I’m a professional communicator. My day job is (and always has been) to write for and advise others on how best to communicate the company, group or organization’s message.
I’ve always viewed my role as that of a helper. And I like it that way.
As a communicator, a writer, and a lover of words and language, I see the world through a different lens than most. I see nuances others miss and I miss or ignore seemingly obvious things that others see.
I think about brand and the message that an image or a logo sends. I think about grammar and style, and how little tweaks in a sentence or sign could send a completely different (and sometimes more appropriate) message.
I get to be the translator for people and transmit their expertise on their product or service to the world beyond them. I get to be the link between incredibly talented and smart people and the public. I get to encourage and inspire them and their audience.
Now that I’m starting my freelance business, the notion that I’m a helper is even stronger.
When I’m helping a business market their product or a non-profit organization tell their stories, I get the opportunity to see into their world. I love that.
I get to, if even for a short while, be a part of something that is much larger than me. That’s one of the reasons why I love working with non-profits. I know that my little bit of help is a cog in the wheel of change and a piece of the machine that is positively impacting real lives.
But even when I’m not working with non-profits, even when I’m writing web copy for a business or proofreading a project report, I know that I’m making life a little easier for the people in charge of that website or the group who worked on that project.
I love helping non-writers feel better about their writing.
I love helping people who don’t like writing. I love helping them discover that they can indeed write. I love helping them find ways to make writing a little bit easier for them.
One of my first jobs out of university was as a communicator with a large church. Each month the church staff produced a magazine to tell the congregation about upcoming events and about the positive contributions they were making to their community and to the world.
Each magazine featured stories from all the different ministry groups–overseas missions, children’s programs, junior high youth and senior high youth, women’s ministries, seniors groups, Bible study groups, men’s ministries, and the pastors.
The church staff were expected to write these stories. Many of them were uncomfortable with the task of writing.
That’s where I came in. And that’s when I started realizing that I really did enjoy helping people learn to and love writing.
The lead pastor asked me to put on a seminar at a staff meeting. My goal was to teach the staff some tricks and inspire them to write fresh articles for the monthly magazine.
Fresh out of college, younger than everyone on staff–I was nervous. Having known many of them during my childhood, I was pretty sure some of them still saw me as a kid. But on this topic, I was the expert. I knew how to write and I loved it. So I grabbed my writing reference books and scoured the internet and I developed a 30-minute seminar with lots of exercises. Then I prayed for active participants.
I started my presentation asking the group why they didn’t submit stories for the magazine. I got answers like:
- Writing is hard.
- I don’t know what to write about.
- It’s too much work.
- I’m not a good writer.
- Does anybody actually read that thing?
I’d anticipated most of these and so I steered my presentation into the realm of how to generate ideas to write about and how to make your writing good.
How to Generate Ideas to Write About
I challenged my colleagues to do some writing exercises with me (remember, I said I planned the seminar to be interactive). I grabbed my copy of Lois Peterson’s 101 and more Writing Exercises (which I have since sadly lost…) and started making lists.
#8: Make a list of things that have piqued your interest lately, or that you’ve often wondered about. (60 sec)
#23: Make LISTS. Use these lists to stimulate your memory. (2 min)
- All the houses you’ve lived in
- All the jobs you’ve had
- The cars you’ve owned or driven
- Your teachers in school or university
- Your vacations
- Friends you no longer see
- Parties you’ve been to
- Memorable meals
- Favourite items of clothing
- Favourite sayings/quotes/books/movies
- All the ways you’ve worn your hair
- The things you covet (desire strongly)
#109: For each of the following categories, write at least one thing you could write about, don’t think, just list. (60 sec)
- A personal experience
- Unusual people
It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a list. I had the group spend about five minutes on these writing exercises, and each went away from the seminar with 30 or 40 potential article topics.
And because the group did them without thinking, just quickly–bam bam bam–their automatic filters didn’t have a chance to kick in. For most of us, that means these ideas are probably better than the ones we sit and stew over. For the group I was working with, that was definitely true. A fairly intellectual group of people who read a lot, they more often than not shut down their ideas as bad before they had a chance to write anything.
How to Make Your Writing Good
After we made lists, I did my best to encourage the group to allow themselves to write without judgement.
A lot of people, writers and non-writers, immediately critique themselves as soon as they put a sentence on the page.
My advice to my first group of coaching clients: Just Write.
I shared this quote with them:
“You should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay. Give yourself lots of space to explore writing.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
We did another writing exercise in my writing seminar (participation makes it a lot more fun and a lot more interesting). Before we did the freewriting exercise, I explained to the group the following rules of freewriting:
- Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar or anything on your first draft.
- Just keep your fingers moving.
- Don’t stop to read what you’ve already written.
- Don’t edit as you write.
- Just write.
- Get your ideas on paper. Spew.
- You can refine it and turn it into something good later.
And then I quoted Natalie again:
The point of just writing is “to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel. It’s a great opportunity to capture the oddities of your mind. Explore the rugged edge of thought. Like grating a carrot, fill the paper with colourful coleslaw of your consciousness.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Finally, we did one more exercise from Lois Peterson.
#25: Look at these phrases. Begin with one of them and just write. Don’t think, just write. I will stop you in 3 minutes.
- I wish that…
- I’ve always wondered why…
- How can I…
- I think that if I only…
You should have seen them! It was exciting to a see a group of people scribbling furiously who not 30 minutes before had been reluctant to write anything. We finished off by chatting about using the five senses to show instead of tell in our writing and how to self-edit our work.
The group left that staff meeting with lots of ideas to write about, some tools to use and, as some of them told me afterward, a renewed confidence in their own abilities.
And that, my friends, is why I choose to be a communicator and a writing coach.