The First Step to Becoming a Better Writer

I recently held a workshop with a great group of professionals there to learn about better business writing strategies. They were kind, energetic, and good-humored about spending a day in a professional development seminar. As the day went on, though, it became clear to me that some people were going to benefit from this seminar and some were not at all. It made me realize something. 

There are a lot of tips we can share about how to write better. But before all of those tips can do anything, there is one thing you need to consider first -- your attitude toward changing

To become a better writer, first you have to see yourself as someone who is always learning about writing. To get a little philosophical, you might say you could see yourself as someone always becoming a better writer, but never arriving. I think this view requires equal parts humility and eagerness, which somehow combines to foster curiosity and growth.

In my experience, this is a rare quality. There are many people who are open to reading some quick tips, but don’t have the right attitude in place to actually apply those tips. This is like the difference between “hearing” and “listening” in relationships, right? If you “hear” then it stayed pretty external, but if you really “listened” then you engaged, empathized, and understood. 

It’s about attitude. If I don’t view myself as someone who could get better at writing, then I won’t really “listen,” I will just “hear” the strategies. I won’t look at my own writing and see areas that could be better, I’ll think of other people’s writing that could benefit from those strategies. I might be friendly and think the class was “nice” or “helpful,” but I will probably do what I need to do to “complete” whatever is asked of me and will not actually be transformed beyond that day. 

In a teaching podcast I listened to recently, they talked about the difference between “transactional” education (completing tasks/earning grades/passing) versus “transformational” education (actually being transformed by what you learn such that you apply it beyond the course). That idea applies here, but I think we need to look at the attitude as the soil to be prepped first for the seed of transformational education. 

I work with a lot of undergraduates in courses that are required as part of their degree program, and rather than viewing the courses as “required = really important” they view them as  “required = I won’t learn anything.” (I don’t see the logic here, but I think their view has less to do with logic and more to do with the innate human resistance to being told to do something.) I also work with people who have been writing, teaching, or working for a long time, and they can struggle with a slightly different attitude – one that values their own habits and experiences so much that they’ve come to the conclusion they “know” already and therefore have more to say about writing than to learn about it. 

This is what happened in the seminar I described before. There were a few people who had decided before they knew the content or started the seminar that they were already good writers (they had “arrived”) and their minds were closed to everything I presented. Rather than to take on the attitude of learner, they sought opportunities to chime in to sort of co-teach with me. They left that class thinking it was nice for the other people, but they hadn’t needed it. I don’t condemn these people, because the truth is, we’ve all had that attitude about something, at some point or another.  

We miss so many opportunities to learn and grow, in all areas – our relationships, our jobs, specific skills – because of the attitudes we shape before we even face the learning opportunity. Humility. Eagerness. We can all get better at this, myself included.

 So as you read our tips and blogs, try it. Ask yourself – are you open to learning to be a better writer? How could your writing be transformed?

Try it other places, too. Choose to look at a meeting, a professional development opportunity, or feedback from a colleague as something that could help you become better. “Listen” rather than “hear.”