I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had those, “If I had a time machine, I’d go back and tell my younger self thus and so” moments. In thinking of what to write for today’s post, I decided to ponder that question, only I’m going to approach it from the aspect of my career as a communicator. Lord knows there’s a lot of crap I’d tell myself to avoid or look out for in general. But having a nearly 20 years in the corporate world behind me, I’ve learned a few things that would have made a big difference to me if I knew them all those years ago. So if I could hop in my flux-capacitor-loaded DeLorean, travel back 20 years, and give myself vocational advice, I think these six things are what I would stress.
Write a Little at a Time
If I had a nickel for every time I frustrated myself by trying to write a communication in one sitting, I would be enjoying my house in Martha’s Vineyard and looking at my drool-worthy bank statement instead of writing this.
I wrote a little bit about how to overcome writer’s block in one of my very first posts, but I’d have to say the tip that’s helped me the most is writing a little bit at a time. If you have a long communication, or if you’re not sure exactly what you want to say, just start writing and write a little at a time. Start with the part you feel most confident about writing first, then build the rest of the piece around it. Maybe you need to write the ending first, or the middle.
I would have saved myself a lot of stress in my earlier years if I came to the realization that a written communication doesn’t need to be completed all at once. Take your time, space it out, and give it the attention it deserves.
Stop Using Words and Phrases Repeatedly
Of course, this applies to those phrases for which we have our personal preference. “Amazing,” “incredible,” or “outstanding” might be adjectives we use all the time, for instance. They’re our go-to words which we need to let go of sometimes and find other descriptive terms. It goes a long way to breaking ourselves of habits that keep us boxed in as communicators.
But more specifically, I mean paying more attention to repeating words that were just used. For example, let’s say you’re writing about a person’s dog. You could potentially use the word “dog” multiple times in consecutive sentences. Vigilance allows us to recognize this and find alternatives like “canine,” “animal,” “man’s best friend.”
The art of paying attention to word choice can go a long way to improving the final written product. Young writers often feel everything they write is near perfect. I certainly did. If I’d had the mindset of looking for repetitive words and phrases, my scribing abilities would have developed much faster.
Print Everything You Write When You Review It
Much of the “opportunity for improvement” feedback I’ve received – and still receive from time to time – could be traced back to my decision to NOT print what I wrote and review it. Instead, whenever I’ve tried to read a communication on the computer screen, I’ve almost always missed something I know I would have picked up if I’d printed a hard copy.
There’s something about the light from the screen that probably hypnotizes and distracts me from focusing on details. And this might not apply to you. But if I’m talking about things I’d tell my younger self to keep in mind in order to avoid negative feedback, printing a hard copy for review is a big one.
*As a side note just to stress this point further: I printed the Word version of this post, reviewed it, and picked up four things by the time I got to this part that I didn’t see when reading it on the screen.
Take Your Time
Some people have natural patience. I am not one of these people. Taking my time when I write, review, and edit my work is something for which I need to remind myself constantly. If I’d been more aware about the importance of patience, the communications I submitted many times wouldn’t have come back with so much red ink. Some of my biggest mistakes have been from rushing to write or send something rather than taking a breath and crossing my “T”s and dotting my “I”s.
Open an Attachment Before You Send It
This had nothing to do with the writing portion of my day-to-day duties as a communicator, but it would have been important for me to remember to always check the file I was sending to a client and/or reviewer.
I’m sure you can relate – most communications go through several versions before the final is created. More than once, I’ve sent an earlier version of something I wrote and had to endure the embarrassment of having to apologize and resend the final iteration. That’s why, if I’m listing the advice I’d give my younger self, I’d definitely stress being more thorough before I sent an email to my client or manager.
Don’t Make Your Manager Tell/Ask You Twice
This is another bit of wisdom that has little to do with writing and more to do with being a writer. If a manager or editor gives feedback on a certain aspect of your work – using words repeatedly, checking grammar, etc. – we should strive to take note and do everything we can to make sure we don’t hear that feedback again. As a manager, one thing that leaves a negative impression is when an employee makes the same mistakes I’ve discussed with him/her previously.
How about you? If you could go back in time and talk to yourself in the early stages of your career, what advice would you give? What are some mistakes you’ve made that you feel could have been avoided with some good, experience–based knowledge bombs? Let me know in the Comment section.
Join My Email List!
One thing your future self would probably tell your present self is to join the Creatively Corporate email list. You might not realize it yet, but your future self does: Joining my email list makes life a whole lot better!