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The Value of Writing Well

The Value of Writing Well

The Value of Writing Well

    It’s that time of year again. No, not “the holiday season”. I mean, it is holiday time, but for professors it doesn’t start feeling like holiday time until final grades are in and the books are closed on another semester. No, for me, it’s paper-grading time, the time of year when I’m reminded over and over of the importance of good writing skills – and of their rarity.

    The ability to write well is not a gift. Sure, the special something that sets apart a Tolstoy or Shakespeare or Salman Rushdie or Isabel Allende is a gift, a talent born of disposition, experience, and commitment. But just to be able to communicate clearly with the written word takes no special talent; it’s a skill like any other.

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    Well, not exactly like any other. Because the words we use to write with are the same words we use to think with, learning to write well has ramifications that go beyond the merely technical. As we improve our writing ability, we improve our ability to think – to build an argument, to frame issues in compelling ways, to weave apparently unrelated facts into a coherent whole.

    And despite the recurring hand-wringing and chest-beating about the “end of literacy” and the “death of the printed word”, the reality is that we write more than ever these days. While it’s a rare person who sits down with pen and paper in hand and writes a letter to a friend or loved one, we pour emails into the ether at an astounding rate. We text message, tweet, instant message, blog, comment, and otherwise shoot words at each other in a near-constant flow of communication. We annotate group portraits, LOL-ify cat pictures, and tag… well, everything. At work, we write letters, proposals, PowerPoint presentations, business requirement documents, memos, speeches, mission statements, position papers, operating procedures, manuals, brochures, package copy, press releases, and dozens of more specialized types of documents.

    We are, it seems, writing creatures. Homo scribus, if you will.

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    It’s no wonder that businesses repeatedly cite “communication skills” as the single most desirable trait in new employees. The kicker, though, is that we are as a society incredibly bad at writing. Public schools do a piss-poor job of teaching students how to write well – they barely manage to instill the basic rules of grammar and the miserable 5-paragraph essay, let alone how to write with style and verve, how to put together an argument that moves steadily from one point to the next to persuade a reader of some crucial point, how to synthesize ideas and data from multiple sources into something that takes those ideas one step further.

    It’s not just the teachers’ fault. Teachers do the best they can with what they’re given, and all too often what they’re given is inadequate resources with which to teach classrooms full of unmotivated students who could care less about writing. Add to that the requirements of mandatory nation-wide tests that reward conformity, not creativity, and the threat of punishment for any school whose students fail to fall within the fairly rigid boundaries of the test’s requirements, and you’ve got a pretty bad situation all around for instilling in students the power to write well.

    That is, alas, a great disservice. Being able to write well vastly improves students’ – and others’ – potential for success, regardless of the field they find themselves in. As I’ve already mentioned, people who write well tend to be better able to think through problems and tease out patterns in outwardly dissimilar situations. More importantly, people who write well have the opportunity to make a mark in the world, because their best ideas aren’t trapped in their own minds for lack of a means of expression.

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    This is true whether you’re a CEO or a janitor, a marketing expert or an Emergency Medical Technician. The skills that make us better writers make us better explainers, better persuaders, and better thinkers. They are the skills that allow us to “sell” our ideas effectively, whether in giving a presentation to potential funders of our company, proposing a new project to our corporate leadership, or transmitting a new policy to our employees. Being able to write well lessens the chance that we’ll be misunderstood, and increases the likelihood that our ideas will be adopted.

    Writing well is not a gift reserved for the few but a set of skills that can be learned by anyone. The technical aspects can be learned in any of several ways: by taking a class, by studying books on writing, by working with a partner or a group and acting on their feedback. But while grammar and structure are an important part of writing, to write well also demands some effort to develop style. Style is what keeps people reading past the first sentence, and what keeps what you’ve written on their minds, impelling them to take action.

    Style is rather less teachable than the nuts and bolts of writing, but it is learnable. It demands patience, attention, and most of all practice, but it is possible for anyone who has something to say to learn how to say it well. To move from being merely capable to being a good writer, you need only:

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    1. Read: Reading is essential to good writing. It is how we learn the vastness of the language and the limits of the grammar – and how to push those limits. The more you read, the greater your understanding of language’s potential becomes.
    2. Write: Good writing takes practice. Unfortunately, unless we create opportunities to write, we get far too few opportunities to get that practice after we’ve left school. Start a journal, a blog, a newsletter, or whatever else you can think of to get you writing on at least a semi-regular basis.
    3. Read Again: Most people who fail to become better writers fail because they do not read their own writing. They don’t read it before they post/mail/submit/publish/otherwise finish it, and they don’t read it after they’re done with it. Which means they don’t see the awkward parts, the flat bits, the pieces that say something different from what was intended – and they never learn how to fix or, better yet, avoid those problems.
    4. Repeat: Writing is personal, and seeing your writing ill-received can strike a blow to the strongest of egos. The only answer for it, though, is persistence – the goal is to become a better writer, not to be perfect out of the gate. Pay attention to criticism, learn from it, but don’t internalize it – there’s no shame in writing poorly, only in failing to try to do better next time.

    Today’s world is a world of text; it is the lifeblood of the information economy. In Ancient Rome, it was the orators who ruled, those who could compel obedience, loyalty, and devotion with their spoken words. Today, the written word is dominant, not only because so much of the information that shapes our lives is written down, but because the habits that make us good writers are the same habits that allow us to flourish in the information economy. If you worry about your writing ability, commit yourself now to becoming a solid writer in the year to come. If you are already a decent writer, commit yourself to becoming better. And if you’re one of the rare few who write well, reach out to those around you and share your talent, so that others may learn from you. Let that be your gift this holiday season.

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    Last Updated on July 16, 2019

    7 Ways to Get Rid of Negative Energy and Become Positive

    7 Ways to Get Rid of Negative Energy and Become Positive

    Negativity affects ourselves and everyone around us. It limits our potential to become something great and live a fulfilling, purposeful life. Negativity has a tangible effect on our health, too. Research has shown that people who cultivate negative energy experience more stress, more sickness, and less opportunity over the course of their lives than those who choose to live positively.

    When we make a decision to become positive, and follow that decision up with action, we will begin to encounter situations and people that are also positive. The negative energy gets edged out by all positive experiences. It’s a snowball effect.

    Although negative and positive thoughts will always exist, the key to becoming positive is to limit the amount of negativity that we experience by filling ourselves up with more positivity.

    Here are some ways to get rid of negativity and become more positive.

    1. Become Grateful for Everything

    When life is all about us, it’s easy to believe that we deserve what we have. An attitude of entitlement puts us at the center of the universe and sets up the unrealistic expectation that others should cater to us, our needs, and our wants. This vain state of existence is a surefire way to set yourself up for an unfulfilled life of negativity.

    People living in this sort of entitlement are “energy suckers”–they are always searching for what they can get out of a situation. People that don’t appreciate the nuances of their lives live in a constant state of lacking. And it’s really difficult to live a positive life this way.

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    When we begin to be grateful and appreciate everything in our lives–from the small struggles that make us better, to the car that gets us from A to B every day–we shift our attitude from one of selfishness, to one of appreciation. This appreciation gets noticed by others, and a positive harmony begins to form in our relationships.

    We begin to receive more of that which we are grateful for, because we’ve opened ourselves up to the idea of receiving, instead of taking. This will make your life more fulfilling, and more positive.

    2. Laugh More, Especially at Yourself

    Life gets busy, our schedules fill up, we get into relationships, and work can feel task oriented and routine-driven at times. Being human can feel more like being a robot. But having this work-driven, serious attitude often results in negative and performance oriented thinking.

    Becoming positive means taking life less seriously and letting yourself off the hook. This is the only life that you get to live, why not lighten up your mood?

    Laughter helps us become positive by lightening our mood and reminding us not to take life so seriously. Are you sensitive to light sarcasm? Do you have trouble laughing at jokes? Usually, people who are stressed out and overly serious get most offended by sarcasm because their life is all work and no play.

    If we can learn to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes, life will become more of an experiment in finding out what makes us happy. And finding happiness means finding positivity.

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    3. Help Others

    Negativity goes hand in hand with selfishness. People that live only for themselves have no higher purpose in their lives. If the whole point of this world is only to take care of yourself and no one else, the road to a long-term fulfillment and purpose is going to be a long one.

    Positivity accompanies purpose. The most basic way to create purpose and positivity in your life is to begin doing things for others. Start small; open the door for the person in front of you at Starbucks or ask someone how their day was before telling them about yours.

    Helping others will give you an intangible sense of value that will translate into positivity. And people might just appreciate you in the process.

    4. Change Your Thinking

    We can either be our best coach or our best enemy. Change starts from within. If you want to become more positive, change the wording of your thoughts. We are the hardest on ourselves, and a stream of negative self talk is corrosive to a positive life.

    The next time you have a negative thought, write it down and rephrase it with a positive spin. For example, change a thought like, “I can’t believe I did so horribly on the test–I suck.” to “I didn’t do as well as I hoped to on this test. But I know I’m capable and I’ll do better next time.”

    Changing our self-talk is powerful.

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    5. Surround Yourself with Positive People

    We become most like the people that we surround ourselves with. If our friend group is full of negative energy-suckers and drama queens, we will emulate that behavior and become like them. It is very difficult to become more positive when the people around us don’t support or demonstrate positive behavior.

    As you become more positive, you’ll find that your existing friends will either appreciate the new you or they will become resistant to your positive changes. This is a natural response.

    Change is scary; but cutting out the negative people in your life is a huge step to becoming more positive. Positive people reflect and bounce their perspectives onto one another. Positivity is a step-by-step process when you do it solo, but a positive group of friends can be an escalator.

    6. Get into Action

    Negative thoughts can be overwhelming and challenging to navigate. Negativity is usually accompanied by a “freak-out” response, especially when tied to relationships, people and to worrying about the future. This is debilitating to becoming positive and usually snowballs into more worry, more stress and more freak-outs.

    Turn the negative stress into positive action. The next time you’re in one of these situations, walk away and take a break. With your eyes closed, take a few deep breaths. Once you’re calm, approach the situation or problem with a pen and pad of paper. Write out four or five actions or solutions to begin solving the problem.

    Taking yourself out of the emotionally charged negative by moving into the action-oriented positive will help you solve more problems rationally and live in positivity

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    7. Take Full Responsibility, Stop Being the Victim

    You are responsible for your thoughts.

    People that consistently believe that things happen to them handicap themselves to a victim mentality. This is a subtle and deceptive negative thought pattern. Phrases like “I have to work” or “I can’t believe he did that to me” are indicators of a victim mentality. Blaming circumstances and blaming others only handicaps our decision to change something negative into something positive.

    Taking full responsibility for your life, your thoughts and your actions is one of the biggest steps in creating a more positive life. We have unlimited potential within to create our own reality, change our life, and change our thoughts. When we begin to really internalize this, we discover that no one can make us feel or do anything. We choose our emotional and behavioral response to people and circumstances.

    Make positive choices in favor of yourself.

    “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny” ― Lao Tzu

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    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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