The written word

OK so I know that there’s YouTube and podcasting but most of the Internet’s power is still in the written word. It is text that conveys most of the important ideas and it is accessible at almost zero cost to all of us. And yet so few of us write. Most still consume, or at the most share other people’s “content”.

The same is true at work. You can spend thousands on a social enterprise platform but if people don’t write nothing is going to happen. If only a small proportion of your staff write and the rest lurk you are not going achieve the savings and opportunities you seek. If all of your business’s online activity is carried out by the marketing team you are never going to have the conversations with customers that can transform your business.

It is hard, this thing of putting our thoughts down “on paper”. It takes effort and courage. Most of us still carry baggage from our school days about what it takes to write well and heads full of rules and judgements about good and bad writing. We are all too aware of “getting it wrong” and the risk of failure or of exposing ourselves to ridicule.

We need to start small, to take baby steps. Even the practise of keeping a paper journal is immensely powerful. We often don’t know what we think until we write it down. Jotting down ideas and impressions gets us in the habit of thinking about what we think and better at expressing it. As we get more confident we can share some of our insights online. Whether by blogging or updating Facebook we can put things out there, see what reactions we get, learn from the responses. Rinse and repeat.

Yes I still believe that the internet gives us the power to change our world but I am becoming more and more convinced that it is in this first basic building block of learning to write well and in public that people need help. The big picture, philosophical, world changing stuff can come later. Unless more of us are willing to put our words and thoughts out there in public, and to get better at doing so, none of the rest is going to happen.

2 thoughts on “The written word

  1. I’d like to echo your thoughts, Euan. I have been a writing coach for many years but am now finding more time to do my own writing at last. Starting a blog (about writing and its uses) has taken some determination and courage, despite the fact that I wrote a doctoral thesis about writing in organisational life!. As you say, writing regularly is possibly the best way to get better at it. And one can learn to write in a blog-appropriate style – e.g. resisting the temptation to include too many details, adopting an informal style, writing in a way that keeps readers wanting to know what comes next. I also think it is important not to be too dependent on encouragement from others. Virginia Woolf’s "A writer’s diary" recently made that even clearer to me.


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