Friday, July 22, 2011

Things That Made Me A Better Writer

There have been several things I've done in my life. Three out of the four I listed below have aided me in strengthening my writing craft. Which one is the exception?
  1. Amazon review writing

  2. Editorial letter writing

  3. Songwriting

  4. Toastmasters

Have you made your selection? Okay, let me eliminate the options one by one.

Of course, Amazon review writing is not the exception. Writing honest reviews first encourages me to read. Then, it motivates me to interact. I'm also being trained to see what works and what doesn't so I can apply the lessons learned. For those interested, I've written 452 reviews at this moment.

Likewise, editorial letter writing is another way to strengthen one's writing. It forces you to get to the point quickly. Additionally, being creative in how you express yourself increases your chances of being published. I've been multi-published in both the Nashville Tennessean and the Indianapolis Star. In fact, I got paid for having a letter selected by the Tennessean for being the three star letter of the day. A check for $4 and a nice fancy dinner.

That leaves songwriting and Toastmasters. Obviously, songwriting is writing. Toastmasters on the other hand focuses on oral communication and leadership skills. So if you selected Toastmasters as being the one that does not belong, you are incorrect.

I will concede that songwriting has not hurt. Writing lyrics is writing poetry and writing poetry helps you write stronger prose. Also, I've learned that to succeed as a professional Christian songwriter (one who writes songs as a living rather than one who sings those songs), the rules for marketability are the same. However, from that point on, they are two different animals. I have written a few hundred songs, none published and most of them forgotten.

How does Toastmasters help my writing? There is more in common between written and oral communication than you would guess. On one hand, the most effective prepared speeches have been well written. On the other hand, the most effective writing has a voice that sounds like someone is speaking it.

A Toastmasters meeting has three parts to it, all of which relate to writing. First, there's the prepared speeches. Some of the projects, especially in the advanced manual, can help with your writing. For example, there are manuals on Interpretive Reading and Storytelling. Also, one speech in the Speeches By Management manual instructs you to write out your speech in a way that it sounds like a spoken speech rather than a written. I did that project once and had that manual lost before I received credit for it, so I did that same project a second time.

The second part is impromptu speaking, termed Tabletopics. The Topicsmaster of the meeting asks the other members questions, and with no prep the member answers with a 1-2 minute speech. This helps you think on your feet, a skill that helps with creative writing. Additionally, this helps with interviews/elevator speeches which the author might have to give.

The third section is evaluations. Though not called critiques, a good critique is not unlike a good Toastmaster evaluation. The evaluator points out what the speaker has done well, and also gives them areas they can improve on.

I have earned my Distinguished Toastmaster Award in 2008, the highest achievement possible with the organization (though some have multiple DTMs). But my benefit has not come only from my active participation in giving speeches and evaluating my peers. It also has come from listening to speeches. You will notice different voices, which aids in writing dialog.

Naturally, you also have a wide variety of speeches. I've observed persuasive, informative, interpretive, and humorous speeches. I've heard speeches on creating corn-starch, the differences between the three types of whiskey, the importance of getting sleep, fair-trade shopping, the Underground Railroad, and the brown recluse spider.

I would without hesitation encourage any writer to write Amazon reviews and editorial letters. How about Toastmasters? I would given the conditions the writer has the resources and time to invest. The cost is affordable; it is comparable to being a member of the ACFW and the Indiana Chapter. I would advise setting aside two hours at least per meeting and more if you're giving a speech (the meeting frequency varies per club). Those two things might be a roadblock, causing the Toastmaster club to be an obstacle to writing rather than an aid. It depends on the person.

Of course, I'm talking about my experience. You may disagree with my choices. Maybe you have found songwriting to be a more profitable exercise than I consider it for novel writing. Maybe your recommended activities for writing include scuba diving, ballet, and moving furniture. That's the thing about writing – no two writers are the same. (Sometimes, no one writer is the same person, but let's leave that for trained psychologists.)


  1. I'd say it the other way around, too. Writing has made me a better speaker. But Toastmasters is helpful both ways.

    Kathryn Page Camp

  2. Kathryn,

    Thank you for your comment. It was encouraging.