Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Interview with Lynda McDaniel, author of Words At Work

Lynda McDaniel, author of Words At Work: Powerful business writing delivers increased sales, improved results, and even a promotion or two. A veteran writing coach shows you how. was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Read on, her answers are enlightening.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. There are lots of jokes about that city, but I had a good time growing up there. I received a great education and fell in love with baseball there. I’ve lived lots of places since—from the mountains of North Carolina to Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area—but I’m proud to be from Cleveland.

I didn’t start writing professionally until I was 25 years old. A lot of people think they have to write when they’re kids or in high school, that it’s too late for them to start now. But that’s just not true. That’s one of the reasons I wrote Words at Work. My students and clients kept telling me that my story—from getting a late start to facing some hurdles along the way—inspired them that they can write too. And they do.

My writing career began in the most unlikely of places—just a speck on a map of the North Carolina mountains—but it was ripe with opportunity for me. That’s where I met a school director who asked if I’d like to learn public relations. To be honest, I should have answered, “What’s that?” Instead, I said, “Sure,” and took to it like ink to newsprint. Once I saw my first published article, I was hooked. I’ve never stopped writing. I’ve gone on to write five books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles for publications such as Southern Living, Country Living, Yoga Journal, and

How/why did you decide to write a book about writing for work?

I heard a student tell another student as they left my writing class, “They sure don’t teach this in school!” That meant the world to me. I knew I had tapped into something special, and I wanted to share that with a wider audience. I love taking all the things I’ve learned during my writing and writing coaching career—sometimes the hard way—to make other people’s lives easier. I wrote Words at Work for everyone who wants to write well, and especially for those who thought they couldn’t. They can.

What do you like to read for pleasure?

I’m a voracious reader of novels. I just finished Michael Connelly’s Scarecrow and Henning Mankell’s Before the Frost. I recently read a non-fiction book entitled Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. It’s a fascinating book about thinking beyond what’s traditional and creating something new from the unfulfilled needs of the “old.” Another fantastic non-fiction book I’m currently reading is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. Not only is the information compelling, but his writing style is brilliant.

With Twitter and texting becoming ever more popular, do you think there are times when it is appropriate to conform to the adopted "shorthand" that limited characters has required? Or do you think we just need to find the correct words and send as many texts or Tweets needed to convey our message? OR... do we need to write "tighter" - clear and concise?

There’s a time and place for everything. Even shorthand writing, which I call our “jeans” writing. More on that in a minute. Just be careful. With so much e-communication today, we rarely meet the people who write us, but that doesn't stop us from forming a picture of them using the only clues we have—their words. We need to pick the right look depending on the situation. Similar to Casual Fridays at work, you’ll choose your “jeans” words when writing friends or acquaintances (tweets and texts). Most of your writing will be your basic work attire, which leaves a good, solid impression. And for those sales proposals and articles, blogs and Web copy (or novels, memoirs, and essays)? That’s when you don your fanciest glad rags. Have fun. Be creative.

What books do you suggest to become a better communicator through writing?

Brenda Ueland, author of If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. More than any other book, this book inspired me to both honor my own creativity and learn how to improve upon it. Brenda is amazing. She lived earlier in the 20th century, but I use present tense because she still seems so alive. Her words jump off the page. I could hear her voice in my head as I wrote Words at Work—and I hope I succeeded in sharing the same kind of inspiration and encouragement with my readers. Also check out Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and the classic, On Writing Well by William Zinsser. And, of course, Words at Work.

Thank you so much, Lynda!

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