Imagine if you walked into work today and were asked to write something. A blog post, a website update, or a brochure to send out to other businesses in the area.
How does that make you feel? Do you immediately groan and wonder how you can get out of it?
For a lot of us, the thought of writing of any sort makes us nervous.
We’d much rather spend time on client care, taking a cool CEU course, or folding yet another basket of laundry. Anything but writing!
But writing is part of the reality of running a business.
Whether it’s for your website, email newsletter, blog posts or brochures, writing is important. It’s a huge key to connecting with people. People who will book appointments with you and tell their friends and family about you.
Back when I was in active practice, I felt much the same as many of you. I produced a lot of content on my websites and in my other marketing materials, sure. But I also felt a bit of dread at having to sit down and do that writing.
So, why is that?
I think our collective dislike of writing probably started in school. We were given a ton of rules to follow and told if our writing didn’t conform to a certain format, we’d fail the assignment. For those of us who were required to produce and defend a thesis, the forced conformity just became stronger. In order to graduate, we had to write according to rules, even if it hated it.
The sad part is, most people don’t think academics are terribly good at writing. Even a fellow academic at Harvard, Steven Pinker, once published an article entitled “Why Academics Stink at Writing”. Ouch.
So for all the style guides we needed to follow, rules we needed to memorize, and dictionary definitions we needed to uphold, we were producing pretty crappy writing. An unfortunate conundrum which made us think we hate writing.
But, there are people out there who are really great writers. They must have some sort of special skills, right?
Or at least, so we think.
Good writers break the rules.
Not all the rules, of course. Just the ones that no longer serve us.
That was the aha moment for me, and I’m hoping it can be an aha moment for you too.
But what rules should you break? Can you just be a rebel and break them all?
Well, I’m not suggesting you go write something to your clients composed only in emojis and text speak. That might be hilarious, but it won’t really help your business.
Nah, the rules to break are the ones many of us don’t realize we should break.
Break this rule: Professional writing requires a ‘professional voice’.
Have you been taught that in order to be professional, you need to write in a pretty flat, monotone, third-person manner? Probably you have. I know I certainly was. Showing your personality and having a little fun wasn’t considered appropriately professional.
But the thing is, your writing is for your audience, that is, your clients. So ask yourself, what do they want?
What people really want is to get a sense of who you are and what you can do to help them. Writing in this so-called ‘professional manner’ doesn’t help them with either of those things. You’re not a form letter or English textbook, so why should you sound like one?
Instead I suggest writing the way you speak, which many of you will find much more natural. Sure, it might have to be a slightly filtered version of the way you speak, if you have a tendency to drop f-bombs or tell dirty jokes. But even so, people will connect much more with something written authentically and from the heart. So don’t be afraid to let you shine in your writing.
Break this rule too: good writing requires you to follow very specific guidelines for grammar, sentence structure and punctuation.
Oh the academic writing style guide. That stuff you were probably taught by your high school English teacher (or a professor in university or college). You might have gotten the hint from the Steven Pinker article already, but here I am saying it in black & white: toss a lot of those rules out!
It’s ok to have a few typos in your writing. It’s fine to start a sentence with and or but. It’s ok to have short sentences. It’s great to break your paragraphs up into bite-sized pieces instead of long things that have a formal introduction and conclusion like in your essay writing days. And yes, use contractions, for God’s sake!
In other words, this is not formal academic writing, so it’s ok to toss out some of those old rules from your academic days. Really.
This rule? Break it: Professional writing requires you to use jargon so people will know you’re properly credentialed.
Another rule that comes back to the academic writing article. In school, we were heavily encouraged to use jargon to show we knew our stuff. Whether it was quoting our anatomy book or getting down to the picky details of a treatment method, jargon was important.
But hey, the vast majority of your clients don’t want to hear super technical lingo. They don’t want to read a bunch of medical terminology. And if by chance they do, they’ll ask you. Save the medical lingo for conversations with colleagues.
Instead, tell your clients how you can help them in language that should be familiar to them. The exact language will depend on who you work with - athletes, parents, pregnant women, children, office workers… all of those groups have certain ways of speaking or topics they commonly think about. Write to them, not like you’re writing for a medical journal.
And probably most importantly: Break the rule that says you don’t like writing.
Challenge your assumptions about yourself!
Are you sure you don’t like writing? Or is it that you don’t like writing the way you were taught to write?
Try this instead: just write. Practice writing without the pressure of needing to show it to anyone. Write a sample blog post for your clients, delete it, start over, write it again. Write yourself a new bio once a week for a few weeks to see what you come up with. Write on non-clinical topics just to see what direction it takes. Write a story for your child.
Just practice. Write.
Because here’s the thing: you aren’t a bad writer, you’ve just been taught to be a bad writer.
So break the rules, because they need to be broken.
They aren’t helping get your message across.
Let yourself have fun with your writing. And the next time someone asks you to write something, you’ll know you can rock it.