Category Archives: Creative Writing for Business

Reading about Business Writing

Learning Business Writing

I love reading about writing craft. Especially on that of creative writing. I’ve read and continue to read about writing novels, short stories, picture books (even if I don’t plan to write any so far), memoirs, lyric essays, travel books, as well as about writing other works of creative non-fiction.

And I started talking here, in this blog, about the importance of creative writing for business.

But what about books on this other genre that all of us have to muster one way or another? What about books on business writing? I discovered that I didn’t read any so far. I did read guides how to write business letters, and I’ve read excerpts from books on how to write scientific publications, but what about reading a text- or a guide-book on how to write for business in all its facets? Do such books even exist?

They do! And as in any other genre of writing, there are true masters and gurus, other masters look up to.

Today I started to read a book of a scholar, who seems to be one such master.

The author is Wilma Davidson, Ed.D, and the book is “Business Writing: What Works, What Won’t (Third Edition)”.

I’ve been both captivated by the foreword of her doctoral mentor, Professor Jane Emig, who opened my eyes on how we all, who have a job, deal with business writing (job application letters, articles, reports, etc.), and Wilma Davidson herself, when she described the judgment and requirement for evaluation starting at school being the most probable reason why many if not hate, then at least are extremely scared of writing, especially at and for work.

So, I have this wish and idea to read the book and to report to you how I experience what I learn both as a creative writer and a business writer. And I am extremely curious what I will discover along the way.

Some questions to you at this point: What are various types of business writing you met in your work life so far? Did you have any challenges? And whether yes or no, why?

© 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels

Dear business coaches, please teach free writing to your students!

“Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. It is used mainly by prose writers and writing teachers.”

First of all, I would like to argue with the above definition about the material produced during free writing being unusable. If you prompt the free writing exercise with a topic of interest, I bet at least a part of it will be usable. Very much usable. But more to this a bit later.

At this point, I would like to shout out to any teacher, not only to business coaches and professors, but to them in particular: Before you teach your students any rules or constructs composing their texts, first teach them to free write. Teach and motivate them to create without any amendments and editing beforehand.

What is interesting, most of us, when we learn a language at school, we first learn grammar, pronunciation, phrases, but we rarely learn just to let our thoughts flow on paper or on computer screen. Especially, when it comes to composing a business document or an e-mail we first learn the structure: set-up the goals, make your point clear and conclude.

On my opinion, this approach is like putting handcuffs on a painter and say, “Now let your creativity flow”. You can’t do that, if you expect something great and unexpected to come out of this exercise.

And this pre-planned approach is neither the way we learn our very first language. With our very first language, we are encouraged to say whatever comes out of our mouths and only after that we learn what is appropriate and what is not, how we should say something, and how not.

I am writer now and writing daily is one of my basic needs. But curiously enough, I was afraid to write and used to think that I hated it. Well, I followed the widely-spread cliché, “Writing for school or work can’t be fun!”

But something happened when I actually was in the process of writing. The thoughts were flowing and I often ended up with much more information than was intended or asked. Recently a mail recipient answered to one of my long e-mails to her, “One can see you are a writer.”

But what if we are all writers and can accelerate our productivity by letting our thoughts flow? Lately, I get many compliments of being prolific and creating a lot of useful material. This feedback comes in each of the three areas, I am active in: creative writing, business writing, and S1000D® (a deeply technical topic).

The need to teach free writing became evident to me, when I was deep into a S1000D project I have started here on my site, where I develop the S1000D business rules step-by-step guide. In the Business Rules Working Group of S1000D community, we’ve tried (also during my 10-years-chairmanship of the group) to come up with something like this for quite some time. We talked about the structures, we struggled with various opinions and contexts, we started and abandoned mind-maps outlining such a resource, and finally we came up with a minimum we could extract from already available information in the standard by presenting it in a tabular way. We did get a lot of credit for that, but there was still a lot missing and I was still getting the questions, “When will you write ‘S1000D for Dummies’?”

Let’s fast forward several years into my writing career. Becoming both an author and an independent consultant allowed me to re-discover an old creative writers’ wisdom, “You can’t edit an empty page.” This wisdom allowed me to take action. So I started filling in the pages with ideas, and a with currently growing interest and feedback this resource has a potential to save projects implementing S1000D a lot of headache, a lot of time and a lot of money.

But editing an empty page was exactly what we did in many discussions about Business Rules and Implementation Guide for S1000D. The eruptions of creativity happened when we let or tasked a member of our group simply to create a document and then we edited and shaped it.

I realized over the years that brainstorming and pre-planning often don’t work, especially in case of elaborating a certain topic.

I am glad to experience now often the magic of free writing in my writing, whether it is a commercial proposal, a job application, an e-mail or a chapter of my current work-in-progress.

And recently I have witnessed its magic on my students.

One of my students has writing blog posts as a part of her job. And she thought she didn’t like it. This sounds familiar, right? Writing for business is dull, many think. But is it really?

This student also claimed that she couldn’t write academic texts. So, at our first session I suggested to free write on a topic we spontaneously chose together. We wrote for 5 minutes. And the results were amazing. Her piece was thoughtful and utterly academic. She liked this exercise so much that she asked to do this 5 min-free-writing-exercise at each of our language learning sessions together.

Later at a creative writing workshop on fiction, which I taught to a group of about twenty-five people, we free wrote for 5 minutes taking a sentence from one of the known novels. Then each of us read his or her piece out loud. The results were again astonishing and extremely unique for each person. None of the pieces was bad and many were simply brilliant, causing all of us chuckle and smile with pleasure. Some of the students even used their piece to develop it further in the creative writing camp, of which the workshop I mentioned was a part.

You might argue, “It’s all good and well, but you are still talking about writing fiction. You can’t do it with business writing!”

But let me argue back. You can do this with business writing and your should. Each piece, each document, each e-mail you have to write will profit immensely if you free write it first.

I will go further by claiming that a thorough pre-planning is a waste of time, because when you actually write the text, it becomes considerably different from what you planned in your head before writing. And it is often much better than what you rehearsed.

And you know why it is much better than those day-dreamed texts? Because the written piece is real and existing. All the other, planned and brainstormed, but never recorded clouds, do not exist. They evaporated right after you thought them.

Another analogy: Consider going to your boss (or anyone for that matter) to talk about a certain topic. If you rehearse the conversation beforehand, you will be 100% disappointed in the end, because it will simply not go as you expected. The conversations, which do go to our satisfaction and bring pleasant surprises go usually according to the following scenario. We think of a topic and go to our boss’s office, knock, push our head through the opened door and when allowed we say, “Listen, this is what I wanted to talk to you about.” And then we improvise and adjust our message as the feedback and questions come from the manager. Then we leave his or her office satisfied with a productive conversation.

So, before you teach your students the structures and rules, first let them express themselves freely on a particular topic and then see what they can shape out of it. Let them create before carving out a sculpture. Let them do this before admonishing them, “This is the way you have to do it.” As I read recently somewhere, you need first to have a rock or a mass of another material before you make a sculpture. Let your students, your co-workers you give a task to write a document, first create that rock, that mass freely, before you tell them to revise and edit it.

This applies to any kind of writing and business writing in particular. I bet, by teaching free writing and practicing it yourself, you will discover the raise in work efficiency, increase of motivation at work, and completely new ideas, which you or your students would not have been able to generate by simply teaching or learning the rules.

Picture: Recently, I started collecting my free-written pieces. Not necessarily to use them, but simply to remind myself of the power of free writing and its ability to make my creativity and productivity visible and tangible.


© 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels


Why is creative writing important in today’s business world?

Imagine the following scene, in which you play the main role.

Your management decided to introduce a new technical standard into your company’s products. And you have been given the task to research on this standard, approach the community developing it, get involved and introduce this standard to your colleagues and management.

What is your first step? Yes, you research.

Today, most of us research on the Internet. You type in the keywords and get a selection of articles or even books ready for you to read.

You start to read one of them and find an article giving a detailed account of the standard you are interested in. You nod, Yes, I need to read this more thoroughly. You save the article for a later read and move to the next one.

This article talks about advantages and disadvantages of implementing the standard giving some examples of projects and companies, who did it successfully and also those who stepped into traps and lost large amounts of money by implementing it incorrectly. You save this article in the folder titled “Must-Read” and move to the next one.

At some point you rub your eyes from so much information and go to get yourself a cup coffee. Then you sit back at your desk and open the next link.

After a few seconds you laugh out loud at the mishaps and frustration the author of this article tells, how she was frustrated with this standard. How she cursed all those who made her learn it and those who created it, only to find out a few months later that she couldn’t get rid of this thing. And not quite because she had to do it. But because she found herself in the middle of it. She couldn’t stop thinking about the riddles it posed. She started liking it and the people developing it. She found like-minded professionals, who through all the frustration found the fun and multidimensionality of the standard and discovered its power and ability to improve the quality of their products. This standard even allowed to save money, when applied correctly.

After an hour you still read the long article, which hardly tells you the technical details of the standard but rather the human part of it. Then you find yourself researching about this person and the ones she refers to. You find some technical articles by her and start reading them, abandoning those you found in the first place and marked as Must-read.

Did something like this happened to you?

It did happen to me.

After my first maternity leave ended, I was very close to the status of a new employee in the company I worked at that time. Also because I had a new boss. And he had a new task for me in tow. “Learn how to work with XSLT,” he said. “You have about one month to learn it and then you have to develop new stylesheets for our software.”

I knew XML by that time, Extensible Markup Language, a language to capture information in a structured way, where the way can be flexibly defined for the specific context and purposes.

XSLT, Extensible Stylesheets Language: Transformations, is a specific subset of XML, or rather a language in itself, to transform the structure and content of a document from one format to another.

My task was to learn to transform an XML document into HTML format, which is most often used by various browsers to present content.

I love reading books. They are my preferred source of information. So I opened an Amazon window in my browser and search for XSLT books. XSLT 2.0 was latest and greatest at that time (about six years ago) and also applied at our company, so I looked for those. The book by Michael Kay “XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0” was highly praised. So I bought it and a couple of other, which were thinner and less intimidating than over one thousand pages long tome by Michael Kay.

When Michael Kay’s book arrived I was both excited and scared. How am I going to learn all this in one month?

I opened the book, found that some of the examples made me smile (”A Hello World” stylesheet, example on music transformation, an example of displaying a poem”) and I found a lot of valuable and well structured information, written without hurry and with the thought of the reader to understand the given topic.

But the most memorable part of this book was for me, where Michael Kay told the difference about how he felt, when he wrote his first book on XSLT (it was XSLT 1.0) and the one on XSLT 2.0. The difference was that he was an “outsider” when he wrote the first one. He was “just” a user, pointing out along with advantages also disadvantages of this specification as it was defined at that time. He said that with XSLT 2.0 it was much more difficult to be as critical as when he has written the first book. The reason was is that now, with the XSLT 2.0, he was inside the community and not only a part of it but also the responsible editor for the standard.

This resonated with me. I’ve been involved in development of a technical standard as well (S1000D®, International specification for technical publications using a common source data base) and I felt very protective of it when someone criticized it.

So this anecdote stayed with me and Michael Kay’s book became one of the first ones I opened, when I searched for an answer about XSLT. I also followed the e-mail forums he participated in and learned from many examples shared and discussed by him and his colleagues there.

Another book on XSLT drew me to it due its creative title, “XSLT Cookbook” by Sal Mangano, and as creative and honest content of the book.

If I find dialogue in an business article or book, I immediately draw it closer to me and read.

In today’s flooding with information world, we disregard, and also must disregard, a huge amount of the information pouring on us, and find something that captivates us and helps us experience epiphanies on the given topic. We can best memorize the information, which finds its way into our brains through “Aha” moments or those when we smile, when our eyes glitter with curiosity and eagerness to learn more.

But how do you captivate a reader in such a way?

Creative writers know the secret. That’s why they are able to “steal” many free moments from readers’ time, keeping them awake with a book in hand until dawn.

And the secret is not only in their creativity and imagination. The true secret is that they “split open”.

Here is what Natalie Goldberg suggest to creative writers in her book titled “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within”:

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

This what happens when you start following a particular author on a given topic. It means that he or she “splits open” on the topic they are passionate about and they sweep you away with their honesty and generosity. They are so passionate about it that they become brilliant in what they do and write about, and because they truly and deeply enjoy what they do and talk about.

They put all their creative force into conveying their passion.

Yes, this is the secret and the reason, why you can’t succeed in sharing information about your business without showing that you are passionate about it, without “splitting open” over it, without being creative when you write or talk about it.

What are your experiences in reading new information? Did you notice the creativity of the business articles in LinkedIn? Which was the one that grabbed your attention, captivated  and didn’t let you give it up until you finished?

Picture: some of the textbooks that captivated me.

© 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels