Anyone who has been moved or motivated by a speech, book, song or a child whispering in their ear knows that words are powerful. Words can resonate with layers of meaning for generations who interpret them through personal experience. I understand that imagery can do this too, but written language has shaped humanity’s history and for me it’s an art too.
This week I made art, of sorts. I rewrote a jargonistic government document, thick with passive voice and strings of nouns so that it was difficult to pinpoint who was doing what, when, how or why. I have to be in a special frame of mind to tackle this kind of editing, limbered up and feeling lateral! It’s like translating or distilling and can’t be done in a rush. I am happy to say that my resulting one page effort brought tears to its reader’s eyes, who felt that Eureka moment when the words hit just the right note. She told me so and, in turn, her candid words empowered me. It’s a significant human quality to be able to express ourselves well.
I teach students in courses from engineering to journalism the same key skills for writing, because I believe it is a skill and not a talent. You can learn to be a great writer through practise. You must simply know who you’re writing for, then decide what they need to know and shape it ideally to convey that to them. Those 3 elements – audience, purpose and style – are all you need to nail. That’s all; the rest is decorative. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not a good writer, especially yourself. Your well-chosen words can change the world, or one person’s world.