Never before has writing been such a valuable asset.
Think about it: Texts, tweets, e-mails and social media updates have all become primary pieces of communication — far more so than meeting face to face or talking on the phone. The phone, in fact, has become the perfect symbol of this writing revolution. It’s more of a typing tool than a talking tool.
It’s ironic. As a creative writing major, I thought I had wasted my time, but no. There was real value in learning how to effectively string a sentence together. And not long ones. God, no. There is no room for run-ons. Short is sweet.
No one can pay attention anymore. Our attention spans have been halved. It makes perfect sense: Information is coming at us full speed all the time and from every direction. We don’t have time to ruminate.
So back to writing: Now is the perfect time to look to the past for a few lessons that are more vital than ever for future communicators:
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” —Mark Twain
It takes time to write succinctly. Communications that are swimming in words and repetitive thoughts are ineffective.
“Nobody climbs on skis now and almost everybody breaks their legs but maybe it is easier in the end to break your legs than to break your heart although they say that everything breaks now and that sometimes, afterwards, many are stronger at the broken places. I do not know about that now but this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Hemingway’s descriptions are like arrows to the brain. Know why? Because he edited his words obsessively. Hemingway allegedly wrote 47 different endings to A Farewell to Arms, for goodness’ sake. Whether it’s a piece of prose or an e-mail to an associate you should edit, too, before you click send – always.
“I subscribe to the law of contrary opinion … If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way …” —David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross
Write with voice. You have one. Use it. It’s a shame Mamet doesn’t tweet. He can lay down a machine-gunfire of brilliant dialogue. And he certainly has plenty of vital information. Here’s his now-famous memo to the makers of the recently cancelled TV series “The Unit.” Regardless, you don’t have to be Mamet to write something in a way that is uniquely you.
There is ample room for the business world to provide writing lessons in the context of today’s communication channels.
Companies could and should enroll their employees in classes on how to tweet, write a post or even draft a proper e-mail. Nothing could be more valuable.
So, yes, I was trained in the art of writing. However, it took years in the business world before I learned how to write effectively using e-mail, social and text.
It would behoove us to embrace the lost art of writing, especially learning from great writers such as Twain, Mamet and Papa Hemingway. After all, we are increasingly being called upon to become great writers ourselves.
Kenneth Hein is the global marketing director of gyro.
Follow him @kennethhein