I met with one of my business-writing clients at Starbucks this week. As we were finishing up, the real truth came out. Despite his impressive resume and credentials, he is intimidated by writing and doesn’t know how to overcome the fear as he seeks to launch his career in a new direction.
I had a few tips, gleaned from the nearly 4,000 students I had in 10 years as a journalism professor and my ongoing business of tutoring students and business professionals on Skype and in person as they write everything from college essays to cover letters.
The first tip: Keep it simple. The most important things you’ll ever say in your life can be said in three or four words. I asked my student to give me an example and he said, “You’re fired.” I countered with “Pa’s dead.”
If such weighty matters can be expressed in a few words, why complicate anything else you write? In other words, rely on the simple declarative sentence to take the fear factor out of your writing.
It helps to think before you write. If you have time, take a short walk, compose what you want to say in your head and then transfer those thoughts to the page. Ninety percent of the work should be done before you even sit down at your computer, especially in the case of important projects such as a college essay or cover letter.
Finally, don’t be afraid to tell your story. My student’s passion for a new direction was triggered by a job loss. His experience and longtime commitment to volunteer work that has helped to rebuild a Rust Belt city will help him on the path to a new, more meaningful job or graduate school.
Telling your story in an honest and compelling way can help to make a human connection with the reader and get you noticed. The American sportswriter Red Smith once said: “Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed.” It’s something to think about as you strive to get noticed with your words.