A colleague asked me for some tips about writing. With hundreds of articles, blog posts, and 10 books, I know what works for me. I suspect some of these ideas will work for you, too.
Tip 1: Write every day.
Write for 15 minutes every day. This practice exercises your writing muscles. For me, it’s a little different than all the email I write 🙂
Tip 2: Think about the stories you want to tell in an article.
- Start with an interesting situation (before), in the form of a story. Show/tell about the transformation/change. Wrap up with a pointer back to the story.
- Consider some number of tips. Here are some examples from my blog: Three Tips for Product Owners, 4 Tips for Preparing for a Project or Program Manager Interview, Six Tips for Answering Project and Program Manager Interview Questions. If you can illustrate the tips with stories, that's even better. I find I need to keep the number of tips to less than 9 (7 or fewer is even better) for people to read it.
- Contrast stories of two teams: one team did this. One team did that. Here’s why they both succeeded/failed/whatever.
People love stories. If you include a story, they will identify with it and love your work. That's because they can identify with the situation, regardless if they agree with you.
You might not like my story approach. Think about what you like to read. What pulls you in? Write like that (not the same words, the same approach).
Tip 3: Writing is not editing.
For me, writing is about 3 parts:
- Gather the ideas. If you want to outline, this is a great time to do it. Just remember that an outline is a guide, not rules.
- Write down.
- Edit. This is where you use the red squiggly lines and the spell/grammar checker. I excise passive voice in my non-fiction. I look for a lower grade level (about 6 is what I aim for) and a high readability score.
When I write (down), I don’t edit. I spew words on the page. It’s almost a game: how fast can I write? I write about 750-1000 words an hour. That’s pretty darn close to an entire article. (1000 words) After I’m done with the writing-down, I can edit.
Tip 4: People will disagree with you
When you write non-fiction, people will disagree with you. (Heck, they probably disagree with fiction, too!) That’s fine. It’s their loss if they disregard your ideas. Everyone has their own experience. If you tell stories/provide tips/write from your experience, you are authentic. You also build your self-confidence. The writing is easier over time.
If you would like to practice your writing, I have an online workshop starting in every quarter. See https://www.jrothman.com/syllabus/2015/12/writing-workshop-1-write-non-fiction-to-enhance-your-business-and-reputation/. You will write at least one article during the workshop.
Tip 5: Read Widely
My friend and colleague Jurgen Appelo has graciously retweeted this post several times. He often adds “Read 10x more than you write.” I don't know if I read 10x more than I write. I do read everything. I read a wide variety of fiction: romance, thriller, crime, action-adventure, scifi. Probably more. I read a tremendous amount of non-fiction: project management, management, leadership, science, coding and testing approaches, product management, and probably more.
Updated to change the start of the workshop. I now teach this each quarter of the year. Added Tip 5. Thanks, Jurgen!