Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Developing Your Writing Technique

A few months ago I attended an MSP Training session. MSP, which stands for Member Success Program, is a basic training course in the fine art of networking for BNI (Business Networking International) members. As a ten-year veteran of that organization, I've taken the course several times before, but we're supposed to re-take it regularly to keep our skills sharp. The agenda includes how to give an effective self-introduction, how to listen for possible referral opportunities, the difference between a genuine referral and a lukewarm "lead," and so on. This sort of training is especially useful for those of us who weren't born with a natural gift for self-promotion or confident interaction with a roomful of strangers. But I've found that the most important thing I can do to become a better networker is to network. A lot.

I guess this is true of just about any activity, particularly the ones that don't come naturally to us. Sure, you might accidentally pick up a basketball one day and discover that hitting 3-pointers is child's play for you and dumb luck for all your friends. More likely, though, you'll have to practice hour after hour, shot after shot, until you get the muscle memory down pat. That's technique, and anyone can develop some degree of it, no matter how much actual talent they have for the given task. In fact, technique can continue to serve you even when natural ability can't or won't. There are countless stories of singers, actors, athletes, musicians, you name it, who perform competently or better in the face of illness, injury or personal stress. They may be so distressed or distracted that afterward they can't even remember what they did. But's that okay, because their technique remembered for them.

Writing is another activity that benefits from constant practice and repetition. If you feel the ned to communicate your company's mission or your own expertise through writing, you don't need a journalism or marketing communications degree -- you just need to do the following things:

1) Read a lot 
2) Write a lot

If you plan to write your company's marketing content, immerse yourself in marketing content from your competitors, from unrelated industries, from your junk mail inbox, from everywhere you happen to find it. Soon you'll be able to recognize the good stuff from the bad stuff, and eventually you'll start to recognize the mediocre stuff as well. At the same time, practice whatever form of writing you intend to pursue. It's perfectly fine to mimic the masters to get a feel for what they're doing -- many great composers got their start by transcribing each other's work verbatim. After a while you'll be able to know whether a given word or phrase will work before you ever set it down, with no need to wait for "inspiration." And that's the beginning of technique, because once you can do that, you can write whatever you want, whenever you want.

Can you still have a professional copywriter go over your work and edit as needed? Of course! But if you really want to refine your own writing, I recommend that you study the copywriter's revision of your draft with a surgeon's eye. What exactly did he change, and what exactly is that change doing to make the content better? It's like getting a bonus tutoring session for the cost of an editing job, so take advantage of it. And whatever you do -- keep practicing!