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Dear Writer, You Can Write!

Dave Wilber


Some great questions flow through my various inboxes and DM's. I'd like to share a recent one that was really from the heart.

"I just had my Annual Review with my GM. And his biggest issue with me is communication. Especially my written communications. I feel judged harshly. I have never been a very good writer. Can you give my any tips to help? It's sad that the golf course is good, but he has this problem with me."

My Answer:

This is SO COMMON. It really is.  Relax. I'm going to give you some support and some tips and some encouragement. It's my belief that everyone can improve their writing. You may not become Hemingway. That's OK. You don't need to be.

Writing is a muscle that needs some workout. Typically when people are struggling with their writing, all it takes is some focus and some drills and things get better, quickly.

1. Read. I know. I get it. I'm writing this in early May and time usually isn't in surplus. But to become a better writer, you need to be a reader. Read. But here is the catch. Read aloud. Buh? Yes. And this will come full circle in a moment. But the start of this boot camp is to read aloud, every day. Even if it's just a few paragraphs. Get used to hearing how others use words, with your ears.

I have a favorite book that I tell people to read aloud. It's a collection of essays from Jack Kerouac. He jack-kerouc-lonesome-traveler-large-the-culturium.jpg.fa6ebaa72e8acaac68a55c07b0707fdd.jpgis, by far, my favorite writer. And more importantly, he is a supreme communicator of his thoughts. Often good writing in the world of the turfgrass professional is about putting thoughts and experiences into words. Kerouac was the master. His book, Lonesome Traveler, is a collection of essays about his experiences traveling. And in particular, the essay titled, Alone on a Mountaintop, is perfection.  Read aloud from this and you will understand what it means to have a "voice" with your writing.

Here is the key thing... Reading authors like Kerouac can show you that even the most simple subjects can be talked about clearly and with passion. 

2. Write Every Day. I sit down every day and I write something. Anything. I use my words and a document or talk to myself about something. Most of it never sees the light of day. Sometimes, it's a twitter post. Other times, it's what I write here. Mostly, it's email, keeping up with whatever is going on with work and it still counts. Write something every day.

 Writing is a muscle that needs some workout.

3. Read What You Write Aloud. Here's where it gets good and where the change can come. Read your writing out loud. Do it. Do this so it sounds like you. If it doesn't sound like you talk, then fix it. You have a physical voice. Now you are  connecting your physical voice to your writing. This is an amazingly powerful way to get communication up to speed, quickly. So very often, people who struggle with their written words, are very good talkers. 

I once had a client who I was helping with their resume and cover letter read their cover letter to me over the phone. And when they finished, I asked the question, "did that sound like you". And the answer was a resounding no. There it is. That's the disconnect. In time, you will start to see that your voices in writing and speaking will line up and this is the way to do it.

4. Forget Outlines. Very few great writers can successfully use outlines and translate that robotic form into great communications. Make notes, sure. Or maybe even a list of key words or ideas that you want to get across. But stop with formal outlines as they were taught in school. It's a waste of time and detracts from the flow of words.

5. Get Some Grammar Software. Currently I use Grammerly. It works as a plug-in for my Chrome browser and I can turn it on and off and set how deep it reads my stuff. It's my editor on the desktop. The first benefit is spelling. We all need help with spelling and its not a bad thing. World class writers are notorious bad spellers and bad typists. And in my experience I need just a notch above the standard spell check. The grammar part of this is really helpful in developing that muscle. It will tell you when your sentences are too long or your word usage is out of whack. And you don't have to do what it says. But the suggestions and the learning that come with it are spot on.

6. Slow Down. It's 3pm. The green committee meeting is at 5 pm, you are in the office and trying to make sense of tomorrow's work schedule and coach an assistant about a spray tank mix and, and, and and.... a recipe for a badly written green committee report is in the works. Don't do this. Same goes with that email that you just need to get to your boss because he wants info and you sit down and hammer out a POS. Don't. Slow down. Get ahead of this. Just as in every other part of your operation. Write the first draft of your committee report a few days before. Let it marinate. Come back to it. Fix it. Example, some of my blog posts that have gotten the most views were written on my iphone on the side of the road. And they just came together. This one, however, needed some care and feeding and I left it alone for a week and came back to it. Now it makes sense and hopefully, the re-write is on point. Yes, often there are hard deadlines, but that means that you have to practice some time management and give yourself time to slow down.

7. Relax And Be Real. Bad business writing is often so completely complicated that it becomes constipated and in turn loses its humanity. We all need to be more formal in our too relaxed society, but formality can't lose reality. Words are idea vehicles. And they are very real. And when they stop being real, they lose their idea potential and communication ends.

Here's an example: I asked an assistant of mine to write up an employee discipline issue. He handed me a paper that tried to read like some kind of weird police report. It was awkward and while filled with facts, it lacked any way to understand what really happened. So, we had a lesson in being real. I asked my assistant super what the biggest thing that went wrong actually was. The answer was that the employee had been late for two weekend shifts. Ok. Write that. Then I asked when it happened. Then I asked what the employee said about the situation. Then I asked what our policy is on being late. Then the question was, what did he think we should do as corrective action. Simple. Take those answers and write it. The end result wasn't a mess of too many words. It was reality and it was to the point. 

8. Be Brave. Good words mean that one must be courageous. When I write, I am thinking all the time of using my best ideas. It's kind of like going to the butcher shop and finding out what the best cut of meat is for sale. I need to be brave enough to use my words to make my point. If I am pissed off, I have to carry that emotion. If I don't care, then it can be communicated. It's OK to show emotion in writing. It's OK to use language that doesn't leave the reader with any doubt as to where you stand on an issue. You can and should put people to a decision when they read your words. If you are always going for everyone to agree with every word, sorry, that's weak sauce. 


Here's an example: Anthony Bourdain. How did a cook, who didn't have much career fame, author best selling books and before his passing, become one of TV's most watched travel, food and  world politics expert? He was completely brave with his words. He didn't shy away from saying his truth.  Same goes with golf course architect Tom Doak. Tom wrote his original Confidential Guide as a 40-page copy machine guide to what he saw was right and what was wrong in the golf courses he went to see in his studies. It was raw. And it was spellbound in it's courage of speaking his truth.

A super once sent me his justification for a new maintenance facility. And I read it and called him and said that if his current shop was this good, I can't imagine them building him a new one. He blew his lid, falling into a tirade of that an utter garbage dump his shop had become. He even used those words. And I told him that he just wrote the lead paragraph to his new report version. "Our Current Maintenance Facility is an Unsafe Garbage Dump" ended up being the lead line to version number two of his report and the problem was recognized and solved. Words are powerful in their use. And they are powerless when you don't use them.

The older I get and the longer I am involved in our business, I am more and more certain that communication is the key skill that everyone needs and is lacking in. As I have taught workshops on this for Turfgrass Professionals, I see that somehow this skill has been pushed aside and yet, those same people wonder why they are often misunderstood. I think working out these muscles can lead to some of the best and most productive times in a career. I think that left to atrophy, not being able to write, leads to so many dark paths and places. 

Words are powerful in their use. And they are powerless when you don't use them.

Some of you reading this have heard me say that I suffer from a condition called Dyslexia which is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. I wasn't formally diagnosed with this until I was 19 years old. And until then, I just kind of got by. Some days, words and numbers made sense to my brain. Some days, they did not. When tired, angry, depressed or sick, the condition is worse. And I can't control when it comes and goes. Makes for some interesting times, like recently, I couldn't read the documents I was signing for a car purchase.

A very good teacher helped me become a writer, by helping me apply the points I shared above, even though, I told her over and over again that my handicap would keep me from being any good. I do fine. More than fine, considering. Am I Kerouac or Bourdain? No. I have to work at it really hard. So If I can. you can too. And If you'd like help...reach out. 

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