From the moment I could form wobbly letters with my stubby right hand, writing stories has been my primary passion.
In fact, it’s informed my entire career — from studying journalism at the University of Oregon and working as a reporter, to serving today as President of BookBaby, the nation’s eminent self-publishing company. I’ve always found pleasure in the art of writing, the miracle of creation, the joy of conceiving a world inside your head and nurturing and translating it into something real and tangible. My love for that act has inspired me in every important career decision I’ve made.
But far from mere inspiration, writing creatively — something I still do every day — has benefited me tangibly, too.
In fact, it’s made me a better CEO.
There are a variety of reasons why that is.
First, the act of writing is inherently inspiring. To say nothing of the gratitude, wisdom, and increased empathy which daily creative writing habits build, I find that on a day when I’m grappling with a particularly stubborn problem or issue, setting aside some time to write has the effect of clearing my mind. Moreover, it boosts my creative abilities — so much so that when I return to the original problem, I’m able to perceive it with fresh eyes and a more open mind.
And that’s when the answer I’ve been searching for comes.
Beyond problem solving, however, I’ve found the ability to write cogently and effectively to be a critical skill to possess. It gives you the ability to motivate others, empathize with employees, and connect with customers. In this sense, it’s a skill that separates great CEOs from average ones.
The personal benefits of writing, too, are critical — perhaps more now than ever.
Every one of us in today’s 280-character world are living disjointed, fragmented lives.
Our attention spans are fragmented. The amount of responsibilities vying for our attention are ever-increasing. More and more, we invest only fractions of our minds to each individual task we work to complete — and the result is final products of compromised quality.
This is especially true of CEOs.
But that’s why it’s doubly important for CEOs to set aside time every day to write; creative writing is the perfect antidote for a digitally-splintered mind. The craft necessitates prolonged periods of intense and purposeful focus, windows of time wherein you’re forced to ignore email, Twitter, Facebook, and TV.
To write well, you have to immerse yourself fully in the project at hand. And unlike other tasks that require such focus, writing puts your entire brain to work — both the left and right sides, the creative and the more strategic. In this sense, creative writing — taking an idea from conception to creation — is like calisthenics for the brain.
And the benefits of that exercise are numerous and invaluable.
When you write every day, you’ll find yourself becoming not only more creative, but you’ll recapture the ability to focus on individual tasks or problems. You’ll find yourself able to think and operate more empathetically, too, as imagining the lives and predicaments of other characters and people translates directly to better connecting with your customers and better understanding what drives the people who work for you.
Of course, there are challenges to writing every day.
For one thing, CEOs all lack one resource that proves very important to building a daily writing habit: time.
In my own life, I rarely suffer from writer’s block. That’s hardly ever the primary impediment to my writing. More problematic by far is the sheer lack of time I have available during the day.
For most writers, writing doesn’t happen spontaneously. Personally, it takes me a few hours to really get myself into the sort of mental space I need to occupy in order to be creative. And writing is not something you can do once or twice a week, either. Improving your writing ability is a matter of diligence, routine, and daily persistence.
Now, I know what you’re asking: how in the world is a CEO supposed to dedicate multiple hours a day — amidst the hurricane of other responsibilities swirling around them — to sitting down and writing alone?
Ultimately, it amounts to investing in yourself.
Similar to how you might block out time in your schedule to go to the gym, or network at night, or spend quality time with family, you owe it to yourself to block out time for your creative development and focus, too.
It might seem like a lot up front. But most CEOs are highly organized and disciplined. You should have no trouble creating the space and time needed to make this a priority. And, simply put, if you do, you’ll be a better CEO, leader, and person for it.
Consider this a call to arms.
Too often, us CEOs find ourselves mired in Excel spreadsheets, emails, conference calls — and that’s when we’re not distracted by the computers in our pockets. We neglect our creative abilities, deny ourselves the opportunity to flex our empathy muscles. And when we do that, we inadvertently make ourselves less effective.
I say it’s time we reject this status quo. Invest in your creativity and in your writing ability. I know doing so has made me a better CEO. Hell, it’s made me a better person — all the way from elementary school to the office in which I’m sitting in now.
I imagine it will for you, too.