The other day I was talking to a friend who’s struggling to learn a foreign language. Like most people who start down that road, she understands much more of the language than she speaks.
In fact she struggles to speak at all. Partly it’s a matter of confidence (“is that really the right word?”), but a lot of her trouble stems from not wanting to make a fool of herself, not have people look at her as though she’s an idiot (she’s not). It’s not uncommon.
But if you think about it, when we hear foreign visitors trying to speak English we can usually work out what they’re trying to get at, even when their grammar is far from perfect and they’re not always choosing exactly the right word.
I told my friend a wee story:
When we were doing our house conversion, we had a Polish builder on site. We pointed out one afternoon that something wasn’t quite right; it was late in the day so he wasn’t about to start sorting it out. Instead he said, “Tomorrow fix”.
Now that may not be great grammar, but it’s completely unambiguous. We wouldn’t have been any better informed if he’d said “OK, no problem, we’ll fix it tomorrow”.
“Tomorrow fix” became a catch-phrase for the remainder of the build!
What has that got to do with writing for your business?
When people tell me they struggle to start writing, I often suggest they use the “tomorrow fix” system. By that I mean, write what they want to say just as it comes out.
So was I wrong to bang on, as I have done so many times, about good grammar being important? Am I contradicting myself?
I firmly believe that good written grammar is important if you want people to take you seriously in business (good verbal grammar is too, but less so; you can get away with saying “tomorrow fix”, just not with writing it – in your native language, at least).
But you’ve probably heard the expressions “Good enough is good enough” and “Perfection is the enemy of action”. I believe they’re true. Don’t let trying to get your writing perfect first time get in the way of doing it at all. Perfect grammar and precisely-nuanced vocabulary aren’t important in a first draft.
Just start writing. Then, once you’ve written everything you want to say, edit it. That’s when “tomorrow fix” becomes “we’ll fix it tomorrow”.
(That’s when a translation turns into proper English, too. I’m currently working on a web site for a client who imports goods from Italy. The “English” on the suppliers’ sites is a direct translation from the Italian; it’s not good English. They stopped at the “just start writing” phase, and didn’t edit. Maybe there’s an opening for me there…!)
So if you’re letting “tomorrow fix” writing get in the way of communicating with your customers, don’t. Write whatever comes out. Then get your metaphorical blue pencil out and edit it into shape. You can take as long as you need over that process.
It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Some of the top copywriters in the world write the whole of their first draft, however many pages that is, without allowing themselves to edit, so that nothing impedes the flow of creativity. Very little of the draft may survive the first edit, but they will at least have got their ideas on paper and can shape them properly afterwards.
It can feel like a lot of hard work, as though you’re writing the whole thing twice (or more), but it’s worth it. If you’ve never tried it, it’s also curiously liberating. Give it a try – and let me know how you get on.