During a Charlie Rose PBS interview on July 7, 2008, David McCullough, writer of best sellers about some of this country’s most interesting history, said, “To write well is to think clearly.”
That struck me the moment I heard it. There is magic in words that are on target and that exactly convey the message. As readers, we recognize good writing even if we don’t always agree with the statements it contains.
Thoughtful contemplation is rare in these times. We rush to communicate, tapping out text messages, grabbing our cell phones and firing off emails. However, the more instantaneous the words, the less meaning they seem to carry.
I once taught a business communication workshop in which a young man complained that his emails prompted cubicle visits from angry colleagues. As we examined his process, we discovered that he replied immediately to emails. Instead of taking a moment to digest what he had read and organize his thoughts about it, he responded right away because he thought that is what he was supposed to do. Unfortunately his desire to be high-speed was promoting tension in his department and jeopardizing his career.
Taking a few extra moments up front saves time later. For our intent to be clear, we must understand what we are about to say. We must examine every word for its true meaning and we have to consider how our words will be interpreted by our readers. By being precise in what we say initially, we don’t have to restate it later.
McCullough is right. I write my best when I am knowledgeable about my topic and when I have carefully considered what I will say and how I will say it. In other words - when my head is clear.