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Writing Is Hard

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU May 11, 2021

You sit down at your desk, look at your computer, and breathe a heavy sigh knowing you are, once again, entering unto the breach, forced to complete one of the most naggingly mundane, while at the same time difficult, tasks in the business world.

It's time to write something … again. You need to put together a memo or a report or an email or a note or a blog post (sorry, put myself in that last one) and, quite simply, your worn out from writing enough memos, reports, emails, notes, etc. to fill the Library of Alexandria. And if the same fate befell your collection as did the writings contained in that fabled library, you cannot imagine the same rending of garments over their destruction. In fact, you know you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who cared.

Well, I'm not going to convince you that every word you, me, or any other business person writes is worth the time and effort it would take to burn the papyrus upon which it is recorded. However, we live in a world and profession of communication. And, like it or not, the primary mode of such communication is the written word.

So what is a poor auditor to do, except for sing in a rock and roll band. (And, for the great majority of us, that ship has sailed.)

When faced with the blank screen (and in some instances, a blank mind) the first question should be "Is this communication really necessary?", followed in short order by question No. 2, "Is this the best way to communicate the information?"

We waste a lot of time writing emails, reports, memos, etc., sharing information that, when you get right down to it, ain't really all that important. It is just that the email, report, memo, etc., is our fallback approach. So, we fall back on it. And, even when something is worth communicating, falling back on the written word may not be the best approach.

One time an auditor was complaining that a client was not answering emails. My boss replied with a line that has been forever emblazoned in my memory: "Pick up the damn phone!" (Note that the boss was not the type to use such language, so the emblazonment was even more permanent.)

Lesson 1: Don't write just to write.

Lesson 2: Writing isn't always the best way to communicate.

And that leads to what may actually be the most important question/issue. Let's say the report/memo/email/note/blog post is something that must be written. There is something worth communicating and the best approach is through the written word. This leads to the next question: Are you approaching the task of written communication as another step in the process of getting your work done, or are you genuinely trying to communicate a critical thought, concept, or idea — something that must be shared as a key to success for the project, department, or organization?

Here is Tom Peters talking about presentations:

Never ever, ever, ever, give a presentation unless you are literally desperate to make your point.

Face it, written communication is a presentation. No, you're not literally orating in front of a crowd, but the reader is hearing what you have to say — a presentation of the mind. And, if you have decided (or it has been decided for you; yes, I know how these things go) that you will use written communication, then you must find the point you are "literally desperate to make."

You have to find the passion that underlies what you are going to write.

Is "Passion" a little too strong a word for you? Maybe "desperation" strikes you as a little melodramatic? Well, then how about something as simple as being engaged. Another quote, this one from Mary Ruefle from her strange little book Madness, Rack, and Honey:

Every time you write an unengaged letter, you are wasting another opportunity to be a writer.

Let's broaden that to fit our situation. Every time you write anything without engagement, you are wasting another opportunity to communicate and connect.

Finally, let's wrap this up in a neat, little bow with a quote from Joseph Conrad in the introduction to one of his novellas.

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.

Allow me one final modification to fit our situation. Our task, by the power of the written word, is to make you hear, make you feel, make you see, and to make you take action.

There is a mantra for every report, memo, email, note, and word you write as an internal auditor. (And maybe even a mantra for the occasional blog post.)

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.