When you write for a living, it can be easy to forget that you enjoy doing it for fun.
You compose so many press releases, executive speeches and blog posts that writing becomes monotonous and uninspiring. It’s work.
Though writing is your job, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring—it shouldn’t be anywhere close. Your ultimate task as a communicator is to make lackluster corporate messages relevant, interesting and inspiring.
You can’t do that, however, if you’re in a creative rut.
If you’re feeling uninspired about your work, I propose a challenge. November is National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo for short. The movement challenges writers of all stripes to draft 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month.
To get my creative muscles back in shape, I’m launching my own NaNoWriMo project. I’m challenging myself to write 50,000 words about absolutely anything from Nov. 1-30, and I invite you to do the same. Any topic or format is fair game; the only requirements are that the writing be personal (no work-related missives allowed) and that you challenge yourself creatively.
How will we come up with 50,000 words to write and stay inspired? The ideas I’m going to try are below, but first, a couple of tips for success from Russell Working, Ragan Communications’ writer extraordinaire and an Iowa Short Fiction Award winner and a Pushcart Prize winner:
Find a time and place to write. Before you throw yourself into the following writing exercises, it’s important that you set yourself up for success. Schedule a time to write each day, and find a quiet, comfortable place in which to do so.
“At work, you’re always rushing to get to a meeting or finish a draft,” Working says. “To refresh your writing, make time for creativity.”
Don’t be afraid to “write ugly.” “Sometimes you have to turn off your inner critic and slam out that draft,” Working says. “You can go back later and make the writing pretty.”
This is especially true when you’re writing for yourself. The goal of this project is to challenge yourself and explore new, creative possibilities. There’s no risk involved, so let yourself loose.
OK, are you ready to start writing? Here are some exercises to kick-start your creativity and fall back in love with your craft.
1. To get the words flowing, keep a journal.
I bet many of you already write in a journal, which will make this exercise an easy way to begin the challenge.
I’ve kept a journal since I was old enough to write, and I do so to preserve memories, work out problems or jot down fleeting thoughts. My writing often isn’t very good—it’s essentially a stream of consciousness, often with little regard for punctuation or proper sentence structure—but the ideas are.
Journaling is a good way to get raw ideas on paper. Let your thoughts wander, and write about whatever comes to mind. At the very least, it will get words and ideas flowing.
2. To practice being observant, remember that “everything is copy.”
Nora Ephron, the screenwriter and essayist behind works such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman,” is known for living by the phrase, “Everything is copy.”
This means that anything that happens to you, whether it’s getting stuck in an elevator or overhearing a strange conversation on the subway, can be fodder for a story.
Throughout November, be more observant of what is going on around you. Write down as many humorous, insightful or interesting moments as you can. Not only will this be good writing practice, but perhaps you’ll be able to use a funny moment or relatable situation to illustrate a complicated topic at work.
3. To stretch your mind, make lists.
I’m not talking about any old to-do list. (So, no, you don’t get to pad your word count by making an extra-long grocery list.) I’m talking about lists that make you think, like those in the 52 Lists Project.
The project encourages you to create a list every week based on prompts such as “List the things you want to be known for,” “List your greatest comforts” and “List the things you should be proud of.” Some prompts are easy; others make you dig deep. Use the prompts from the project, or come up with your own topics. Either way, stretch your brain to list as many items as you can.
4. To find your voice, copy the greats.
We all have a favorite writer. You might like the descriptive style of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the simplicity of Ernest Hemingway or the way William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll invented their own vocabularies.
Find a favorite passage from your writer of choice, and emulate his or her style.
For example, I’ve always loved the description in this passage from “The Great Gatsby”:
He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
I’m going to try writing a similarly descriptive passage about, say, the expression of a fellow commuter on the train, or the clerk who rang up my groceries last week.
The point of this exercise is to try new writing styles and break free from old habits—not to copy someone else’s voice. Through experimentation, you’ll eventually develop your own distinctive style.
5. To stay in a creative frame of mind, write down your dreams.
What better place to find inspiration than dreamland?
Keep a notebook next to your bed, and as soon as you wake up in the morning, write down what you dreamt that night. It’s fun to read about a dream after you’re conscious, and you never know, it might spark an idea you can use in your professional life.
6. To keep your writing skills sharp, send snail mail.
It’s important to carve out time each day to write, but not everything you pen has to remain private. Get a little writing practice while letting friends and family know you’re thinking about them.
You can send an email instead, but I find I’m more present and thoughtful when I write by hand. (Plus, I have an unhealthy obsession with stationery.)
7. To write when you have nothing to say, use prompts.
Corporate communicators usually have to write about the same topics over and over again, which means you probably have a formula that you follow to whip up copy in as little time as possible.
That’s great for efficiency—but not for interesting content.
How do you keep your writing skills sharp? Please share in the comments.