In the book, Everybody Writes, Ann Handley talks about this concept that most people outside of the communication field overlook: this idea that anyone—literally, anyone—can become a good writer. As I read this book, this struck me as funny; because I can’t even fathom the number of times a fellow student has come up to me and said the words “I can’t write.”
To me, this seems foreign. I’ve been writing since I learned to read, and I just assumed everyone was the same. But the reality is, most people in the world find the process of writing is incredibly difficult – even painful. It makes them nervous and self-conscious and bored and tired. As an editor, and as a writing tutor at Waynesburg University, I’m all too familiar with these feelings.
As public relations professionals, though, it is imperative that we learn to work through this anxiety. Writing is a very undervalued skill in a lot of different domains—not so in communication. The ability to write with clarity and eloquence will take any communicator as far as they dare to go.
Handley is right when she says anyone can write: all it takes is practice. She calls the act of writing a habit, rather than a skill—which is absolutely true. One of my greatest joys as a tutor is working with the same student over and over again, and watching how they progress. I would encourage anyone to take the same initiative. Treat every new assignment as an opportunity to get better.
Another interesting (and somewhat obvious) facet to writing that most overlook is the necessity of planning. It really does baffle me sometimes when my coworkers will sit down to write, without any sort of outline or idea in their heads. Normally, the piece will take forever to complete, and the process will feel like pulling teeth. This isn’t the case after planning—organizing your thoughts before putting words to paper will help you with clarity, and with your confidence moving forward.
Also, let’s not skip over the importance of that first draft. I think a lot of people take a look at their trashy first draft and think, “This is terrible, I’m terrible, I quit.” But in all honesty, every first draft from every great writer on this green earth has been terrible—that’s kind of the point. Writing it is like a warm-up, and the real magic happens later. At the same time, all too often students get lazy and make their first draft their only draft. It’s usually pretty obvious.
These are some habits we need to break before we become professionals, and some skills we need to instill. Writing doesn’t have to be your hobby or your calling, but you do need to be proficient at it, if you want to be a successful communicator.
Teghan Simonton is a junior with a dual major in journalism and public relations. She serves as Managing Editor for the award-winning Yellow Jacket student newspaper, and as as the Public Relations Director for Waynesburg PRSSA. She is an active member of Red Brick Communications and President of the Society of Professional Journalists. In her free time, Teghan is a member of the cross country and track teams.