...writing for "the bottom line"

"How do you get so many ideas to write about?" Every now and then I am asked this question, especially at events such as NSHMBA's or by my students who know about this or other publications I write.

I thought I would share some of my ''secrets" with you this month. They're not rocket science but if they help you publish an article or two, I'll feel very satisfied. Besides, you might have noticed on NSHMBA's webpage that your articles are always welcome!

1) Define the purpose of your piece. Probably the first thing a writer has to do is make an explicit choice as to what she or he wants to say. Do you want to share an experience you've had? Or a lesson learned that could be helpful to others? Persuade readers about your views? Call them to action? Some articles can have multiple purposes, but they tend to be easier to write -and read!- when you have one primary purpose and maybe one or two secondary ones.

2) Make an 'appointment with yourself' to write.
Whether you are writing a 600-word column like this, a longer essay or an opinion piece, a book or a dissertation, you need to give yourself some time in front of your word processor. I know some individuals who prefer a notepad or a typewriter, but the medium is not as important as the fact of allocating a good block of uninterrupted time, far away from TV, telephones, and other distractions, including email or your web browser.

2) Write early, write often.
Another suggestion I have read from very productive writers is to start your workday writing, before anyone else in your household is up. I have never been able to follow this particular advice, but I have noticed that the earlier in the day I start writing an article -as opposed to first checking email or attending meetings--, the more likely I will be able to express my thoughts clearly and get more writing done.

3) Carry a notepad at all times.
Inspiration for articles does not always come at a regularly scheduled time. I borrowed this practice from a fellow MBA student several years ago, but now I use my PDA to jot down a few ideas that I later finish on a more robust word processor. Corrections, editions and improvements are now easier, in addition to not wasting time while I wait for a service or for the kids to finish one of their lessons.

4) Have a friend proofread your piece.
It's easy to get 'tunnel vision' when you're writing. To increase the chances that your article will come across as you desire, have a friend, colleague, or family member read and comment. After he or she tells you what they understood, ask questions that help you refine the piece. For example, you might want to ask whether the tone is as interesting, funny, technical, useful, relevant, or any other characteristic that is important to you. Connect with the first suggestion, above!

5) Rewrite with moderation. There's as much foolishness in believing that the first draft is perfect and not susceptible to improvement as there is in postponing its submission after five different versions have been received acceptably by your proofreaders. Give yourself a deadline or set up a defined number of versions you'll go through and send it!

6) So, how do you get so many ideas to write about? Well, I guess 'one at the time,'... There are some months when I struggle to find ideas and others that I get two columns started. But I try to be ready to grab them when they come by using some of the advice above. Finally,...

7) Enjoy reading your piece in print! Chances are that you'll benefit from adding your publication to your vita. If you are ever interested in teaching a class in a school of business or community college or in writing for a magazine or a newspaper, the more short columns you have written -or longer articles-, the better!

8) Your suggestions? As always, please send me your thoughts to my email address, drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com. I will gladly summarize and post them in the near future! And remember, Michael Beachum, at NSHMBA’s headquarters is permanently looking forward to members’ submission!