Much of my current work consists of me writing texts in reply to certain questions by certain parties (can I be any more vague? Yes I can.). These texts are in answer to concrete questions, but must also contain content that answer the query behind the question (hopefully).
Tender, or bid-management is mostly focused on answering direct questions while at the same time painting a glowing picture of who you are as a company and shining through why anyone would be lucky to work with you. There’s a lot of layers to this, as you might understand, and that makes it a complex task. Especially since most of the questions asked during these tenders could easily be answered in bookform – but now have to be brought back to two pages (or some other impossible restriction).
This type of (commercial) writing – is entirely new to me.
And I’m finding out more and more how difficult and unnatural it can be, and how it requires a whole new set of skills which I previously had no knowledge of.
Writing – to me – has always been a very easy process. It has a flow and types of goals that I’ve always been able to lose myself in quite easily. It’s why I have never had trouble ‘producing‘ lots and lots of text. It just comes naturally, writing things down. So much so, that being told that this is a talent, or gift or something out of the ordinary feels completely foreign to me. Yet, I have heard this repeatedly throughout my life. (Thank you to those kind folk who provided me with this pat on the shoulder, btw!)
But I’ve not yet found that same ease in creating these texts for work. It’s been a challenge. Mostly because a lot of it consists of editing, re-editing and shortening the words that I put to paper. And I couldn’t quite work my way to the core of why I’ve been struggling with that.
In the past I have asked folk who complimented me on my writing as to what made them compliment-worthy to them. It was very rarely the topics, or the wisdom in the writing itself that they answered with, but some ‘je ne sais-quoi‘-esque reply. It just ‘captivates‘ or ‘leest lekker weg’. There is just something in the way my texts spill off the page that tends to draw in others. Or so I’m told (wouldn’t want to be called an egocentrical narcissistic maniacal monster….again 😉 ).
This week is when I finally put things together. We were in a review session with a group of 4. These usually consist of me reading the text aloud while others let the words and meaning sink in and provide comments on how to improve it. And when I read my own writings up to someone else, I do it in the rhythm and flow that they’re meant to be read in. ‘My way‘.
Three times during this session – one of my colleagues had a comment on a line they’d written down before the meeting – that they revoked because now that I read it aloud ‘it totally made sense‘. Because (as I have a habit of writing quite wordy and comma-riddled sentences) the way I brought it made the sentence sound different than they’d read it at first. Weird!
At some point I figured it out, though. The ‘why‘ behind why what I write usually works (damn that’s a lot of w’s), and why it didn’t now. It’s rhythm. Me and this person had what I call a rhythm mismatch. Which is inevitably how you lose your audience. If your rhythm doesn’t match – they check out.
When you read in ‘their‘ rhythm, a writers writings can feel ‘right‘ to a reader. You get what they’re getting at, and where they’re going. They give off the (good kind) of energy. Words ebb and flow in sentences that stick. Reading through (even lengthier) texts is not a chore but a natural process (I hope, at least). Everything just makes sense. Feels right. And I think my writings tend to have a rhythm that’s (apparently) appealing to a lot of people. Enough to get through to the end, at least.
When you have a different rhythm than the person whose work you’re reading – you get lost. You have to read and reread passages. The story-line doesn’t stay with you. You get question marks where there shouldn’t be any. There’s no pleasure in the choice of words of the impact they make on you. You can’t work your way through it, even though you might want to. ‘Het is niet om door te komen’.
I had this VERY strongly with Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings AND with Martin and his Game of Thrones. I couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters in either, on my first attempts. Only after forcing myself to keep reading and eventually catching on to their (different sort of) rhythm, did I get invested in those stories. And I have this with my own ‘commercial’ writing.
Having to fit text on a certain number of pages means ‘killing your darlings‘. It means cutting out sentences, phrases or words. Scratching content. Shifting things around to fit a line better. And I’ve fucking always hated that. I write what I write because that’s the way I want it written. Having to go back and revisit and edit sentences means that I’m fucking up my rhythm. I’m fucking up the way the sentence was meant to be read, and the way it was meant to fit in the whole. Making something fit to a page, makes it no longer fit in my head. And THAT’s where I struggle.
Now that I’ve had that realization, though – I’ve switched to a different tactic and found myself making a lot more progress a lot more easily. Instead of trying to filter out words to shorter sentences that need shortening – I take it out and replace it with a ‘new’ sentence with the right rhythm but less words. By honoring my own needs in regards to flow of text – I’m avoiding getting stuck on the choice of (removing) a word. Hallelujah moment.
Because if there’s one thing to be said about me, writing and the things I write?
I’m a slave to the rhythm.