How to write about difficult topics

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss how to write about difficult topics….

My video editor emailed me a few moments ago. She was delayed with some work because one of her colleagues has family in the Ukraine and she was helping to cover for him.

Now there is a difficult topic. I understood right away of course. What’s more challenging than having family and friends thrown into a war? The crisis is almost unimaginable.

Fortunately, most writers in the West don’t have to deal with situations as drastic as that one. But, not infrequently, corporate writers may still be faced with having to communicate “bad” news. Price increases. Service reductions. Staff layoffs. Changes in policy.

The number one mistake writers make, I find, is that they often try to present the news way too late, after they’ve told a bunch of good news (or given some tiresome justifications.) So here is the most useful advice I can give you. Have a one-sentence introduction and then, RIP OFF THE BAND-AID. Convey your bad news right away. At the beginning of the letter, article or speech.

Provide your justifications or your better news, only after you’ve conveyed the difficult message. Otherwise, readers are going to feel as though they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Your tone is also really important and master communicator Ann Handley does a great job of conveying this message in a recent blog post under the headline: “Addressing the elephant in the room: 6 strategies for writing about the hard stuff.”

As Handley puts it: “There is no one right way to message the Hard Stuff.” But if you get the timing right, and nail your tone, you’ll do a good enough job with it. Or at least a much better job than most other people.

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