There’s a funny story normally attributed to Margaret Atwood:
A brain surgeon and a writer meet at a party. The surgeon gets excited and says, "I always wanted to be a writer. When I retire, I’m going to be a writer."
The writer responds, "How interesting. When I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon."
Good writers make it look so effortless because they sound natural. Here’s a secret you should know: even the best writers—those you think are naturals—fear making mistakes or sounding stupid. What they don’t do is cover up their fear with long, uncommon words they don’t know the meaning of and pretentious ideas to make them sound intelligent. In fact, they write more like the way they talk to people.
Before you get excited, writing the way you talk doesn’t mean writing slang, not following basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules, or writing like you text your friends. There’s more to it than that.
Here are a few tips to help you write like a natural.
1. Have a conversation with a friend
Pick a specific friend in your mind and focus on having a discussion with them. How would you explain the topic? What kind of words would you use? Come up with good stories or anecdotes to help you explain it.
Now address any questions your friend might ask. Let the words flow onto paper/screen in an informal, conversational tone. The goal is to get your ideas down because you can always go back and edit what you’ve written.
2. Don’t be afraid to be yourself
The key to writing naturally is not censoring your voice. Using plain English anyone can understand helps you write naturally. It also allows your natural voice to come through. When you add some interesting, relevant personal information or stories, you’re writing something compelling and engaging.
3. Leave the dictionary on the shelf
Seriously, don’t use a dictionary to write. Choose simple, clear words that anyone can understand. If you try to use multi-syllabic words people have to look up, you’ll lose your audience.
You’re not an obtuse English Lit professor. Don’t try to sound like one. A good rule of thumb is if the average middle schooler can understand your writing, you’ve hit the sweet spot. One of the smartest men alive said if you can’t explain it in common words, you don’t understand it well enough. (That was Albert Einstein.)
4. Write first; edit later
Don’t worry about the fundamentals. You can always go back and fix grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. When you try to edit as you write, your inner censor takes over and points out all your mistakes, making you feel less confident and less free to write.
If you’re wrestling with editing while you type, try dictating instead. Google Docs has a wonderful voice to text tool available. Just say it like you’re talking to your friend.
5. Use an editing tool like ProWritingAid
ProWritingAid’s founder, Chris Banks, wanted a tool that would improve his writing so he could just write and worry about the semantics and fundamentals later. Using powerful algorithms, a bit of machine learning, and some healthy technology, you can edit your content without worrying about not catching your mistakes. The tool does it for you.
6. Read your content out loud
After using an editing tool to polish your writing, you still need to read it aloud. If you stumble over certain phrases or words, so will your readers. This is the best way to find awkward sentences and fix them.
Writing can be as easy as talking to a friend—especially when you’re not trying to sound like someone you’re not. Use ProWritingAid to catch the technical and stylistic gaffes, then ask a trusted co-worker to read over your work. Another set of eyes will help you find places that need a little extra effort.
You might find that writing isn’t as daunting as you thought it was. In fact, you may discover you’ve been a natural business writer all along.