Four spring cleaning tasks for writers

You’ve been writing all day, right? Writing press releases. Writing carefully worded emails. Writing white papers and proposals and to-do lists and text messages and secret prayers to the gods of media coverage (and then apology letters to PETA about the Sacrificial Goat Incident).

Amir Kuckovic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

When you spend most of your waking moments stringing together words and phrases, not every strand will be unique and stunning. Perhaps Thesaurus.com is the only browser tab that never you never close. Maybe you are leaning on weak link-bait phrases, like my headline (hey, you clicked on it).

In other words, your writing has gotten stale, lackluster and rote.

Recently, I noticed this in my writing. I was editing a white paper I had written, and found one phrase repeated over and over at the beginning of sentences: “that means.” It was an unnecessary, lazy and boring transition, but there it was, again and again.

I had the good sense (for once) to understand this as a wake-up call. I took a closer look at the next few pieces I wrote and took steps to refresh my writing. This is what worked for me. Maybe it’ll work for you, too:

  • Pick out the stale bits. When editing, look for areas of your writing that aren’t terribly effective. Like me, have your transitions gotten lazy? Does it seem like your vocabulary has shrunk? Name the problem(s).
  • Refresh your reading. In many ways, you write what you read. What are you reading for work? If you go back every day to the same two blogs, you are limiting potential growth in your vocabulary and writing style. What are you reading at home? The books and magazines we read for fun inform our writing just as much as the “serious” stuff.
  • Go back to basics. Listen, you don’t actually outgrow outlining and organized note-taking. We all just think we do. You might even want to try drafting with pen and paper, just this once. As I see it, writing by hand slows down your writing process and can help you be more thoughtful about word choice and sentence length.
  • Reacquaint yourself with clients. Going back to basics can also mean going back to the beginning with your clients. If your writing about or for them has become imprecise or not particularly compelling, you may want to look back at strategy documents created when you started working with them. Make sure you understand their mission and goals — these are easy to lose sight of.

I’m curious about what other people do to solve this vague and slippery problem. Do you have any good resources, tips or advice? Share them in the comments or on Twitter (tweet @kimballpr or @sammkimball).

Photo credit: Amir Kuckovic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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