How to write better in 5


How can anyone resist a book on healthy living that’s based on the premise of snacking?

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s new title, Feel Better in 5: Your Daily Plan to Feel Great for Life, takes a brilliant approach to making positive lifestyle changes, one bite-sized habit at a time.

Forget trying to commit to virtual Pilates classes or promising yourself you’ll attempt a 21-day sugar detox… again! Instead, integrate five-minute health breaks, or “snacks,” into your daily routine.

Chatterjee prescribes snacks that address three aspects of wellness—Mind, Body, and Heart.

  • Mind snacks foster mindfulness and positive thinking. Examples: five minutes of journaling or nature-bathing.

  • Body snacks inject physical movement into your day. Examples: doing push-ups while your tea steeps or doing a five-move strength-building routine.

  • Heart snacks encourage social connection. Examples: an evening tea ritual with your partner or making a 5-minute phone call to a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

Chatterjee’s simple suggestions remind me that self-improvement doesn’t have to equate with struggle. In my personal life, I often have trouble remembering that.

Similarly, in my professional life as a writing coach, I meet many clients who suffer from the mistaken notion that suffering must pave the road to better.

Writing doesn’t have to be painful, and you can make it less painless than it is now by following Chatterjee’s lead. Try incorporating some of these five-minute “writing snacks” into your work day to improve your abilities in three domains: Audience Alignment, Fluency, and Clarity.

Audience Alignment

The closer you get to thinking and feeling like your ideal client or customer, the easier you’ll find it to write persuasively for them. Try these simple strategies for aligning your view of the world with your audience’s view:

  • Call or email a client just to check in with them

  • Read, word by word, the website of one of your target clients or customers

  • Reflect on the conversations you’ve had with customers and prospects over the past week. Brainstorm a list of words and phrases they’ve used to describe their current reality.

  • Role-play your ideal client reacting to your website.

  • Order a set of IDEO Method Cards and commit to spending time on one or two of them a day.

  • Pick your favorite three clients or customers. Journal about why you enjoy serving them and what you could do to serve them better.

Fluency

Writing fluency is your ability to generate text quickly. Exercises that improve your fluency work like strength-training routines. They'll make you a stronger, more confident writer and boost your overall writing performance. Here are a few suggestions you might try:

  • Freewrite for five minutes first thing in the morning, while your brain is still fresh. Freewriting means writing without stopping. Many people find the practice is most effective when they write in longhand.

  • Work your way through a grammar or punctuation manual, one five-minute chunk at a time. Internalize the conventions of written expression so you no longer waste time second-guessing about how to edit your work.

  • Set a timer and challenge yourself to draft the first email of the day in just five minutes.

  • Spend five minutes reading the blog of an industry expert you admire. Listening to the writing voices of other people will give you more confidence as you develop your professional voice.

  • Try dictating the first page of a report or other document and then transcribing it.

Clarity

Clear writing depends on many factors, but my picks for the top two are document structure and wordiness. Here are some snacks to help improve your writing in both of these dimensions:

  • Practice superhero vision. Take a mental X-ray of a draft by focusing on just the main idea in each paragraph. How do your main points hold together? Do they form a logical structure?

  • Take the key message challenge. In a single sentence, express the key message of a draft document or email. If you can't easily do this, you probably have a focus problem.

  • Write a five-minute executive summary. (Pick a document that’s more than three pages long.)

  • Choose a short passage from a piece of writing you’ve recently produced. Challenge yourself to make it at last 25% shorter.

  • Choose a page from a document created by someone else. Identify all the instances of passive voice and convert as many as you can to active voice.

  • Read aloud an email you’ve recently sent, skipping over any words that aren’t really necessary to the meaning you intend to convey.

Enjoy playing with some of these small ways to make your writing easier to produce and easier to read. As Chatterjee says, "it is the way we choose to live, day in and day out, that mostly defines how healthy we end up being." It's also the writing habits we build, day in and day out, that define how successfully we connect with others and achieve our work goals.


For more small tweaks to help you communicate with more clarity and confidence, check out my Weekly Writing Hack videos on YouTube.

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