Erin Kurup, Editor & Idea Architect for Care-Fueled Entrepreneurs

Erin Kurup, Editor & Idea Architect for Care-Fueled Entrepreneurs

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Did You Know You’re a Translator? (You Totally Are.)

pen-notebook-keyboardAs solo and small business owners, we can’t escape writing. Like it or not, it’s part of what we do.

We send our message out into the world via email, social media, blog posts, newsletters, ebooks, podcast and video scripts, and website copy.

We even use writing to keep ourselves on track. Notes to self? To-do lists? Business goals? Morning pages? For-your-eyes-only brain dumps? Writing, writing, writing.

How do you feel about this thing you do so often?

Is writing a chore for you? Something you dread? Just one more thing on your to-do list to get through?

Many of us write so much that it starts to seem pretty commonplace. It’s just another thing we do. Or, it’s a thing we know we have to do, even if we don’t want to.


Let’s put a little magic back in the craft of writing.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a proper author, even if all you’re doing is writing tweets and to-do lists, writing is still a craft. It’s yours to practice and hone as you see fit.

I have an analogy that I think might help shift your perspective.

Imagine a translator sitting down to work. We’ll call her Sue.

woman-writingSue must take words in the original language and run them through all the knowledge and experience and context she’s built up about both languages and their associated cultures.

Then she needs to put together something coherent in the target language that expresses the original message as accurately as she can.

Whew. Sounds like a feat only highly trained people with lots of linguistic know-how can pull off.

It’s also what you do every time you sit down to write, whether you realize it or not.

Which brings us to the magic:

Writing is a form of translation.

Sit with that for a minute. Let it sink in. Go back and read it again. (Heck, tweet it if you’re so inclined.)

You begin with something in your own head. It could be a statistic, an observation, a question, an idea, a task. That’s like the original message Sue starts with. Your thought is just hanging out, bouncing around in your grey matter, not doing a whole lot of good. It’s messy, private, and hard to pin down.

On top of that, even though we assume our thoughts are verbal, they’re not. They’re actually a mashup of associations, impulses, beliefs, feelings, experiences, and connotations. What all of that needs is a recognizable shape in which to go out into the world, something the people you’re writing for will understand. Your job when you write is to fashion a form for your thought.

Here’s where the translation comes in.

magnetic-poetryTo get the thought out of your head and into your target language — written English for me, as I draft this post – you have to run it through all those same filters Sue uses. You have to decide which words will give your message the truest form, based on what you know about yourself, your readers, and the languages you’re using.

Just like for Sue, the words you choose to clothe your message in will shape how your readers perceive it. That’s true even if the person you’re writing for is yourself. Your skill at this translation process determines how effectively you communicate your idea.

It’s worth appreciating this talent you have.

It doesn’t matter whether you feel like a great writer or not. It doesn’t matter how fast you are at the translation process, or how many times you have to revise what you write, or even whether you enjoy the act of writing. Just being able to make the mess in your head comprehensible to other human beings is a seriously impressive feat.

And we run through this process hundreds of times a day without realizing it. It’s natural. It’s a habit. It’s a skill you can practice and improve. And you have to admit, it’s pretty cool.

The first step toward developing your writing skills is to notice and appreciate what you’re already doing.

Once you’re conscious of what’s going on when you write, you can start applying intention to improve what you need to improve. Is it speed? Word choice? Fluency? Clarity? Whatever your goal is, start by watching the process unfold and see what you can learn about the way you do it. Then go from there.

The magic is already there. You just have to learn to use it on purpose.

Photos adapted from the CC-licensed work of Pete O’Shea, enmanuel, and Steve Johnson.

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