This is part three of a three-part series.
7. Writing Increases Your Attention Span In An – oh, look! A pigeon! Ahem. Seriously, that kind of thing hardly ever happens when writing, even though it seems to happen constantly when speaking or thinking. Don’t feel ashamed: a) it happens to every one of us, and b) inattention is a highly-reinforced behavior in our culture. Just think about how many images we are confronted with during one four-minute segment of television advertising. We get six to ten product advertisements, each one featuring several distinct shots juxtaposed to create a coherent, compelling narrative in thirty seconds. Those ads stimulate our desire for consumer products, but even more powerful are the cultural messages that accompany the sales pitches. One of those messages is the implication that faster is better.
As a result, activities like driving or grocery shopping, once thought to be absorbing in their own right, are now considered prime opportunities for multitasking (talking on the phone, reading, applying makeup, texting). We’re obsessed with “doing” rather than “being,” but we’re actually getting less done (see this great New York Times article: Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic). I believe that we need to slow down and simplify in order to enrich our lives. (For more, see David B. Bohl’s Slow Down Fast Today! and Tina Su’s Think Simple Now.)
The act of writing takes time (especially using the low-tech, pen-and-paper method), and while you’re writing, you are focusing. Your mind may wander, but if you continue to sit there with the pen in your hand your mind will refocus. Writing ties you to the present, even for a few moments, just as meditation does. And in a chronically inattentive culture such as ours, that is no small feat.
“Creation is a knack which is empowered by practice, and like almost any skill, it is lost if you don’t practice it.”
— Wallace Stegner
This post is part two of a three-part series.
While yesterday’s entries focused on what writing well can do for you, you don’t need to be good at writing to benefit from it. Today’s three reasons explore ways even a poor writer can use writing to meet personal and professional goals.
4. Writing Can Help You Achieve Your Goals. A lot of personal development advice out there focuses on setting goals, variously called dreams, resolutions, and habits. However, in order to set your goals, you must articulate them.
“Articulate” is an interesting word. It comes from the Latin word articul?re, which means to “divide into joints.” So the verb form means both “express or speak clearly” and “unite by forming a joint or joints,” according to Princeton University’s WordNet 3.0 (qtd. on Dictionary.com).
Understood in light of its etymology, articulation is a key part of the goal-setting process. Writing, in turn, is the key to articulation. We need to express clearly the life to which we aspire. We also need to think through the goal’s benefits, quantify our plan of action, and envision the end result.
We need, in short, to articulate: to divide our goal into natural segments – joints – and to attach those segments – steps toward our goal – to each other in a way that makes sense in our lives. Writing is the classic vehicle for this kind of intellectual work.
“Fiction is nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that Mankind has invented yet.”
— John Updike, “The Importance of Fiction,” in his Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism (New York: Knopf, 1991), p.86
This is part one of a three-part series.
As you know, Writing Power’s tagline is “write better, live better.” Correspondingly, I thought I would take a little time to provide evidence in support of that tagline. The following are some tangible ways that the time you invest in improving your writing skills will pay off in your life.
1. Writing Well Can Make You Money. No, I’m not talking about blogging for cash or making a living as a journalist (although, of course, those can be options for skilled writers). There is a correlation between written communication skills and income, and it holds true for all knowledge workers, not just those who write for a living. Whether you work as a web designer, a nonprofit development assistant, an HR manager, a civil engineer or a customer service associate at the DMV, you’ll get ahead faster if you can communicate clearly in writing.
Surveys of employers consistently show that strong writing skills are at the top of their wish lists. So, if you want to make more money, start polishing those writing skills. If you consistently get compliments from colleagues and supervisors about your written work, perhaps it’s time to ask for a raise.
“If I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things which shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto….If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.”
— Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing (Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1973), pp. 27-28.
Welcome to Writing Power!
The purpose of Writing Power is to improve your written communication skills with the ultimate aim of improving your life. I will not focus on writing in a vacuum, as an end in itself. Rather, I view writing as a tool. By using this tool, and by taking care to sharpen it, we can achieve happiness and success in our personal and professional lives.
Writing excites me because it represents pure possibility. When you begin to think about the way you communicate in writing, you begin a process of reorienting your approach to the world. You develop an increased consciousness that eventually pervades the way you think and the way you interact with people and ideas in your environment. And within that consciousness, you have everything you need to design your ideal life.
If your writing skills are in need of a tune-up, you’ve come to the right place. Each day, I will offer tips and tricks on everything from writing a killer cover letter to using writing to stay productive, organized, and focused on your goals. All this, and easy-to-remember rules for correct semicolon usage to boot.
Those of you who already have a high aptitude for writing (or who have worked your tails off to develop your writing skills) will also find much to enjoy here, I hope. You’ll be able to think about writing through the new perspectives from posts and comments, and appreciate the power of your writing strengths. You’ll also find ways to leverage your skill to improve your productivity, increase your income, and amplify your life.
I hope you’ll join me.
“The writers who get my personal award are the ones who show exceptional promise of looking at world as candidly and searchingly and feelingly as they know how and then of telling the rest of us what they have found there most worth finding. We need the eyes of writers like that to see through. We need the blood of writers like that in our veins.”
–Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, ed George Connor (New York, Harper San Francisco, 1992), p. 191.