Before I specialized in business writing, I wanted to be a fiction writer, and I spent many years trying. One of the books I read to help me develop as a writer was Brenda Ueland's classic If You Want to Write.
No doubt other writers have learned lessons from Ms. Ueland. But my lesson–the one I think of daily–was to tell the truth. To me as a business and blog writer, telling the truth means choosing the most precise word to describe something, whether it is a situation, an emotion, or an object. Rather than choosing the first words that come to mind, it is important to describe each thing accurately, to tell the truth about it, to be real.
Ms. Ueland called this "microscopic truthfulness."
Several days ago I wrote a blog post about a man who sent me an email with more errors than sentences. He was writing to ask me whether he could write a guest entry for this site. When I first posted the entry, I titled it "Frowning at My Inbox"–or something like that. My thought was that it would be normal to frown at a message riddled with errors, and I was making a contrast with the smiley face that closed the man's message.
But after I uploaded the entry, I realized it felt false, at least to me. It rang false because I actually hadn't frowned when I read his email. I had smiled a kind of a twisted smile of disbelief and breathed out in something like disdain.
I quickly renamed the entry "Smiling at My Inbox" and changed the ending to "Yes, I was smiling–and sighing." Sighing didn't quite describe the breath I took, but I let it go.
As you can see, I didn't really let it go. I am still thinking about the right words to describe my reaction to the man's error-filled message.
I share this example with you because I believe being real in business writing–being precise and truthful in one's descriptions–makes a difference. Brenda Ueland wrote, "The more you wish to describe a Universal [like my choosing the common idea of frowning, although I hadn't frowned] the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular."
Do you, like me, think Ueland's "microscopic truthfulness" has a place in business writing? In blogs? In Tweets? On web pages? I would love to hear your view.