Have a purpose
Purpose, relevancy, and ideas in business writing
In the 1987 comedy, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, stressed marketing executive, Neal Page (Steve Martin), is reluctantly trapped in a shared hotel room with an optimistic and talkative curtain-ring salesman, Del Griffith (John Candy). Del mindlessly can’t stop talking about the mundane and boring details of his life. Eventually Neal loses his cool. After a long tirade, he shouts, “And here’s another thing: Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”
Business writing has a purpose. If you don’t define it, you run the risk of distraction and irrelevancy.
Many businesspeople want their books to demonstrate expertise, generate new business leads, or position themselves in a new niche. Others want to leave a legacy, tell their corporate history, or expand their influence. These are fine reasons to write a book.
But it’s worthwhile taking time to create a specific purpose statement for any communication. Everything else will flow from that. Whether you’re writing a book, speeches, or blog posts, write down the result you want to achieve.
How will your purpose deliver value for you, your readers, your customers, and your organization?
You may have interesting ideas. You may know what you want to say. You may have already written content. But have you considered how such material will translate into action by your target audience? Your purpose is directly related to your defined readership. That’s why it’s important to identify your ideal reader.
What does your ideal business-book reader profile look like? What keeps your ideal reader up at night? What does he or she want to learn and achieve?
“Oh! Lots of people will be interested in my book,” I hear you say. That may be true. But it avoids thinking deeply about your ideal reader. Who are you not writing for? If you don’t identify your ideal reader, you can’t address his or her concerns.
A business author is writing for a specific niche. The general audience is unlikely to want to know the details of how to buy and sell small businesses. If your purpose is to develop new consulting engagements, only those people with the power or influence to hire you matter.
Ask yourself this: Why should my target audience care about what I have to say? In what way is my book relevant to them? How will my book change my reader’s outlook? And what will that new perspective cause them to do?
Writing a one-sentence statement of why your communication is relevant will keep you on track. A long-form book is a collection of smaller integrated units; chapters, headings, subheadings. It’s easy for a writer to find something interesting and go off on a tangent.
Interesting isn’t necessarily relevant, but relevancy should be interesting. Ask yourself: How is what I’m writing relevant to my reader? Is it aligned with my purpose?
For centuries philosophers have been pondering where ideas come from. You’ve probably noticed that you don’t think up the words you will say, and then speak them. What actually happens is you experience your own speech and thought instantaneously.
Ideas can simmer below the surface of consciousness for a long time before they emerge into the light of day. They are influenced by environment, what you read, people you meet, your thought patterns, what you hear.
Nothing exists until it’s written down, in the world of written communication. Thoughts can be slippery. They can vanish in an instant, so that’s why carrying a small notebook, or digital recorder, and capturing ideas can be a new source of creativity and reflection.
Writers write, they don’t just think about writing. While a perfectionist proof reader or copy editor may be a good thing, perfectionism can be the death knell for writers. I’ve written elsewhere about the benefit of writing badly. So, here is an exercise to help you overcome writer’s block, often caused by perfectionism. And it might just generate some new ideas.
Warm-up writing exercise
Athletes stretch. Musicians play scales. Actors practice vocal exercises. A “five-minute warm up” is a pre-writing exercise. Your communication effort has a purpose. This exercise is different. It has no overt purpose other than to get you writing and put words on (virtual) paper. It’s not about content or outcome.
Write anything and everything that comes to mind for five minutes, don’t stop, don’t judge, and don’t edit. Set a timer. Not stopping is integral to this exercise because it breaks the habit of thinking and then writing down those thoughts. After a while, you’ll think on paper.
No one will see the results of your writing exercise. It’s just for you. The purpose isn’t to produce beautiful prose, but to get you writing. If you don’t know what to write, write down, “I don’t know what to write.” But keep going. I like to do this exercise with paper and pencil, but it’s just as effective using a keyboard or dictating.
Happiness is elusive if you go after it directly. The more you actively pursue it, the more it evades capture. However, happiness often occurs as a byproduct of something else. In the same way, don’t look for new ideas to emerge in this warm-up process. Just write. You are having a private conversation with yourself, on paper.
You can’t force new ideas into your head, you have to be open to them. In a more receptive state, ideas occasionally burst into being. Those ideas can form a chain reaction and stimulate further ideas.
For this exercise, content doesn’t matter. People tell me they find this exercise liberating. If you do this exercise for five minutes each day for 14 days, please contact me and let me know your results.
Five minutes a day is a worthwhile investment in improving your writing. And who knows what ideas may emerge?
- What’s my purpose?
- How is what I want to say relevant to my audience?
- How will I generate ideas?