“Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.” -- Stephen King
Great writing won't turn your feeble startup into the next Facebook phenomenon overnight. But learning to write better will move you and your company forward. It isn't easy to talk about writing, especially in business. Writing always is personal because it exposes the writer's ideas and ability to navigate the language. Writing personifies vulnerability.
There is no "right way" to write. Even the basics are fuzzy. Prepositions aren't something you should end a sentence with. Never start a sentence with "because." Why not? Because. Finally, sentence fragments are always unforgivable. Unless they're not.
Writing is the key to success. It doesn't matter if you're trying to make a living by blogging, working in an office or as an entrepreneur working on the next super-awesome startup that will make you billions before you're 30.
Research from Harvard shows that being able to communicate through the written word is the most overlooked -- yet critical -- business skill. The ability to write well can help you attain every goal, from increasing productivity or improving leadership to leading a more fulfilling personal life.
No matter how great you scribble, there always are ways to improve. In his book "On Writing: A Memoir of Craft," Stephen King shares the tactics he's used to sell nearly 400 million books. Don't stop there -- here are five actionable tips from a man who's arguably one of the world's more successful writers. You'll find they apply to more than using a keyboard.
1. Turn off the television.
Stop watching TV and read instead. King believes television is "poisonous to creativity" and that creativity rests on two habits: "Read a lot and write a lot." He's not alone in his thinking.
Studies show that more than 1,000 of the world's richest people read extensively. Megamoguls -- think Warren Buffet and Mark Cuban -- believe reading is a key to their success. Television doesn't have to be banished entirely, but think about replacing at least one show each day with reading.
2. Drop the snobbery.
One of the most effective speeches of all time is Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. It's a mere 701 words. Of those, 505 are just one syllable and 122 have two syllables. "One of the worst things is to dress up your writing with long words as if you're ashamed of your short ones," King wrote.
David Ogilvy, the businessman and original "Mad Man," agreed. The late Ogilvy once sent a memo to each of his workers that read: "Never use jargon like metrics, minimum viable product, impressions or A/B testing. They are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass."
If you're working to get more readers on your blog or to fascinate someone, stop. Just stop. Reach the post's point as quickly as possible, and your readers will be not only grateful but genuinely impressed.
3. Take leadership.
Everyone is trying to persuade someone else to do something. Whether you're pitching a new product to a key client or assuring your workers that a six-month-long project will move the company in a favorable direction, your writing must be convincing. You need to give the impression of being a strong leader.
"I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing," King writes. He advocates using the active voice, whenever possible, to tackle any problem.
The passive voice can come across as watery and weaselly. An active voice announces landmark leadership because it conveys clear instruction and direction. As a writing style, it makes readers want to follow.
4. Be consistent.
"Once I begin a project, I don't stop unless I have to," King writes. "If I don't write every day, I start to lose my hold on the story's pace and plot." As with any other skill, there are no born writers. Practice daily and have patience. Remember, improvement won't happen immediately -- but it will come eventually if you are consistent.
5. Give your mind a rest.
Athletes who cross the marathon's finish line don't wake up the next day and go for a long run. They rest. They give their bodies a break and permit their muscles to recover. Today’s work world of smartphones, laptops and mobile devices means we rarely give ourselves respite.
King’s approach: Take a step back and recuperate after finishing a big project. "When you draft a book, you fill day after day scanning and looking for trees. When you're done, step back and enjoy the forest," he writes. Reviewing the work also gives you time to grow and improve by seeing your mistakes.
6. Develop resiliency.
Most important: Become resilient.
"Optimism is a legitimate response to failure," King writes. Whether you’re toiling in corporate America, developing a startup or crafting a novel, it's a harsh world. Criticism can be overpowering. People will doubt you. They will talk behind your back. Criticism comes naturally, but it comes with success.
"No" is just someone's opinion -- nothing more. Life will hand out many rejections, but each is only one person's viewpoint. Staying resilient means learning to tune out the negative noise and bounce back stronger than ever.
Work hard to foster a company atmosphere in which everyone has the right to critique, question and suggest. Most team members won't have "professional writer" in their job descriptions, but that shouldn’t mean writing is off limits to them. The practice of good, collaborative writing can make the difference between great business and bad business -- a sale or no sale.
If good work is essential to you and your business, feel free to share this article with your writers -- which should be every member of your team. Steal it. Revise it. Repurpose it.
Or write your own.