In the summer of this nearly-spent year, my wife and I moved into our “forever home”: the one from which we intend to be carried in box or bag when that time comes (decades in the future, God willing). We’ll never move again. And it's a wonderful feeling.
The process of moving into one’s forever home differs from the cross-town, intra-state, and inter-state moves of our past. There’s no longer any point to stowing boxes onto storage shelves “for later.” Every box, in due time, must be opened and challenged with discriminating eyes, its contents either preserved or discarded with merciless disregard for sentiment – if only to prevent our children from having to pore over masses of useless material once that time comes. Just as I have done.
We have a ponderous amount of clutter: boxes and boxes of books (some of which are gathered in the photo above for donation), plus stacks of papers, photographs, 35mm slides, paintings, tokens, knick-knacks, and a number of corporate promotional items, like an LCD clock from a decades-ago sales kickoff where the display flashes “SELL” off and on.
But as I dug deeper into the detritus that has gathered around us for decades, I found three small boxes filled with papers from my youth.
They include a stack of handwritten letters dating from the days before email, when long distance phone calls were expensive and letter writing was the most cost-effective form of communication. They were letters from school friends and friends from church and family, all of them focused on matters mundane. (No ribbon-wrapped love letters made their way to that young man.)
There is the college work of a youth and aspiring writer. Spiral notebooks from California community colleges I’d attended as I began my journey through higher education on a budget. And notes, study papers, essays, and more from my demanding (but ultimately merciful) professors at the University of Redlands.
To look at the positive: these papers are reminders of how much I’ve learned as I’ve practiced my craft. I’ve striven to banish personality and pretense, allowing my writing to seep into the background. My goal is for business ideas to become the focus, not stylistic trills from an immature writer.
Today, as a business writer of some experience, each communication must meet certain self-imposed criteria:
Is it fit for purpose?
Is it aligned with brand, voice, and business strategy?
Is it being produced on time and within plan?
Does it, in the interest of consistency, follow a style guide?
Does it meet my own personal style and quality standards for syntax, spelling, grammar, and word choice?
And I’ve learned to consistently seek out and cherish that most important of considerations for any communication:
Clarity is so difficult to achieve against the cacophony of human context through which messages are filtered and filtered yet again.
I wasn’t born with writing skill. My papers make that amply clear. I’ve had to learn my craft through years of study, practice, and application. And no matter the level of one’s skill, it is hard – so hard – to write for an outcome when our ability to perceive the meaning of language, written or spoken, is dominated by the contexts of our readers: their history, education, training, language, culture, personal motives, their perceptions of organizational missions and messages – and vastly more variables, none of which I as a writer control.
But as writers we’re called upon, not to control, but to evoke. To transmit. And to seek clarity.
At last, from the comfort of my forever-home office (that dormered room on the left), I share this personal writer's maxim:
Strive for clarity with everyone, and live at peace with all.*
*In the interest of properly citing my sources -- a lesson that was eventually hammered in during my early years -- the statement above is my writer's maxim, heavily paraphrased from Hebrews 12:14. Here's the original in the English Standard Version: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”