fact is particularly important because more and more of us—me included—are entrepreneurs and “intrapreneurs.” For the small business owner—or for the owner of “You, Inc.,” within a large business—the 4 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication upside of the knowledge economy is the fact that the creation or com- munication of knowledge does not require a large organization; the lone David can compete effectively with the Goliath. For example, some of the computer programming for a London cab company was done by a solo entrepreneur working from his Indiana farmhouse. The downside, how- ever, is that the same standard of communication excellence is expected from a one- or two-person operation as from a giant corporation with its own communication department. As revolutionary marketer Seth Godin has pointed out, much writing now goes to its readers “unfiltered,” without an editor working on it first. He continued, “The thing most people miss most is that they no longer have an excuse. Without a publisher/editor/boss to blame, your writing is your writing.” So how do you compete? By being your own communication department. Begin by understanding the times we live in. One of the most per- ceptive commentators on the knowledge economy is Alvin Toffler, whose book The Third Wave outlines three times of major change in human activity: 1. The first of these “waves,” said Toffler, came several thousand years ago when hunting and fishing were replaced by farming as humanity’s main work. In the resulting agricultural economy, wealth consisted chiefly of the ownership of land. 2. The second wave happened only about 150 to 200 years ago, when farming was replaced by manufacturing as our major eco- nomic activity, at least in the Western world. (That revolution— the industrial revolution—was not a bloodless one: the U.S. Civil War was, to some extent, a conflict between a largely agricultural South and an increasingly industrialized North.) In the resulting industrial economy, wealth consisted chiefly of the ownership of factories. 3. Now, said Toffler, a third wave is sweeping over us. Manufactur- ing has been giving way rapidly to the processing of information Introduction: Manage Your Writing 5 as humanity’s major economic activity. As we have entered the information or knowledge economy, wealth has come to consist of the ownership of information—or rather, the ability to collect and communicate information. James Champy was right when he wrote in his book Reengineering Management, “Knowledge is power, as the cliché has it. But knowledge is not easy to come by. You earn it by thinking. And all we have to think about is information. So make sure that the information ‘gets around.’” Even as early as the late 1980s, Tom Peters was finding striking examples of the wealth that lies in communicating information. Peters reported that the little publication called The Official Airline Guide—a for-sale compilation of schedule information (information that the airlines gave away free)—sold in 1988 for 750 million, three times the selling price of Ozark Airlines that same year. In other words, the right formula for collecting and communicating free airline information was worth more than all the planes, equipment, and other assets of an airline itself. If collecting and communicating information is our main work for today and tomorrow, we’d better get good at it. In a knowledge economy, our personal success and the success of our organizations depend on this “knowledge work.” Management guru Peter Drucker, writing in Manag- ing in the Next Century, put it this way: “Physical resources no longer provide much of an advantage, nor does skill. Only the productivity of knowledge workers makes a measurable difference.” Unfortunately, however, most of us are not very good at commu- nicating our knowledge, and the results can be disastrous. W. Edwards Deming, the twentieth century’s leading advocate for “quality” as a busi- ness goal, estimated that “85 percent of failures in quality are failures in communication.” A big part of the problem is the way we think about communication. Too often we make third-wave communication decisions as if we were still living in a first- or second-wave society. In first- and second-wave societies, communication often was one- way, top-down. Information was held at the very top of organizational 6 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication pyramids and passed down to workers only as needed. Most of the time, most people—whether they worked in a field or in a factory—needed to be only passive receivers of communication. Moreover, in first- and second-wave societies, communication communities were small and uniform. A first-wave farmer may have communicated with only a few hundred people in a lifetime, all peo- ple very much like himself. A second-wave plant manager commu- nicated with more people, but that manager probably saw them as interchangeable. In their book, Thinking for a Living, Ray Marshall and Marc Tucker pointed out that our educational system has not yet caught up with the communication needs of a knowledge economy. “Schools’ curriculum and methods,” they wrote, “are matched to the needs of a half-century ago, rather than to today’s requirements. Fifty years ago, relatively few students needed sophisticated communications skills, so students were not required to write much and teachers were not asked to spend much time working with them to improve what they wrote. Students are still not required to write much and teachers are given very little time to help them improve their writing.” In third-wave organizations, pyramids have been flattened or dis- solved, and valuable knowledge lives everywhere. All members of the organization have to be not only consumers of communication but also producers of it. Everybody in a third-wave organization has to be a skilled communicator. As marketing wizard Harry Beckwith wrote in The Invis- ible Touch, “Communication is not a skill. It is the skill.” And “perhaps the most important lesson from the Iraq war,” wrote David Newkirk and Stuart Crainer, “is that managing real-time communications is as important as managing real-time processes. Communication is moving from being a peripheral, specialist responsibility to being an essential and integral element of corporate leadership.” Similarly, central to all five recommendations of the 9/11 Commission was the need for improved communication. In addition, a third-wave knowledge worker may well communicate with tens of thousands of people from diverse backgrounds around the Introduction: Manage Your Writing 7 world. This diverse audience makes communication much more complex, demanding greater flexibility and sensitivity. In the knowledge economy, the benefits of improved communication are many. In the insurance industry, for example, the cover letter from the agent, the “producer,” to the underwriter is crucial. As Robert Goldstone, vice president and medical director at Pacific Mutual Life, has written, “A good cover letter may save your case.” Forbes magazine has reported that “at AMEC Offshore, the big British engineering and construction firm, the cost of piping offshore oil platforms dropped 15 percent after intensive work on communications skills.” The Families and Work Institute found that “the number one factor employees say will convince them to accept a job offer” is “open communication.” And a Watson Wyatt study compar- ing financially high-performing companies with their lower-performing competitors found that • “Communications professionals in high-performing organizations play a strategic role.” • “High-performing organizations do a better job of explaining change.” • “High-performing organizations focus on communicating with and educating their employees.” • “High-performing organizations provide channels for upward communication.” • “Employees in high-performing organizations have a better under- standing of organizational goals and their part in achieving them.” So if you’re sold by now—if you’re committed to becoming a more effective third-wave communicator—what (besides taking this course) can you do? Here are a few suggestions: 1. Pay attention to the communication you’re part of in a typical week. Think about how many messages you receive and send. Consider ways you could help yourself or others by communicat- ing more effectively.8 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication 2. Pay special attention to the actual results of your speaking and writing. Figure out what communication strategies work for you and what strategies don’t. Notice when you’re understood and when you aren’t. “There is one thing worse than not communi- cating,” said educational theorist Edgar Dale. “It is thinking you have communicated when you have not.” 3. Read and listen to communication from cultures and countries other than your own. In Appendix B of this book you’ll learn an approach to communicating across cultures. Meanwhile, how- ever, pick up occasional issues of unfamiliar magazines. Spend a few minutes with a cable channel from another culture or sub- culture. With each exposure, you’ll learn new communication techniques. 4. Make sure that your communication process is as efficient and effective as possible. This is what this book is about, of course— streamlining and supercharging your writing process. 5. Start collecting tools—methods and techniques for effective com- munication. You’ll find some especially powerful tools in this book. Also start your own “steal” file of effective speaking and writing that you receive. If you get a particularly good direct-mail letter, save it. If you hear a particularly powerful sales presenta- tion, take notes about what’s making it so powerful. You’ll soon have a useful toolbox of ideas and models. In short, begin to realize that communication is an important part of whatever work you do. Begin to think of yourself as a third-wave com- municator. If you do, you’ll be your own communication department. WRITING IN A KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY Did you, by any chance, stop to question the first sentence in this intro- duction? “In this knowledge economy,” it claimed, “writing is the chief value-producing activity.” This is a pretty big claim—especially when Introduction: Manage Your Writing 9 many people think of writing as a skill that’s perhaps nice to have but by no means “real work.” My former Indiana University colleague, Bobby Knight, spoke for many people when he said, “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us then go on to greater things.” I can’t be too critical of Coach Knight. (I wouldn’t dare.) Even people who saw the knowledge economy coming, and who realized that knowledge requires communication for it to pay off, didn’t always foresee how much of that communication would be in writing. After all, many messages that a hundred years ago would have been put into writing are now transmitted orally by telephone wire and satel- lite relay. “Why write a letter,” I’ve been asked, “when you can pick up a telephone?” This question is an important one. To be sure, oral communication has a bunch of advantages: • First, it can be instantaneous; the moment you decide to say some- thing, you can say it. • Moreover, oral communication, especially when it is face to face, can carry far more information than just words can express. A rising pitch or a raised eyebrow can convey shades of meaning not possible on the written page. • Perhaps most important, oral messages can be answered with imme- diate feedback, even during the message. You can constantly adjust your communication based on your listener’s response. • Speaking, in short, is fast, easy, and efficient. Writing, in contrast, is almost always slower and more difficult. This is partly because we have much less practice at it. And in a business, writing is expensive, requiring equipment and materials. In addition, the written word, for most of the history of business, has been slow to move, taking hours and days to get from one office, one city, or one nation to another. For all these reasons, the invention of the telephone was very good news for business. During the late nineteenth century and most of 10 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication the twentieth century, the proportion of business communication put in writing almost surely went down. But oral communication has its disadvantages, too: • The main one is impermanence. Speech disappears as soon as it’s uttered; that’s why an oral contract is “not worth the paper it’s writ- ten on.” Speech can, of course, be recorded, but much of its impor- tant content doesn’t survive the recording process. • And even if speech is recorded on tape or disc, its content is extraor- dinarily difficult to search and retrieve. Try finding every mention of Microsoft in an audio or video recording of a two-day meeting. Hint: it will take you two days. Writing, on the other hand, is forever. A written communication can last as long as the material on which it’s inscribed, and it is always available for rechecking. In fact, that’s why writing was invented—and for “busi- ness” purposes at that. When humanity experienced Toffler’s “first wave,” moving from hunting and gathering to agriculture, the first writing began to appear, in the form of warehouse inventories and other business docu- ments, on clay tablets. These ancient pieces of business writing are still being found throughout the Middle East. In her book Doing Business, Olivia Vlahos quoted from one of these documents, a clay tablet sent from creditors in the city of Assur, in mod- ern Iraq, to a debtor at the end of a caravan route in modern Turkey: “Thirty years ago you left the city of Assur. You have never made a deposit since, and we have not recovered one shekel of silver from you, but we have never made you feel bad about this. Our tablets have been going to you with caravan after caravan, but no report from you has ever come here. . . . Please do come back right away or deposit the silver for us. If not, we will send you a notice from the local ruler and the police, and thus put you to shame in the assembly of merchants. You will also cease to be one of us.” As Vlahos said, “the modern debt collector would be hard put to better that communication.”Introduction: Manage Your Writing 11 The relative permanence of writing also lets it be used to “freeze” oral discussion. My friend Lee Woods, who worked as a writer at Resort Condominiums International, said that writing was often used there “to give closure, to record agreement.” And Terry Pearce, in his acclaimed book Leading Out Loud, pointed out the importance of writing as a way of “disciplining your voice” in preparation for oral communication. “Writ- ing,” he says, “reveals fuzzy thinking, exposes slurred distinctions: it clarifies.” In addition to its permanence, written communication has the advantage of being easily skimmed or indexed so that a reader can find exactly that part of the message that she needs. For this reason, most digital audio and video recordings are now accompanied by “written” metainformation: the index of tracks on an audio CD or “chapters” on a DVD, for example. Some CD-ROM products index, in “writing,” audio or video material down to the level of individual words, so that you can, in fact, find every time the word Microsoft was spoken during a two-day meeting. Moreover, the old gap between speech and writing in speed and cost has pretty much closed. Computers, networks, and satellite data transmis- sion have made a written message as cheap and fast as a phone call, while keeping all the advantages of written words. In addition, the globalization of business, requiring communication across many time zones, has made phone conversations potentially inconvenient. As a result, the century-long trend toward spoken communication has reversed. More and more business communication is being conducted in writing. E-mail and Web pages are, after all, written documents pro- duced to be read. A 2000 study by the Poynter Institute found that readers of online news sites look first at the text—a very different way of reading than in print media, where readers tend to look first at graphics. On the Web, only 22 percent of users look at graphics first. In summary, Steve Rubel, on his blog Micro Persuasion, wrote that the “digital age has dramatically upped the ante for one skill above all—good writing.” He continued, “Almost every white-collar job today requires good communication skills. There’s nothing new to report there. 12 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication However, what is new is that much of the way we communicate today in business is in writing through email. So even if you’re not a scribe by trade, you’re still a writer by default. Writing not your forte? That was just fine 10 years ago, but not anymore. Writing is how business gets done.” WHAT A WRITING COURSE CAN— AND CAN’T—DO Now for a confession—one I’ve never seen in any other business writing book: books and courses about writing can’t teach you everything you need to be an effective writer. That’s the bad news. But here’s the good news: what this book can’t teach, you almost certainly already know. You see, writing requires two abilities. Only one can be taught. If you have the first ability, this book can teach you the second. The first ability, the one that can’t be taught, is what writing teacher and researcher Stephen Krashen called “competence.” Competence is our deep, unconscious knowledge of language. We acquire competence in spoken language by hearing it over and over again. We learn how a lan- guage sounds. For example, can you state the rule in the English language for the order of adjectives of number, age, and nationality? You probably didn’t even know there was such a rule; you and I certainly weren’t taught it in school. Nevertheless, you know the rule perfectly. You know to say “two old Japanese accountants,” not “old two Japanese accountants” or “Japa- nese two old accountants.” This rule—not really a rule but a practice—is part of your competence in English, learned unconsciously from hearing and reading hundreds of thousands of sentences in which this practice was followed. The English language has tens or hundreds of thousands of such practices, only a few of which ever get taught formally in classrooms and training rooms. Many of these practices—including the example in the last paragraph—apply both in speaking and in writing. Many others, how-Introduction: Manage Your Writing 13 ever, apply only in written English. Writing demands an explicitness, a clarity, a degree of organization that speaking does not, and so it requires additional competence. We learn such competence through reading. We learn how writing “sounds.” This reading doesn’t have to be great literature. Sports Illustrated, Scientific American, or a Danielle Steel novel will serve as well as Shake- speare. The only requirements are that there be a lot of it and that it be self-motivated. If reading is going to produce writing competence, it must be transparent. That is, the reader must be paying attention not to the words and sentences themselves but to what they say. By the time you’re reading this book, you almost surely have the competence you need to be an effective business writer. But don’t stop. To continue to grow as a writer, you need to continue to grow as a reader. As the American novelist William Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read You’ll absorb it. Then write.” What teaching or training can do is take writers who already have competence and give them a second ability, an ability that Krashen called “performance.” Performance is the ability to actually produce language. Performance always lags behind competence. Any parent knows that chil- dren have competence in spoken language (they can understand it) long before they acquire performance (and start talking). Almost any child will soon learn to translate his competence into spoken performance. But performance in writing is harder to get. That’s where teaching and training come in. For adults, training (like the course in this book) can give those who already have competence in written English three important components of performance: 1. Confidence The first thing training can give you is confidence. One of the main reasons that the writing performance of most adults doesn’t match their 14 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication competence is that they lack confidence in their ability to write. They are consciously or unconsciously afraid of failing. Writer’s block is perhaps the most familiar symptom of this lack of confidence. So this book, like all good writing training, is attitude-based. It will help you to realize the competence you already have and remind you that writing is much more than just following rules. As the beginning of this introduction said, this book will stress the fact that writing well is not a talent that you are either born with or not; it’s a business activity you can manage like any other business activity. 2. Process Knowledge The second thing you can get from training is process knowledge. The knowledge about writing that comes from extensive reading is all product knowledge. Just as you can drive cars for years without having any idea about the automobile manufacturing process, you can read books and articles for years without having any idea about the writing process— the false starts, stumbles, and revisions that writers have to go through. For example, you’d never know that I’ve revised this paragraph at least a dozen times. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, described the writing process this way: Blot out, correct, insert, refine, Enlarge, diminish, interline; Be mindful, when invention fails, To scratch your head, and bite your nails. Therefore, this book, like all good writing training, is process- oriented. Rather than focusing on details of written products, such as clauses and colons, it focuses on the steps good writers go through, the decisions they make. Again, W. Edwards Deming, the “quality” guy, wrote, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”Introduction: Manage Your Writing 15 That’s why the best writing teachers and trainers are also working writers, “walking their talk.” 3. Reinforcement The third component that training can provide is ongoing reinforcement. Some of this reinforcement can be in the form of reminders of the confi- dence and process knowledge that good writers have learned. Some can be in the form of feedback, responses to work in progress. This book offers four opportunities for reinforcement: 1. Most chapters have exercises for you to do and then compare your answers with mine. 2. The book ends with an exam leading to a certificate of completion. 3. The book includes lots of advice on how to evaluate yourself and how to learn from the feedback you get on your on-the-job writing. 4. You can go to my website, manageyourwriting.com, for tips that will give ongoing reinforcement of what you’ve learned in this book. The three components of effective writing training—confidence, process knowledge, and reinforcement—are interdependent. As you become more confident, you’ll become more receptive to new process knowledge and more comfortable seeking and receiving feedback about your writing. As you gain more process knowledge, you’ll become more confident about your writing process and more skillful at receiving reinforcement. And as you receive (and give) ongoing reinforcement, both your confidence and your process knowledge will grow. Training in writing can’t do everything. But with the competence you already have, this book can make you more confident and knowl- edgeable—and thus more efficient and effective. And it can make you a lifelong learner of writing, getting better and better each day, week, month, and year.16 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication HOW TO USE THIS BOOK This book has 12 chapters, or lessons, each covering a step in an effective writing process. As I’ve mentioned, most chapters have exercises to complete. Most also ask you to apply what you’ve learned in that chapter to the very next piece of on-the-job writing you do and evaluate the result. Including exercises, on-the-job applications, and self-evaluations, the 12 chapters should take you an average of three hours each to complete. As the title says, this book is a 36-hour course. This book also includes four appendixes: • Appendix A, “Manage Your Online Writing,” deals with special considerations for writing for online reading: e-mail, Web pages, blogs, and the like. • Appendix B, “Manage Your Global Writing,” gives you some special tools to use when you write internationally. • Appendix C, “Manage Your Speaking,” tells you how to use what you’ve learned in this book when you make oral presentations. • Appendix D, “Resources for Managing Your Writing,” lists further tools. As you work through this book and after you’ve finished, please feel free to e-mail me at kenmanageyourwriting.com and to visit my website at manageyourwriting.com. Let me repeat what you’ve read earlier: In this knowledge economy, writing is the chief value-producing activity. But you may not be writing as well as you could. Perhaps you think writing requires a special talent that some people have and some people don’t. In fact, writing is a process that can be managed like any other business process. If you can manage people, money, or time, then you can manage your writing. And you can profit from the results.Introduction: Manage Your Writing 17 “THE DISCIPLINE OF THE CRAFT” In a cartoon I saw once, a Hollywood producer bellows to his secretary, “I want to send a memo to the parking-lot attendant. Get me a couple of writers.” Indeed, writing is not often easy or fun, and those of us in business are usually too busy to give it the time that it seems to demand. Even people like me who list “writer” as a profession on our 1040 Form often wish we had staff writers on call to handle those difficult letters, memos, and e-mails that seem to pile up. However, most of us—even in large organizations—have to do what this introduction has already said: Be our own communication depart- ment. We have to take personal responsibility for the stream of writing tasks that crosses our physical and virtual desktops. That’s probably as it should be. As designer, “information architect,” and entrepreneur Richard Saul Wurman said, “You shortchange yourself if you think that writing is ‘someone else’s problem.’ . . . Even if your job description says nothing about writing, by regarding yourself as a writer, even privately, you can take advantage of the discipline of the craft.” This quotation is wonderful for two words in particular and for its overall message: • One key word is discipline. Writing is a discipline—in the sense that chemistry is a discipline or yoga is a discipline—and like them, it requires discipline. As Larry Gelbart, creator of the “MASH” TV series, has said, “How to begin a writing project? Put your ass down in your chair, and hope that your head gets the message.” Fortunately, the rest of this introduction will show you how to make that discipline a lot less painful. • The other key word in Wurman’s quotation is craft. A craft is some- thing that lies somewhere between an art and a science. A good potter, for example, needs both an eye for beauty and a knowledge of the chemistry and physics of clay. Similarly, a good writer needs 18 The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication both an “ear” for the language (the competence discussed earlier) and a knowledge of what makes an effective and efficient writing process. • Wurman’s overall message is important because as a teacher and trainer, I’ve seen over and over again that people become what they call themselves. A young person who thinks of himself as a failure may well fulfill that prophecy. A young person who thinks of her- self as a success may well succeed. One university writing teacher I know has her students sign their essays not in the usual place at the top but at the bottom, followed by a comma and the word Writer. She believes, as Wurman and I do, that “regarding yourself as a writer, even privately” lets you “take advantage of the discipline of the craft.” As this introduction has already suggested, what probably keeps most of us from regarding ourselves as writers is the belief that the ability to write well is a talent or a gift. For some, it surely is: The great novelist, poet, or playwright is doubtless born as much as made. But the everyday business writing that you and I do—the writing that gets the world’s work done—requires no special gift. As researcher Frank Smith wrote, “It is a mistake to regard the thinking that underlies writing as something special, as a unique kind of activity that calls for unusual efforts and abilities.” MANAGING YOUR WRITING TIME Managing writing is largely a matter of managing time. Writing is a pro- cess, occurring over time, and like any process, it can be done efficiently or inefficiently. Unfortunately, most of us have a pretty inefficient writing process. That’s because we try to get each word, each sentence, right the first time. Given a letter to write, we begin with the first sentence. “What do I want to say? I’ll try a word or two. Is this sentence going to work? Maybe not. Better backspace and start again. Another word, then another. Better. Introduction: Manage Your Writing 19 Figure I-1 One-stage writing. A third word. Spelled correctly? Better check. OK, go on. A verb. Agree with subject? What next?” And so it goes, word by word, sentence by sentence, through the letter. In an hour of writing, as shown in Figure I-1, we might spend five minutes this way on each of a dozen sentences. An Eastern Washington University research survey reported that “ineffective writers revise and plan almost entirely in the context of the individual sentence.” “For the ineffective writer,” the report continued, “drafting proceeds as a linear production of single sentences that typically adds up to a first-and-final draft.” That’s like building a house by starting with the front door—plan- ning, building, finishing the door, even washing the little window in it— before even breaking ground for the rest of the building. No wonder most of us have so much trouble writing. Efficient, effective writers take better charge of their writing time; they manage their writing. Like homebuilders, they spend time planning before they start construction, and once they’re into construction, they don’t try to do all the finishing touches—such as washing the windows— as they go. Many good writers break their writing process into three main stages—planning, drafting, and revising—with more time spent at the

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