When I was a lousy writer

This is what I remember about my writing before I became a reasonably skilled writer.

  • As a high school student, I had a hard time understanding the use of footnotes. Luckily, earning a Ph.D. in Japanese history forced me to learn. In one seminar, my professor recalled students’ books to check the quality of our citations and our translations from English to Japanese.
  • I overused initial capitals in job titles. My Ph.D. thesis advisor drummed that out of me as I discuss in “Do you use ‘pride capitals’?
  • I believed that I had to write out all of the evidence before I expressed an opinion. I didn’t know that I could engage readers by stating my opinion before building my case.
  • My laborious attempts at speaking and writing Japanese instilled empathy in me for those who struggle to express themselves. I lacked subtlety in Japanese. Sometimes I felt as if I were trying to slice a loaf of bread with an axe.
  • I used too many words. I hate to think about how the Hemingway tool, which I described in “Free help for wordy writers!”  would grade my Ph.D dissertation.
  • I used lots of passive verbs. In other words, many passive verbs were used by me because I wasn’t taught to know any better.

How did I overcome these weaknesses?

  • Working with a writing coach while I was a staff reporter at Dalbar’s Mutual Fund Market News (now Money Management Executive)
  • Taking many writing classes that involved lots of feedback on my writing
  • Participating in a monthly writing group
  • Writing a lot—both for clients and on my blog
  • Reading about good writing and absorbing some of the lessons by blogging about them

By the way, except for my work with a writing coach at Dalbar, little of my process was specific to financial services.

Inspiration for this post

This post was inspired by “Remembrances of Being a Little Fat,” a chapter in Tina Fey’s Bossypants. The chapter consists of two sentences, plus a long list of bullet points.

This is more proof that non-financial sources can help your financial writing.

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