In the last series on the power of storytelling, I’d focused on the story gathering and selling process. In this column, I’ll focus on writing and production – the trenches.
Honestly, if you ask me or anyone else who’s a writer, they will say two things about writing:
One, it is a craft – it gets better and better with practice. Two, you become a better writer when you read, read, read.
I had a detour on my way to getting into communications. I was prepping to get into medicine, and on that journey, I must confess, I lost touch with reading. To any literary soul, there’s some pattern you follow with books. For us ‘80s folks, our beginning was Enid Blyton followed by Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, then Agatha Christie, and then Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, etc.
I dropped off the reading trail as I finished my Agatha Christie phase (I know, not good), but I have to thank my journalism professor, Ramesh Prabhu, for getting me back into the habit of reading. He introduced me to two books that helped me become a better writer:
I highly recommend these books to get anyone sorted on the basics of writing, but this is just the start. While these books teach the basic hygiene needed as you write, you have to develop a way to structure and style content.
Here’s where experience counts, big time. Another senior editor and mentor, Shishir Prasad, always told me to practice writing 500 words a day on any topic. It really helps, and another tip I love is something N.S. Ramnath told me, it’s only when you have clarity in thought, it shows in your writing. Honestly, there’s an ocean anyone can write on this part, and I’ll take it up a bit later in this series – on structure.
However, to get to structure, you need to read, read, read to have some base to start writing. In my experience as a corporate communications professional, you will always have deadlines and pressure, but you have to keep reading. Perhaps get into office 30 minutes before your team does and use that time to catch up on your reading. Always keep a constant stream of good articles and books, which will help you do two things at one shot: have knowledge and learn a writing style.
It helps to follow key news outlets, where you unknowingly keep learning. My favourites are reading stories from Fortune, The New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic, and Vogue. You’d be surprised at some really great stories written skillfully in the most extraordinary places.
While these publications help learn writing skills, I find it’s important to also keep a tab on good marketing campaigns. I’ve found that very helpful to stay ahead of trends and keeps you alert on good things to adopt for internal campaigns.
Once we did magazine stories, we had to let our baby (the story) go to other teams for the finishing touches: photography, desk, and design. When I was single, I used to grin and say production time was like labor. Now, having been through both, I’ll still hold to that, and say producing any piece of work is labor!
Once your story was approved, it went to the photography team. If you were clear on your brief, it helped the team get the right picture to convey your story. Once your story was written, it went to the desk, they would ensure your story was clean of grammatical errors, and, finally, the design would ensure it looked good together with the photograph and infographics.
The two ways this functionality changed when I went into internal communications were as follows:
- I had no desk when I worked in internal communications, and while I did submit a clean copy, the buck stopped with me and I had to ensure my writing was error free especially under tight deadlines of 20 minutes to put out communications at the leadership level.
- Teamwork played a big role in ensuring your work came out exactly the way you imagined – either at the magazine or internal communications – without a whiz developer and excellent designer, my great campaign ideas at any organisation, fell flat. Thankfully, in both instances, journalism and internal communications, the teams were really great. I still remember getting a website ready in one-and-a-half days, and an org-wide contest rolled out to be able to send something to the White House for the Week of Making. However, without a great team, none of this is possible.
Now, for the next in the series, why is storytelling so important…until the next one, I hope you enjoyed reading.
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