I’ve been thinking about the power of leveraging your strengths. Of what you can achieve when you know your best ways of working.
Because me, I’m a binge creator. I’m a binge worker. I’m a terrible employee because if you want me to show up, all day, every day, and be ON, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
But when I have the freedom to have up and down times, all-in times and all-out times, I SHINE. You’ll get absolute gold out of me.
Which is why I love MANAVATION from Tūraukawa and Aimee Bartlett. You can improve your reo Māori and your cultural confidence, systematically – tiny lesson at a time – or you can binge it.
That was my inspiration for the way I’ve set up the School of unProfessional Writing™. I’ve done my time at university, writing essays and doing assignments and meeting deadlines, and at THIS point in my life I know that’s not how I work best. I work best when learning is accessible to me when I feel like it.
I work best when learning is punchy and bite-sized and from a place of DEEP KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE but not talking to me like I’m a blank canvas. I mean, come on – I’m a grown ass adult with skills and knowledge who’s just continuing to learn and grow and refine skills and hone talents. Don’t spoon feed me.
You can graze or binge (I might rename it ShellyFlix – see, for example, below, where I am most definitely NOT teaching people how to twerk onstage*).
You can watch a 5-minute video lesson every day on your coffee break. Or you can binge a course or multiple courses. The point is, each micro-sized lesson has something you can use STRAIGHT AWAY to improve your writing. Every. Single. One.
So, what I’m proud of is that I think I’ve leveraged my strengths to bring you a really frikn cool, super useful and relevant and valuable thing: a way to improve your writing on your terms. In a way that works for you. So you have choices. So you can leverage YOUR ways of working.
Here are some of my strengths, that I leaned into, to build this school:
My authenticity. I am trying to be nothing other than just me. The same me you’d meet on the street.
My high-energy all-in-ness. After making some of those videos I melted into a puddle, y’all! I gave it everything I’ve got. I hope you’ll feel it.
My super practical lens. I’m not big on the technicalities of grammar. I’m not a fine detail person. I believe that the best approaches to better writing are grounded in understanding modern readers, not in where to put a semicolon or how to use flash words.
My decades of experience. Four universities. 30 years of teaching. 31 years of writing. Thousands of people trained. I peeled away all self-doubt and just brought you what I KNOW to be true.
My lens for simplicity and keeping things stress-free. You don’t need to commit time to this. There are no deadlines or pressure or assignments. This isn’t STUDY. It’s SOAKING UP CAREER-CHANGING KNOWLEDGE.
Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine the School of unProfessional Writing™ would be received on such a grand scale. I underestimated how much the world is ready to deconstruct our shitty, old-fashioned ideas about what it means to be “professional.” I was unprepared, but I’m grateful.
Because let’s face it. We’re no longer willing to tolerate practices that alienate. Marginalise. Disadvantage. Privilege. Or even just fucking waste time.
Confidence. Whether you’re aware or not, confidence or lack of it plays a significant role in your writing at work. From my experience, this is true across all demographics, and I don’t care how educated you are, what gender or socio-economic background you come from, how high up the food chain you are or how long in the tooth, your level of confidence has an effect on your writing.
See, here’s the thing: hitting send on that email or report is a vulnerable experience. Once you’ve hit send, it’s out there. It’s open to judgement or criticism. There’s not a damn thing you can do about other people’s opinions once they read your words. That’s a bell you can’t unring.
So if you’re worried about what people think, if you’re young or new at your job or early in your career, if you’re particularly concerned with getting it right, that can slow you down at best, and paralyse you at worst.
If you’re completely unconcerned about what anyone thinks then you’re giving no fucks and hitting send left right and centre without a second thought. Also possibly a narcissist. Or an arrogant prick (sorry, my courses can’t help you with that).
Seriously though, if you’re confident in your writing and ability to express yourself, you’re probably writing faster and rewriting less. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re writing more slowly and doubting yourself more. If you’re worried about proving yourself, you’re writing and rewriting and dying a little bit inside each time.
We haven’t got enough time in the day to be doubting every word we type.
So for me, one thing I want for you when you come to one of my trainings or do an online course is that you’ll walk away feeling just a bit more confident.
That you’ll hit send with a bit less hesitation.
That you’ll reread and rewrite less.
That you’ll trust your instincts and your authentic voice just that little bit more.
That you’ll know you can’t please everyone but that you’ve written a clear, fit for purpose message.
And that then, because you’ve done that, people will respond accordingly. They’ll feel that confidence. They’ll have a little, subconscious seed planted that you’re easy to work with. Efficient. That you get shit done. In my experience, writing more authentically and confidently helps people progress their careers. It engenders confidence, and that’s good for us, good for our customers, and good for business.
So, write more like the way you speak. Read it out loud. Hear it. See how it feels. And start to lock in the fact that your verbal, conversational voice is pretty good at expressing things simply, one idea at a time.
And then, hit send.
(When nothing bad happens, you can lock that in as evidence that it worked. When it comes to writing, the absence of negative feedback should be considered validation. We’re way less likely to get people replying and telling us what a great email that was. Good writing becomes invisible. Go be invisible and consider that a win!!)
I won a huge battle last year for my daughter. HUGE. Like, $300k+ PER YEAR kind of huge. Almost entirely by email. So here’s my advice for how to advocate for yourself (and whānau, friends, employees, all the good humans who need your support) by email.
Before you write, you need to be clear on these things:
What the problem is, factually
How the problem is affecting you
Your understanding of where in the system or service, the problem is happening
The outcome you want
If there’s any compromise you’re willing to make
Seriously, don’t even think about emailing until you’re clear on those things – even if you answer to any of them (like #3) is “I don’t know.” You still need to think them all through.
How to write the email:
Greet politely, but not fake friendly
Express how you’re feeling, very succinctly
State the problem, factually and concisely – and if you can add the solution here, that’s even better
If there’s a lot of background or you need to give a lot of detail to explain the problem, divide it into sections with headings and bullets. Include anything you know or suspect about where or why the problem might be happening
Offer a solution – and if there’s any way you can make this a win-win, that’s your best bet
Now be a bad-ass or kiss-ass: end with a threat or a human pleas for kindness
What I can’t stress to you enough is how you need to be as brief and factual as possible. You need to make it EASY for the person to help you. Don’t expect them to read your novel of pain and frustration. Use headings and bullets because this person will SKIMREAD and you want to help them do it easily.
What might that look like?
Example 1 (it worked, btw)
Example 2 (it worked, btw)
No joy first time? That’s normal. Don’t take it personally.
Time to escalate.
You need to make sure you’re contacting the right person. Yes, you’ll have started with some kind of customer service or complaints or support email. Or maybe it was the person you usually have contact with in that service – like a case manager. We always need to be aware, though, that those frontline people often have limited authority. We almost always have to start our advocacy process with them, but that is NOT the end of the story.
Do your research, then, about the structure of the organisation. Who is their manager? Who’s the regional manager? Who holds the budget for the thing you’re asking for?
And if that contact person you have won’t escalate your concerns, know what channels you have for escalating things yourself. Is it an ombudsman? Is it a complaints authority? Is it that you get public on their social media page? (I get good results with this when I’m not getting fast enough action).
OK, so you’ve taken care of your up-front framing, and you’ve started to drill down to the clarity you need to write an amazing, fit-for-purpose document that’s gonna help you take over the universe. Now you’ve got to the real guts of it! How to strip back your business writing so that your message isn’t lost in all that wordy noise.
Now you’re thinking: So what do I actually write?
Why is writing so hard?
So here’s the thing. You know your stuff. And that’s both a blessing and a curse, because
you know everything your reader needs to know, but
YOU KNOW FAR MORE THAN YOUR READER NEEDS TO KNOW!
And you really want your reader to know all that, too.
The more words you use—the more text on a page, the more you think in someone’s general direction—the more likely they are to miss your point.
Your bottom line.
Your slap in the face.
Or kick in the ass.
Or pat-on-the-back (I thought I’d better add in a warm fuzzy—apparently my violent alter-ego is writing today).
Filtering through everything you know and want to say—and stripping back to only the key points—is the real challenge.
A process for stripping back
First of all, read and follow the steps I gave you in part 1. Then part 2. There’s stuff in there you need to produce before you follow this process.
Once you’ve nailed that, do this:
1 – DUMP: get that shit out of your head. Brain dump. Sketch, purge, free-write, list, use post-its. Do whatever you need to do, to get your thinking outside of your head. Because outside is where you can work with it.
2 – CHUNK: take that messy dump and group it together into chunks of related info. (If you wanna feel really cool, call this a thematic analysis.)
3 – LABEL: describe each of those chunks of info. But don’t use one-word labels. Describe the chunk, like ‘How we got here’, ‘What we found’, ‘How we can fix the problem’. These will become your headings. And your readers will L O V E them!
Maybe/I’m not sure/Some readers need it. Then either mention it, summarise it, point the reader to where they can find it outside of the document, or push it to the appendices. When in doubt, go to the appendix. It’s like magic. All the evidence that you know your stuff and you’ve done a shitload of work and you’re worth your weight in gold, without losing your reader.
5 – ORDER: look at the chunks you have left and put them in order based on what’s most important to YOUR READER.
Now you have a plan
Some people might call it an outline.
But that sends way too many of us back into PTSD-like flashbacks from our university days.
So let’s just call it a plan. A map, maybe.
That plan means you can now write. With ease and clarity. Without second-guessing yourself and angsting over what to say or what not to say.
But what’s really exciting (yes, even more exciting than me being a keynote!), is this global opportunity we have to create necessary, life-changing systems, where we all simply #writelikeahuman and change the world!
With clarity on outcome and influential readers, you can create a fit-for-purpose structure.
I wish I could wave a magic wand and tell you what that structure looks like. But again, unicorn farts.
From where YOU sit, with YOUR reader knowledge, expert and insight, and with new clarity about purpose and readers, YOU have all the pieces to the puzzle. You can now create a structure that will work best for you and your team.
Remember, ask yourself:
What does my PRIMARY READER need to know so I can get MY desired outcome?
Does my PRIMARY READER need to know X (ie, any chunk of information) for my doc to achieve its purpose?