Coexistence 301: How To Write

Back To Main
Coexistence 203: How To Stay Legally Safe

Writing is mostly like talking, but it has some differences

  • In the developed world, writing skills are often more important than speaking skills
    • Crafting emails, sending text messages and giving summaries are all more common skills than public speaking or most technical skills
  • Talking is usually about 110-150 words per minute, while reading is usually 200 words per minute
    • This means that more information can be covered when reading
  • People can jump ahead easily with text, while they are forced to listen through speaking
  • Since writing is completely premeditated, florid verbs and deep articulation are more possible
    • At the same time, the extra complexity of writing allow for more possible ways to screw up and more people to irritate

There are many writing tricks to improve communication

  • Read often
    • The more you read, the more understanding of language you retain
    • By reading within the range of what you want to write, you learn how to construct ideas better
  • Write often and with intention
    • No matter how large, every work is created one word at a time
    • Like anything else, the more you write the better you get at it
    • Finish what you start
      • Don’t rewrite unless you are changing the order for editing
    • Write about what you want to write about
      • If you aren’t passionate about what you’re writing about, the feeling won’t be conveyed well
      • If it’s a persuasive work, write about something that makes you absolutely furious
      • Sometimes you’re stuck writing things you don’t care about, and there is an easy workaround
        1. Find a good source that pertains to what you need to write on
        2. Find their references
        3. Use those exact same references for your own work
  • Get whatever you write out there
    • The only way you can find out a work’s quality is to submit it for public review
    • Make an effort to finalize and publish the work
    • Don’t stop publishing it until someone reads it
  • Have a specific audience in mind
    • Write to please only one person, opening it to please everyone will please nobody
      • If you’re writing for a specific project, make sure that the work reflects their religious and political ideologies
    • Use the time of a total stranger in a way that they don’t feel the time was wasted
    • Whatever you’re writing, it needs to convey the style that your natural creativity works with
  • The first sentence/paragraph/word/title defines what everyone will expect and what everyone will think throughout the work
    • Get to the point or start as close to the end as possible
    • Give as much information as soon as possible
      • Suspense should be within possibilities the reader is thinking about, not with obscurity
  • All good messages contain a WHAT and a WHY
  • WHAT describes the information that you want to convey
    • Event details, date, time, location
    • Educational information, data, facts
  • WHY describes the benefits of knowing the information
    • It gives a reason for the information being shared
    • It answers the “call to action” that the reader needs to take
    • Experiment with the Inverted Pyramid to craft your point
      • inverted_pyramid
      • This method only works when trying to draw readers in
        • It can’t present a chronological or ordered set of information
        • It can’t give a narrative or story
  • Writing successfully will show specific results
    • The writing should sound excellent when read out loud
    • The purpose of writing is to entertain, but it needs to leave the reader with something they’ve learned
  • You will need to revise and edit repeatedly to get to a great finished product
    • If you can be misread, you will be
    • The longer your sentences, the higher the chance that you will be misunderstood
    • After finishing a work, copy it into Google Translate and listen to it to catch any errors or strange sentences
    • If you need to pad out the size of a work, simply increase the font size or character/paragraph spacing

Be careful about some of the small details that show amateur writing

  • Things that make fanciful and empty statements
    • Don’t use too many words, every sentence should either advance the action or add relevant information
    • Using a common metaphor, similar or figure of speech that has been commonly heard
    • Using long words where simple ones work
      • Trade-specific terms, scientific words, slang or foreign words that could be replaced with a plain language word
    • Words that don’t point to anything and can be removed without any negative effect
      • Excessive adverbs bog down the story
  • Things that make the writer sound immature
    • Using passive instead of active voice (e.g. “x of the y” instead of “y’s x”)
      • This dilutes the impact of the language
      • The message is more indirect, but is a terrible way to try being inoffensive
    • Mixing up some of the more common amateur words
      • “Less”describes intangible concepts, “fewer” describes actual numbers
      • “Then” refers to time, “than” refers to an alternative
      • “Impact” is a noun, “affect” is to change, “effect” is a consequence
      • “It’s” is the contraction of “it is”, “its” is the possessive of “it”
      • “Alot” is not a word, “a lot” is a large amount, “allot” is to give something
      • “Whom” is only used when the statement can refer to “him”
      • “Into” refers to inside, “in to” has no connection to location
    • Using any of the following overused words
      • Using “really” or “very” to give an emphasized point instead of a nicer word
      • Using “you” when not referring to the reader
      • Saying “feel” instead of the word that describes the feeling
      • Saying “think” to indicate it’s an opinion, since the reader obviously knows it’s what you think
      • “As”, “just” and “used to” in most contexts, since it adds padding for no reason
      • “A lot”, since it gives very little context
      • “Sort of” and “kind of”, since they are extremely vague and don’t give any clarity to the reader
      • “Like” to show an analogy, since describing things with analogies is stilted compared to speaking with proper verb placement
  • All of the above rules can be broken as the situation demands

Even with self-help or instruction manuals, most writing is built as stories

  • Ideas have to spread from personal ideas to others, and stories are that medium
  • Most stories use a 3-act structure, even presentations
    1. Thesis – introduction to the situation
      • This is the “ordinary world” that is the basis for the story
      • There is a call to adventure that the hero has to embark upon
        • In presentations, the hero isn’t the presenter, it’s the audience
        • The hero refuses that call out of a fear of change
        • Once the hero meets with the mentor, they are inspired to change
        • They then cross the threshold of the world into something new
    2. Antithesis – the opposite of the situation is presented
      • This is where things intensify and the situation becomes more urgent
      • The hero will encounter roadblocks to what they want
    3. Synthesis – everything comes together
      • The hero will emerge transformed somehow, which ends up being the message of the story
      • The synthesis has the most action happening in it
        • A climax brings about everything the intensifying was leading up to
        • There is a resolution that combines the thesis and antithesis in a new way
        • There is a conclusion that creates an ending for the story
  • The most interesting stories and situations come as “what if…?” questions
    1. What Is – what’s going on, or a fictional analogy to what’s going on
    2. What Should Be – this is compared to What Is, and the difference is drawn as far as possible
    3. Repeat What Is and What Should Be – this will swing back and forth faster and faster to build tension
      • This repetition builds emphasis while at the same time creating something predictable
    4. One more What Is and then a New Bliss
      • New Bliss is where things really should be or where the message of the story
      • With a lot of emotional energy, a New Bliss can be life-changing to an audience member
      • The best New Bliss pulls from memorable and inspirational previous knowledge the audience has
  • A story has 3 parts
    • Narration – moves the story from one point to another
    • Description – creates a sensory reality for the reader
      • It shouldn’t always be explicit, and should imply a large portion
    • Dialogue – brings characters to life through their speech
      • Talking is an index of character
  • The story must come first, and then the characters will follow
    • The more emotional energy invested into the story, the more the audience will be interested in it
    • At the same time, the stories should be about the people more than the event

There are some rules for writing fiction

  • Your Characters
    • Give the reader at least one character they can cheer for
    • Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water
      • In fact, defining characters by their obsessions is a common writing practice
    • Make awful things happen to the characters that seem cruel and frustrating to watch
    • Every story has a few specific character archetypes to choose from
      • Hero – main essence is self-sacrifice
        • Journeys from the self to a grown new identity that includes the experiences of the story
        • Could be an Anti-Hero, whose main essence is self-preservation
          • Self-destructively journeys from an experienced identity to a worse state
        • Give the Hero a partner who is a polar opposite to create an entertaining perspective to bounce ideas off of
      • Mentor – older or more experienced guide for the Hero, sometimes can act as the Hero’s conscience
      • Threshold Guardian – the Hero’s first obstacle, symbolizes the breach from the Hero conventional life they’re accustomed to
      • Herald – informs the Hero of the need to break from their confined lifestyle
      • Shapeshifter – changes in role or personality, often significantly, hard to be certain of their allegiance or loyalties
      • Shadow – works to malevolent ends usually against the Hero, but will often see the malevolence as being a good thing
      • Trickster – operates as the comic relief and keeps everything in proportion
  • Your Narrative
    • Your voice is more important than the image you’re crafting
      • Everyone wants to know how good the story is, not how good the writer is
    • Show, don’t tell or give an editorial
    • Regularly shift focus often by varying the sentence structure, type, style and jumping around inside the story
    • One misplaced word can ruin the entire flow of the story
    • Build a story from back to front
      • Conclusion – what is being resolved and how has this changed the character(s)?
      • Falling Action – how does the character overcome or not overcome their challenge?
      • Climax – what is the final challenge for the character?
      • Rising Action – how does the character come to the final challenge?
      • Exposition – what is the world the character is in, and how are they pulled out of it?
    • Give closure to the story
      • The conflict should have a satisfying resolution, not necessarily perfect, but resolves the problem
      • The close must be something that leaves them after they put the creative work away

Email exists in almost any professional environment, so learn how to make them

  • Think about your audience
    • Many times emails can be resolved with a phone call or as an off-hand conversation topic at a meeting
    • Hitting “Reply All” is useful in many email conversations, but pay close attention to who is being sent the email and who is being CC’d or BCC’d
      • CC stands for “Carbon Copy” and is good for keeping someone informed but without them being expected to respond
      • BCC stands for “Blind Carbon Copy” and will send a copy to the individual but won’t show to anyone else that they received it
  • Attach the documents you’re sending or upload them to cloud storage as soon as you start the email
  • Create the Subject line that articulately summarizes the purpose of sending the email
  • Make a greeting that matches the cultural expectation
    • “Hello” zone – professional first-time greeting only
    • “Hi” zone – strangers, professional contacts, non-professional introductions
    • “Hey” zone – warm professional contacts, loose acquaintances
    • No Greeting zone – closer friends
  • Email is not effective for conveying emotion, so avoid using it when drafting emails
    • Always keep the tone respectful and courteous
    • Often, the simplest way to communicate that something is funny is by saying “that’s funny!”
  • Avoid using language often used in text messages (e.g. lol, jk, brb)
  • Carefully choose your words, ambiguity misinterpretation create more emails
  • Writing emails needs to be simple and straightforward, and if it needs a lot of explanation then make a phone call
    • Every email should have a 5-sentence limit or 150 words unless it’s a special circumstance
      • Most people view their emails exclusively on a mobile device, so lengthy emails can be even more daunting!
    • Stick to only 1 or 2 points in an email
      • Break out the ideas with spacing and bullets to make it easier to read
    • Make a clear “call to action” to indicate what they are supposed to do now that they have read your email
      • Don’t ask people to share content on social media through email
        • They’re stuck with two options
          1. They can drop the ball and seem disorganized
          2. They can say no and seem rude
        • Instead tell them about it and how it’s up their alley, then let them look at it themselves
      • When talking to a stranger, be more cautious
        • Don’t ask for feedback
          • Ask for advice instead through guided questions
        • Don’t ask for them to introduce you to specific people in their networks
          • Instead, ask them if they know anyone who would be a good source of insight on the topic
      • Don’t ask them to have a phone call or meet in person within the next day or two
        • The burden is on you to be flexible since you’re asking
        • Don’t name times for a meeting
  • Pay attention to unequal power dynamics as the email conversation unfolds
    • One person is making typographical errors, skipping punctuation or ignoring capital letters and the other isn’t
    • One person is taking a long time to reply and the other isn’t
      • It’s best to reply quickly and not too frequently
      • If you need more time to reply, send a quick reply that you’re going to get back to them
    • One person is responding to long, well-written emails with much shorter responses
      • This can vary based on background and industry
    • If the conversation starts getting too long, start a new email with a new subject line
  • Take advantage of 21st-century technology
    • Use a “delay send” or “scheduled send” to deliver it at a more appropriate time
    • Always use spell-check and review all of your work before you send it
      • As a safety measure, don’t put anything in the To: section until you’re ready to send
    • Make sure your email address gives the right image to the recipient
    • Don’t use electronic return receipts, they are annoying to the recipients
    • If you use a mailing list, keep the content you send people relevant and significant to them

When writing web content, there are some rules to abide by

  • Make it look good
    • With the Internet, visual appearance is as important as content
      • Use headers of different sizes to demarcate ideas and sub-ideas
      • Use blank space to separate thoughts
      • Pictures and graphics are great for illustrating points
  • Write with the long-term in mind
    • Unlike a book or email, a blog or web post could stay in the public eye for decades
    • Make sure you’ve fact-checked more than when writing a book
  • Post consistently, but don’t blog every day
    • It will burn you out and you won’t create effective and good content
  • Avoid trying to optimize too much for search engines
    • Search engine algorithms are very advanced and improving constantly
      • Overusing keywords will actually disrupt the flow of the post, hurting the blog more than helping it
  • Self-promote whenever possible
    • Generating attention is hard to do if you simply wait for it
    • Create email lists to personally connect with people
  • Add variety to the posts
    • Vary up the sizes of the posts, from short to long
      • Format long articles so that they’re easier to read
        • Vary paragraph length and space them well
        • Create posts into multiple-part posts
    • Ask readers questions, then answer them
Next: Coexistence 302: Public Speaking