Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pick up the Flippin' Pen

It's increasingly my perception that the world is afraid of their own writing implements. Or mice. or keyboards. Mind you, more than enough vacuous tweets seem to fill the world with their gibberish and hash tags. But, real thinking and documentation seems to be a lost skill.

In the past week, I have been in more than a dozen conversations in which all parties basically negotiated, either by email or verbally, about who might be the first to put their pen on the page and write something. Even an outline seems beyond people. A straw man. A blog. The people - they fear the pen.

These same people can write flowing pages of meaningless email effortlessly. But, the minute you ask them to structure a response, outline a whitepaper, or even come up with a to-do list, they freeze. Why? I have a few theories:

a) Draft 1 is always wrong, and people hate that scrutiny
b) Blank pages are scary
c) People have forgotten the gentle art of the 5 paragraph essay, upon which most communications are based
d) Writing takes work. Or powerpointing. Creation takes work. Copying and pasting is easy. No one wants to break a mental sweat

So, instead there is a lot of copying, pasting, vetting, ccing, considering, commenting and postulating. And the person who picks up the pen is some sort of freak who would rather just get it done than continue to opine on the theoretical.

Try it. Pick up your pen. Write something. Anything. The bar is low, the world is yearning for your content, and I promise, it will cut short so many idle and useless conversations. Just do it.


Anonymous said...

+1 Lilac !

I see the same thing, even at the smaller company where I work. I end up being the bottleneck on far too many things.

Either people think I have some magical level of knowledge (I don't), or are just unwilling to do the writing themselves. Take tonight...I'm being harassed to finish a draft of a document, by one of our consultants who's been working with the product for 2 year, and knows it far better than I do. He is entirely capable of writing this document!



Rob said...

Insightful post; this is very true of any kind of writing. Research on this sort of thing really comes down to A & B--specifically, people's fear of not doing it perfect the first time and being judged, thus avoiding it rather than using it to grow. (I feel like what you say here could also be translated to public speaking, another fear that gets blown way out of proportion.)

A 5-paragraph essay can be used to help get people started, but if it becomes a crutch and a series of blanks to be filled in, you can get arbitrary material, missing connections, and limited improvement. At the end of the day though, people that put in the effort will improve, while those that stick to the formula or avoid challenges won't.

PD said...

I frequently suffer from this problem. I can tell you that the fear of the 1st draft is compounded by the grandiose outline I begin building in my head, walking around with for days, hoping for all the piece parts to gel "just so" until that 1st draft gets miraculously structured and built. For me it's part of the creative process.

Kara R said...

Ahhh...its so nice to know that I'm not alone in my admiration of the 5 paragraph essay. I also uphold the, "An outline is your friend" view of the world. Most people don't write for the following two reasons: they don't understand what they're supposed to be writing about and they're scared of criticism.

Personally, I type faster than I write so picking up a pen is something I only do as a last resort--usually when I can't get to my computer.

One of my good friends, Susan Stroebel, an copy-editor once said, "Just write! Quit worrying and edit later." Clearly, more people should have worked with her...