Do you freeze when you look at a blank screen? You're not alone. Writer's block is a problem for perfectionists. It comes from thinking you have to get it right first time. The good news is that even great writers don't get it perfect first time either. Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, said, "When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth." You need to start with a very simple plan of the kind that suits you and then you need to write what Californian author, Anne Lamott, calls 'a shitty first draft'.
Winston Churchill wrote a memo to his War Cabinet during WWll, which is still relevant today for anyone working in government or business:
"To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent looking for the essential points.
I ask my colleagues and their staff to see to it that their reports are shorter.
The aim should be reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
If a report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an appendix.
Let us end such phrases as these:
'It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations', or 'Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect'. Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short, expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.
Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking."
Winston Churchill, 9 August 1940
When Churchill encouraged a conversational style, he set a trend for writing in government and in business even to today. But sometimes it's hard to work out exactly what is acceptable as conversational writing at work. For example, you almost certainly don't write the way you talk after seven beers in the pub on Friday night. And you don't use text language or emoticons. Some writers suggest you use the language you use
when talking to your Mum. That will usually result in courteous, clear, grammatical language.
You can't know it all. Even professional writers have to look things up – the good ones do it a lot. You need a good dictionary (the Macquarie for work, if you're Australian) and a grammar book you feel comfortable with. The two most battered and coffee-stained books on my desk are:
Style manual. For authors, editors and printers. Sixth edition. John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd, 2002. (It tells you great things like how to lay out dot points and when you should use capital letters. )
The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage, Pam Peters, Cambridge University Press, 2007. (Find out how to use 'however' in a sentence or check the difference between 'affect' and 'effect'.