Jan 07 2013

Rambling on writing

Published by at 4:05 pm under General

One of the main reasons I started blogging was to work on my writing skills.  Similarly, one of the main reasons I’m forcing myself to start blogging regularly again is also to work on my writing skills.  Yes, I learned to write well in high school and college, but those were both a long time ago and writing is definitely one of those skills that gets rusty when not used.  If there’s one skill that we, as security professionals, can’t afford to get get rusty, it’s the ability to communicate with the people who don’t share the same passion for risk, analysis and vulnerabilities we do.

I think the whole ‘learn to write’ meme is one we circle around to at least once a year, and there’s a good reason for it.  If you talk to people who frequently review RFP’s and other sorts of open calls for papers, you’ll find that many of them cringe when thinking of the quality of writing they encounter in the process.  I don’t know the exact percentages, but I’m led to believe that as high as 50% of the papers submitted get culled in the first round just for being poorly written and full of grammatical errors.  If you can beat 50% of your competition by simply using complete sentences and proper punctuation, why not at least start by giving yourself that much of a edge?

Another place where lack of English (or whatever your primary language is) skills show up is in email.  How often have you read an email, only to have to call the person just to find out what they really meant to say?  Think of the last time you had to go through a long email exchange only to find that the thing was a miscommunication that could have been clarified with one or two sentences early in the process.  So often we’re in such a hurry to simply answer an email and get it off our own plate that we sacrifice clarity in order to simply get stuff done.  How many times have you spent time trying to decipher a coworker’s rambling only to find out he or she actually wanted something totally different than they wrote in the email?  It’s easy to have happen when you’re more interested in getting the email out than you are in getting the right email out.

A few months ago a friend asked me about writing and one book I recommended him was ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.  The book really is about half autobiography, but it makes for a good counterpoint to the why’s of his editing and usage of words.  If you’re a King fan, learning about his life and the roads he’s traveled makes for a good read, but even if you aren’t, it’s still a good in any case.  “Eat’s, Shoots and Leaves” is another good book if you’re just looking for something to remind you of all those annoying rules that teachers tried to force into your head all those years ago.  The rules are still annoying, but at least you can be slightly amused while remembering them.

One final thing to remember is what you write about isn’t as important as the fact that you’re writing.  I’ve written over 2000 posts for the blog, and I’d say 90% of them, including this one, are rambling diatribes that probably weren’t worth repeating (or retweeting).  But the 10% of them that actually came out clear, concise and with a few good points in them are worth the time.  And I never would have written that 10% (or 5% or 1%, depending on your point of view) if I hadn’t written all the drivel that came before and after the few gems in the rough.  So, rather than wait for the perfect moment of inspiration to catch fire in your brain, start writing now with the understanding that you’ll produce a lot of crap before you have the one good thought that you’ve been trying to uncover for months.

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One response so far

One Response to “Rambling on writing”

  1. Peteon 07 Jan 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Have you read ‘The pyramid principle’ by Barbara Minto.

    Great book on effective written communication.

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