Random Writing Practice

If you want to be a good writer, you’re supposed to write daily to stay in shape. Six years ago on a morning similar to this one, I expanded on this and other writing pep talks in a post called Blogging Is Like Working Out:

Writing Is Like Working Out: Like working out, writing gets more and more difficult each day you skip. And if you skip a week or more, the mob euphemism “ForgetAboutIt” becomes quite literal. First you forget about your ideas, then you forget how to string them together into any coherent or entertaining thread, then you just say ‘forget it’ and saddle up on the couch for some despondent channel surfing. You stare at your Twitter or Facebook streams waiting for something to inspire you, and when it does, you might re-Tweet or Like it, or maybe you just let it pass as you search for something even more inspiring. Then the nights and weeks have passed and you haven’t even tried to get back into the swing.

But once you do, clarity and strength start to return and soon you’re not pausing to fact-check a stat because you just know it, and you’re not double-checking your pop culture quotes because it’s as much about your own voice as it is about your references. I remember The Reformed Broker Josh Brown quipping a few months back about his increasing neck fat as he entered the final stages of writing his first book. It was one of his epic posts where voice just takes over and results in that perfect blend of personal revelations and professional insights. And it speaks to how being in shape with writing can be just as rewarding as being in shape—even if it means forgoing exercise while you’re in the zone.

The reason I’m revisiting writing discipline this morning is because I’m down on myself for not blogging more. At least this time it’s because I’ve been writing a ton for work—and I’ve been constantly reminded that having a voice in corporate writing is different and harder. I felt a little bad last night when I sent my team members the following note about a draft article they’d written for a trade magazine in the voice of one of our execs. But when I re-read it this morning, I’m glad I sent it:

This lacked voice and substance. As I asked earlier: would you truly be inspired or feel like you learned something if you read this in the magazine? I reworked so hopefully you can answer yes to this question. All of our writing has to be something you’d legitimately want to read, and the way we do this is by telling stories and avoiding platitudes.

That story was a listicle, and so was my link above to a random writing practice post. As I said to the team, I’m not against listicles because people do click on them, but we better be telling stories and not simply listing sh*t. The trap with listicles is that they make it especially easy to fall back on platitudes.

There’s no worse writing than verbose platitudes.

All that said, here’s my story this morning: it’s Saturday, and I have to write most of the weekend for a big conference we’re putting on for our salesforce a week from Monday. We’re at a critical juncture in our company where we’re turning into a larger industry player, but need to retain the boutique culture that’s made us special to everyone—including me for the past 14 years.

I’m also at a critical juncture in my company where my team is responsible for making sure that everything we say—regardless of who’s saying it—needs to keep it real while also teaching customers and employees what it means to scale.

It’s a fun exercise, but very hard, and I’m unwilling to compromise on it because almost every company compromises as they grow. They stop telling stories and become a vessel for platitudes. If you don’t believe me, just go to three or four websites of competitors in your industry, and I guarantee you could plug any company name/logo into the content that’s on their site. And by this standard, you can bet that the rest of their content, whether it’s executive letters to employees, tweets, or ads are also of the same vanilla quality, devoid of voice and substance.

F**k all that. We can all do better. It just requires daily practice. My team is living proof.

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P.S., here’s a funny exchange from twitter this morning. My man @The_Dumb_Money gets it.