Some people write news articles. Some write novels. Others write poetry. And some people write blogs. But you? You write emails. Big difference right? Maybe. Maybe not. There are actually millions of people who write stories and poems and articles, but there are relatively few who we all know. Why is that? There’s a good bit of luck involved, but there’s a great deal more work involved. People who practice writing are much more likely to become known for their work than those who only do it when they have to.
I’ve gathered a few of my favorite quotes from writers I admire and then added a couple thoughts after each about how they can be applied to a business setting. Take a read and let me know what you think. Tell me in the comments below about what you struggle with when it’s time to sit down and write. Tell me about your successes. Tell me about your (perceived) failures. Tell me anything you want to, just write something and then keep going when you’re done.
"I will tell you something about stories. They aren't just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don't have anything if you don't have stories."
Leslie Marmon Silko (Native American poet & novelist)
There is a place in business for storytelling. Executives use them to open meetings. Entry-level employees are often asked to relate an experience or two they’ve had that they could draw on to find success in a new position. So don’t be afraid to start an email with a story.
Just make it quick, make it relevant, and make it compelling. Use it to capture a reader’s attention and give him a reason to keep reading.
"What isn’t said is as important as what is said. In many classic short stories, the real action occurs in the silences. Try to keep all the good stuff off the page."
Colson Whitehead (novelist, poet, essayist)
Don’t overwrite. Write enough to get someone interested, and then get out. If you give your reader everything she needs to make a decision right then and there without ever talking to you, it’s very easy for her to decide on “no" or not now, which is as bad as no. Tease her by letting her know that she’ll miss something really juicy if she doesn’t call. But then make sure whatever you’re holding back as juicy really is.
" 'Very' is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen. For example, would you rather hear the mincing shallowness of 'I love you very much' or the heart-slamming intensity of 'I love you'?"
Florence King (novelist, essayist, and columnist)
Some words are just overused. You can distinguish yourself and your product or company by not using them. Stay away from words like very and amazing and incredible and…the list goes on. Spend a few minutes making a compelling argument instead of lazily telling your reader that your offer is amazing and expecting him to believe you.
"Write every day. Don't ever stop. If you are unpublished, enjoy the act of writing—and if you are published, keep enjoying the act of writing. Don't become self-satisfied, don't stop moving ahead, growing, making it new. The stakes are high. Why else would we write?"
Rick Bass (novelist, short stories, essayist)
Communication only works when it is ongoing. Have you ever let a client relationship slip only to try and pick it back up three months later? What does that email or phone call feel like? It’s awkward. You have time that you have to account for. The very act of getting in touch is an acknowledgement that you haven’t been in touch for some time. It’s best to always be finding a reason – a good reason – to be in touch with your clients. Doing this will make you much better at it than the competition.
"In my own experience, nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends. To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know—someone quite ordinary in many respects—can really do it."
John Gardner (novelist, essayist, critic and professor)
“I can’t write." Or, “I’m not a good writer." These are what are known as excuses. Don’t lean on them. If you can fool yourself into thinking this, what can others fool you into thinking? You CAN write. You just have to pay attention and be committed to it.
Let everyone else think they can’t write, but you know what the number one skill is that almost every employer is looking for these days? Communication. Your ability to speak and write well is critical to your success. If you were always in the same room with your clients, email wouldn’t be necessary. But you’re not.
Technology has enabled us to broaden our wingspans and work with people from a great distance. But it has also focused a bright light on the importance of being able to communicate well.
"I wish you good writing and good luck. Even if you've already done the good writing, you'll still need the good luck. It's a shark-filled lagoon out there. Cross your fingers and watch your back."
Margaret Atwood (poet, novelist, critic, essayist, activist)
Not every email is going to help you set new sales records. No matter how much hard work you put into your writing, there’s always more to do. Not every message will hit the mark and not every email will get a response. Learn from the ones that do and study some of the reasons why they worked.
It’s a continual effort. Practice practice practice.
So is there a difference between writing a book and writing an email? I suppose there is, but mostly that difference lies only in the final product. Ask any of these (still living) writers mentioned here and they’ll gladly tell you that even they can only write one word at a time. Which is absolutely no different from you.