Ease in Writing
Writing Tips from Full Circle Communications
October 2009
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Ease in Writing?

"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

Foot step chartNote he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just as dance lessons can help get you around the floor with your partner more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two to improve how you and your organization communicate in writing.
How Long Will It Take to Write?
keyboard and stopwatchLast month, we looked at how to estimate the length of time to edit different products. This month,something even squishier: writing jobs.

Let's look at three common projects, bearing in mind, of course, that every assignment is different. Based on a few assumptions, how long might each take to complete?

Web content: 150 words
Assume you have to distill a 5- to 10-page report or article into a succinct piece with a couple of links. You are fairly familiar with the content. (Note: Sometimes being too familiar with it is a killer because you have a harder time figuring out what to leave out!) It might take about 2 hours to figure out your main points, write them in a web-friendly way, take a break while you do something else, then return and take out the excess words you missed the first time around.

As for short blog entries, Tweets, Facebook comments, LinkedIn status--let's assume 10 to 15 minutes per item, and that's very generous.

Magazine article: 1,500-2,000 words
Assume you have to write an "overview" article for an association magazine or newsletter. You need to conduct 6 phone interviews--figure 1.5 to 2 hours per interview, including preparing beforehand and transcribing or cleaning up your notes afterward. You do another 1 to 2 hours of web-based research. To then write 2 drafts of the article, I would estimate about 24 hours for the project.

Speech: 10 minutes
For a 10-minute speech that someone else will present, assume you need to write 1,000 to 1,500 words. You need to meet with the speaker (ideally) or the person making the assignment (1 hour). You need to research or synthesize potential content, and also analyze the person's speaking preferences (2 hours? depending on the source material). Ideally, you'll write an outline before going right into drafting the speech. Let's say 2 rounds of writing the speech, for about 8 to 10 hours in total.

You might have read this column and thought, "It takes way [longer/shorter] than that!" I agree completely. I've taken 5 or 6 hours to get through 1 hour of summarizing a meeting; I've whipped out web content in 20 minutes.

Each project has its unique quirks. That's a good thing. To deal with the variables, you can try to break down an assignment into pieces, then factor in a small percentage for contingencies. Consider the following:
  • Initial direction. Do you (and the person making the assignment) have a good understanding of the objectives of the piece, the intended audience, the tone? If not, it will take more time overall, as you struggle with how to organize the content and perhaps go through more renditions.
  • Research. Will you dig up sources or are they provided? If you need to look, can you do a straightforward Google search or is more involved searching required. How familiar is the topic to you?
  • Interviews. How many? In person or by phone? For a 30-minute phone interview, I estimate about 90 minutes, as noted above. Factor in time to set up the interview and, if needed, travel.
  • Length of the piece. Shorter does not always mean less time, but a 4-paragraph website article should take less time than a 2,000-word article with a few sidebars.
  • Number of iterations. I factor in 2 rounds of revisions for a writing assignment. But, like you, the "first draft" that I hand in is probably about my fifth draft on my computer, as I revise down to the push of the "send" button.
If you keep track of your hours, you'll know, over time, how long different types of projects may take. When I asked an experienced colleague, Joanne Lozar Glenn, for her opinion, she had some similar, but also a few different metrics. Writing Assistance, Inc., a staffing firm based in Minneapolis, estimates time for some technical, instructional design, and marketing projects on a downloadable chart. Tech-Writer.net also has guidelines for technical writing jobs. As for a poem? That's a whole other story!
 Creative Writing, on Deadline
pen and paperGreat literature may take years to write, but a fast pace can stimulate the creative juices. Who knows what you'll come up with?

Here are two ways to do that in the next few weeks:

SPARK: The next round of this exercise ("art from writing/writing from art") created by Amy Souza runs Oct. 21 to 30. Artists and writers trade work, then have 10 days to create an inspiration piece based on the work they receive from their partner. The works are published online, and Amy also organizes readings, exhibits, and other events for participants.

NaNoMo: November is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to complete a novel--not necessarily, or even probably a good novel--of 50,000 words in 30 days. (You can do the math for your daily writing quota.)
Attention, Authors!
Have you written a book or article? Do you have a communications-related blog or newsletter? I would love to share the information with others. Let me know what you have created. I'll write about it (and link to it) in another issue of this newsletter.