3x3: Three Experts Answer Three Questions on Writing
Working in the communications field, writing — of emails, press releases, reports, memos, and pitches — becomes your bread and butter. Full Court Press sought out different approaches to writing, from experts in three different fields, to consider how writing differs in different industries, how young people can up their game and prepare for career success by improving their writing, and how we can continue to stay fresh and creative in our own approach to writing.
Thanks to our experts:
Matthias Gafni, @mgafni — Matthias Gafni is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the Bay Area News Group. He has reported and edited for Bay Area newspapers since he graduated from UC Davis, covering courts, crime, environment, science, child abuse, education, county and city government, and corruption.
Akilah Monifa, @Kiki_Thinks — Akilah Monifa is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder/Co-Publisher of ARISE 2.0, a digital global publication with news, issues, and opinions impacting the LGBTQ of color community and allies. She also is a contributor for The Huffington Post, Progressive Media Project, and Divorced Moms. She has published two e-books, both collections of her essays.
Dan Cohen, @dcstpaul — Dan is a veteran public relations, political communications and media strategist. He founded Full Court Press Communications in 2001 with a vision of providing public relations, public affairs and crisis counsel to companies, foundations and nonprofits who wish to use strategic communications to make social change.
First, if you were to choose one thing to teach young people about writing now, what do you think will be the most important thing for them to know?
Matthias Gafni, Journalist, Bay Area News Group: It’s all about details, details, details. To properly create a narrative and draw readers in you need specifics. To get such details, you need to ask sources or subjects for those details. You were listening to music when you heard the explosion? OK, what song were you listening to? That’s what brings stories alive. To improve your writing, don’t get caught in a rut. Experiment. Try a different approach for a similar topic.
Akilah Monifa, Founder and Editor, ARISE 2.0: My advice would be to read, write, rewrite, and self-edit as much as possible. Everything: read movie credits, instructions, books, magazines, billboards — just read. Write regularly, even if you don’t know what to write, even if you just write “I have writer’s block and this is stupid and doesn’t make sense.” Continuing to work on the craft of writing is one of the biggest challenges of writing.
Dan Cohen, Founder, Full Court Press Communications: My advice would be to start to write with an audience in mind. What does your reader need to see or hear in order for them to engage? Make time to improve. I’m not much for diary keeping, but any form of writing, practiced continually, will have the dual benefit of skill building and personal growth. Finally, reading is essential for improving writing. So keep your library card or Kindle active.
The medium in which we read and write is changing and technologizing — has writing changed with it? How will it change/stay relevant moving forward?
MG: Obviously technology has changed how we consume words, and also how we write. Practically speaking, stories now often are kept shorter to be consumed more easily on mobile devices. However, I think the fundamental aspects of good writing will remain. You are trying to tell a story. You are trying to tell a compelling story. That won’t change even if you write it from your phone and your reader reads it on her watch.
AM: Writing is the same regardless of the medium. Basic rules of grammar still apply and the key is the ability to tell a story and communicate effectively.
DC: Now, business writing must be available across lots of different platforms — on a screen, on an even smaller screen, and on a piece of paper. Our goal is to make sure we get our point across succinctly, such that it engages the reader wherever we find them.
How do you see reading and writing being used as a tool for social change?
MG: Words are powerful. There’s a reason why #FakeNews is used to try and “de-legitimize” a piece of information, or why citizens of a nation are barred from viewing a certain website. Obviously there are partisan websites and news producers that can create change, but they often have limited impact. They usually just reach audiences that already think a certain way. The true change will come from words written from unbiased vantage points that shine the light on issues.
AM: Social change starts with education, and reading is fundamental to education. Writing/communicating/storytelling is an essential method of social change after education.
DC: Social change is about storytelling. Simple, but true. Telling powerful stories and providing readers with a path to engage with the stories is our priority. The hardest leap is to pivot the reader from engaging with the story to taking a desired action. Making that as seamless as possible is crucial to success.