Have you ever met that person who says she dreads having to write anything? This person will sit at the computer and panic. She will start to write, and stop, get up for a cup of coffee, get distracted, and move on to another task. This is the same person who, when having a conversation, calls up colorful pictures full of detail that engage the senses with precision, making a topic or idea previously confusing crystal clear.
Or, have you met the opposite? This person, a co-worker perhaps, has a dull communication style and gets easily flustered when presenting stories or ideas, leaving everyone in attendance wondering why they just wasted their time. This is the same person who sends the perfect multi-media report full of short and concise information, bullet points, shiny graphics, and leaves the reader with a provocative thought that has ultimately changed their viewpoint.
These writers may differ for a host of reasons. They absolutely differ because of the fundamental struggle between business and writing skills. Like the chicken and egg, which comes first? Given the publishing landscape today—one that disproportionally rewards authors for becoming smart businesspeople—the answer is less clear than ever before. Good arguments exist on both sides.
First, the world of business is being transformed with new media and immediate lines of engagement with customers. Thus, the need for businesspeople of all stripes to advance their writing skills is a stark need. Frankly, many businesspeople need writing help, badly. Many know this; few do anything about it.
Second, too many would-be successful writers and authors remain adrift upon the sea of unrealized potential because they haven’t figured out how to make money from their skills. Getting good at making money is a skill just like writing. And with opportunities abounding in the blossoming world of publishing, those that can put a business model underneath their writing output have the advantage to go the distance. Many know this; few do anything about it.
The answer, if there is one at all, is that writing skills and business skills should be developed in equal measure. Nobody needs Sherlock to tell them that. But the riddle remains: Regardless of your predisposition—to good writing or to good business dealing—which should you work on first, or next? Should you always “play to your strength”? I don’t think so because that undercuts the very idea that today’s most successful writers and authors are those equipping themselves with seriously savvy business chops. If you can achieve such parity of skills, that’s when magic happens.
Rather than put forward an answer, I’ll put forward a little guide to help steer your thinking about further skill development. Which ever path you choose to follow, be sure to face the challenges. Anything worth doing requires perseverance. Here we go:
Writing Skills Needed
Some believe that good writing is a genetic gift that cannot be taught. They’re wrong. A writer is not born with a special power that allows her to write a sentence straight out of the womb. Most likely, a competent writer has labored for years upon years to hone her craft. The accumulation of experience forms a cohesive set of instincts and abilities for the craft. And like all crafts, it can always be improved.
Being dishonest about current writing skill level trips up many writers and businesspeople. So be honest with yourself. Show a peer your writing and politely ask for a critique. You may learn where your weaknesses lie. Ego aside, where’s the harm in that?
Most of us have something to share. Whom will you share your ideas with, and what do you want your reader to do with the information or story? Is it not time to attend a grammar and writing skills class at your local community college? Or online course? Or book? Effective communication is a responsibility we all face on any career path.
Business Skills Needed
Say these words to a writer or author and watch her reaction: “IRS, consumers, social media analytics, expenses, and profit margins.” OH MY! Try not to laugh at the expression of dread or loathing on her face. Of course, you’re not laughing at her. But the idea that many writers are ill-equipped to address today’s business realities is becoming laughable.
An author is usually an artist first and an entrepreneur second, if at all. Unless the writing is done for personal benefit only, the author relies on her audience to support herself. Thus, her ability to understand, serve, delight, grow, monetize, and forecast that audience may mean the difference between a career boom or bankruptcy. Branding knowhow, marketing plans, revenue streams, networking, product development, customer support, measuring results—all of these are business skills now interwoven into the fabric of writing for an audience. The writer who writes without such abilities to guide her is sailing toward a horizon without a compass.
As with writing skills, business skills are learned. Online skill development (sometimes rapidly so) is becoming a popular option. Lynda.com is a brilliant place to start. This online training site offers learning modules on more than 1,000 subjects related to business including digital technology, SEO, software, and business management skills for all experience levels.
Wherever you turn to learn, be prepared to reach your vision of writing/publishing success with business fundamentals in your tool box.
It takes courage to go out into the world and succeed. Identifying your weaknesses is humbling, but an extremely useful process in overcoming obstacles. Whether you’re a prodigy author or a business whiz, a certain amount of self reflection can be a healthy exercise to keep you moving forward personally and professionally. In time, the riddle will solve itself. Business skills or writing skills? Take both.