Writing is at the center of what we do as public relations practitioners. I’ve been writing in some form or capacity since high school. One of my first stories was a girl high school basketball game wrap based on the facts given to me by one of the team members during algebra class. Math and its extended family members such as algebra was never my thing. Something tells me many of you in our craft can relate!
Anyway, I have been writing for a long time and continue to enjoy writing. When I saw I was blogging on my top writing tips, I started thinking-what are my top writing tips? This is one of the many reasons I like being on our PRSA Detroit blog committee. I get an opportunity to write on a variety of topics related to our profession and, in this instance, reflect on a passion of mine, something I don’t regularly do because writing is so second nature to me.
In no particular order, here are some of my top 10 writing tips that I use:
- Fresh eyes, fresh brain: I regularly will go back and look at something I have written—press release, an essay, a story I am submitting to a media outlet and re-read my draft. The fresh eyes enable me to find grammar errors and other style elements that need fixing or improving. The fresh brain element is my creative side, adding, subtracting words, making my content tighter and have a better flow. Given demands on our time from supervisors and/or clients, we don’t always have the luxury to come back to written content the next day. However, in my work as Communications Director with the City of Birmingham, I am finding I can go work on another project for a period and then go back and re-read/edit something I have already written. The time in between qualifies as the fresh eyes, fresh brain approach.
In order to get to the self-editing stage, we first have to generate/create our content. I originally started this blog when we were away for a long weekend. The time away was needed for both of us. I felt refreshed, away from the pressures of the day to day at home and in the office. As a result, my creative juices were flowing when I wrote the draft and now as I fine tune it sometime time later. What happens when we don’t have luxury of a long weekend break to do a writing project? Here are some other tips that have helped me.
- Outlines: When I was working as an Independent Consultant, I recall a situation where I had an assignment and was struggling to figure out what to write. My wife said to me, do an outline! Quite frankly, I had not thought of that. My old writing slump breaker used to be, keep re-writing until it clicks, which can be time consuming. I am now in the practice of using an outline, particularly for longer form items. And, the outline can be the way you design it. There are instances where I have used five w’s and an h (who, what, where, when, why and how) to breakdown the subject and fuel my creative approach. Another form of an outline I use is lead, body and close (a tool I used for this blog). One other approach I have used as an outline is stream of consciousness sentences. String together thoughts on a particular subject. I have found this form of an outline is helpful when I am experiencing a writing block.
- Know your style: I tend to long hand my writing as the first step and as noted, go back and fine tune with my fresh eyes, fresh brain tool. With my deadlines, I generally can practice my long hand approach in the office. However, that style can be time consuming particularly if my creative neurons are not firing. Lately, I have been working on writing on my word doc first—particularly shorter content. My message with this tip is—know your style, however, be adaptable and flexible to new approaches.
I mentioned that I started writing this blog while we were away. Prior to our getaway, I noticed I had been laboring with my writing at work. Some other ways that I help break out of slumps include exercising, listening to music as I am writing (there nothing like some classic Led Zeppelin to help spark creativity)!
I’ll close with a handful of other tips that I imagine are practical standard bears in the writing we do whether it is for clients, or in my case, a municipality.
- Journalism 101: Most important content at the top. Think the reverse pyramid we learned in school.
- Quotes: Quotes help bring life to news releases and submitted content for the media.
- Fact check: See journalism 101. Double check and triple check if need be. To err is human, however, take steps to make sure what your writing is correct.
- Google it: When it comes to research, idea generation and fact checking, I use Google. While I appreciate Wikipedia, my suggestion is not to settle for Wikipedia only when it comes to research. In some instances, a trip the library can add to your findings.
- Honor deadlines: It is imperative that what we write is timely—particularly those among us who regularly work with the media. Outdated content stands little chance of catching an editor’s eye, no matter how well written your pitch may be.
These are some of the tips/tools I use to help me in my writing. There are others that you use. That’s one of the beauties of what we do. Writing, as it relates to our role as PR practitioners, is artistic in nature as opposed to other professions that are data driven specifics. For most us, we write because we like to and with sweat equity, we have been able to turn that passion into our livelihood. So, take time to appreciate your writing talent and look for outlets—such as blogging for our chapter, to continue to nurture it.
Kevin Byrnes is the new Communications Director for the City of Birmingham (MI). He previously was a Communications Consultant at ByrnesPR & Media Services as well as the Senior Communications Manager for Wayne County (MI). He is a member of the Detroit PRSA chapter (national as well) and serves on the blog committee. He is also a member of the Individual Communicators Network (ICN Detroit Chapter) and Detroit Press Club.
Picture from Pixabay