Yes and !

person in hatThere is no one way to write a piece, be it an article, a white paper or anything else. Some writers work from a numbered outline, others from index cards. For years, I started with the conclusion, but lately I’ve been focusing on the introduction. I know writers who have to have their title first. Others jump right in, getting the core elements nailed down before anything else.

Whatever the preferred approach, every writer gets bogged down from time to time. I’ve found that the more tightly I hold onto a certain turn of phrase, the more doggedly I hang onto a lead paragraph, the more likely I am to become anxious and frustrated. To break free, I’ve turned to lessons learned in improv comedy workshops.

Improvisation—or “improv”—is a form of theater much of which is created on the fly, fueled by the exchanges of participants. It is sometimes used in business to help improve face-to-face communication, foster creative problem solving, and encourage teamwork. I employ improvisational techniques to enhance my ability to connect with readers and write copy that resonates.

Say “yes, and…” In this cardinal rule of improv, a participant must accept what’s said and build upon it. In my writing life, this means accentuating the positive. When countering an opposing view or the conventional wisdom, it can be tempting to “go negative.” When you accept a conflicting viewpoint, recognizing that some people embrace it, you can be more effective at making a case for the other side.

Listen. Improvisation demands active listening. To create a scene, you and your partner must concentrate on what the other says. In my writing, this means putting myself in the reader’s shoes. Before I write a single word, I profile my target audience, creating a representative individual I can keep in my mind’s eye as I work. For example, for an article about rising medical costs, I wrote thinking of a couple on the cusp of retirement, who were unaware of how big a bite health care could take out of their nest egg.

Add history. In improv, this means to create context. I consider it essential to good writing. Construct a framework, lead readers where you want them to go, and make sure they are able to recognize themselves and their situation. The pieces you produce should help people solve problems, respond to challenges, and move forward.

Less is better. In improv, silence often allows circumstances to reveal themselves. When writing, then, don’t bury readers in information. Try to keep the piece as concise as possible, while focusing on the issues that matter most. Learn to recognize when you’ve said enough.

Be specific. You build a scene in improv comedy by providing information that your partner can put to use. In my writing life, this means getting to the point. Don’t save the best for last!  Lead with what’s most important. Give readers what they need to gain understanding or to make the best possible decision. For instance, in a white paper that examined the problems with conventional asset allocation strategies, I sought ways to articulate—in real-life terms and backed by data—how a different investment approach would improve outcomes for investors.

Improvisational techniques have a valuable role to play in the writing process. I think they’ve made me a better writer. They certainly help me keep projects on track as I work to make strong and powerful impressions for my clients. Yes, and … they can do that for you too.

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