Ask the Editor™
Volume 7, Issue 1

In this issue:

Efficiency Expert

Recently, during a particularly busy feast phase of the freelancer's feast-or-famine cycle, I was reminded of a Steve Martin comedy routine. In it, he describes how people were always saying to him, "Steve, how can you be so gosh darn funny?" So he tells them that before he goes on stage, he puts bologna in his shoes. So he feels funny.

As I paused to reflect, I smiled to myself: Kevin, how can you be so gosh darn organized? You wouldn't know if you saw all the project folders stacked on my desk and spread about the floor into the next room. It doesn't always seem possible to get it all done. But my clients depend on my ability to meet their deadlines. And frankly, my livelihood depends on keeping them happy.

I happened to be working on an article on time management for small businesses at the time. It occurred to me: a list of similar skills would be beneficial to business writers. First, put bologna in your shoes...

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“You write by sitting down and writing. There's no particular time or place. You suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he's disciplined, doesn't matter.” Bernard Malamud

Orfield Communications

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Tips on Writing More Efficiently

  • Schedule your time for writing around your highest energy levels and when you work best. To the best of your ability, schedule meetings at other times.
  • Set aside large blocks of time when you won't be bothered, such as early morning and late afternoon before the phone rings and the world intrudes.
  • Write in a location that works best for you, be it at a desk in an office, in an easy chair, or at a table in the company cafeteria. The point is to be comfortable.
  • If you are in a place like an airplane or hotel room where you don't usually write, make it your own space. Bring all the things you usually need to write with you, including a laptop, project files, etc.
  • Make sure you've done adequate preparation in terms of research and planning before you sit down to write.
  • Make sure you are clear about the purpose and goals of the assignment before you begin writing. If necessary, check with those who know.
  • Avoid the temptation to constantly multitask, surf the Web, or check email.
  • Use whatever process works for you to organize your thoughts, whether it's note cards, highlighters, Post-It notes, legal pads, sketchy short outlines, or long formal outlines.
  • Set goals for what you want to accomplish in terms of the number of words or pages you want to complete during each writing session.
  • Stop procrastinating and get started!

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“The desk in the room, near the bed, with a good light, midnight till dawn, a drink when you get tired, preferably at home, but if you have no home, make a home out of your hotel room or motel room or pad.” Jack Kerouac

Tips to Keep Writing

  • Go wherever the path takes you. No two writing assignments are the same. Some projects require extensive planning and preparation. Others may be written almost immediately.
  • Write whatever way works for you. Some writers spend a lot of time thinking of what to write before committing to paper, others talk the draft aloud, still others put a lot on paper and then revise often.
  • In general, don't worry about making mistakes or how you sound. You can go back and revise later.
  • If you are stuck, keep writing. Get anything on the page.
  • If you are really stuck, work on a different section, for example, the one you have the most knowledge or feel the most confident about. I usually write the intro and conclusions last.
  • If you are really, really stuck, freewrite, writing as quickly and uncritically as you can to get thoughts and words on paper.
  • Dictate your draft. Talk your draft out loud.
  • Work with others. Ask a coworker what he or she would say or how to say it.
  • Remember that writing is a recursive rather than a linear process, with many visits to the prewriting, writing, and revising stages.
  • Take breaks often to recharge.
  • Sleep on it. Sometimes it's best to give your ideas time to ferment within your subconscious, especially after a long period of writing or after researching or planning.

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“I usually work to a point where the work is getting worse rather than better. That's the point to stop and the time to publish.” John Dos Passos

Ask the Editor™ Question

When is first, second, or third person appropriate?

Brad Sutton

For most business communications, you should write in a natural, conversational style, as if you were speaking to the reader. Personal pronouns are okay. For more formal documents where you want to adopt a more serious tone, you many want to use third person and fewer personal pronouns. You may also want to use third person when you are writing about sensitive topics and are trying to avoid assigning responsibility or blame.

“The Editor”

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