I had to write two very short proposals yesterday and it took me all day to do it. I couldn't get the wording right. I didn't like how it sounded. I couldn't compress it into the allotted maximum number of words. It was a frustrating exercise.
But that frustration was a reminder that good writing is supposed to be hard. If it wasn't, everybody would be doing it. And I pushed through it by following a lot of the same advice I give to kids when they're writing their college essays.
1. Say exactly what you mean.
Clarity is more important than anything else. Don't leave any room for misinterpretation–come right out and say what you want to say. And for the love of everything, get to the point. No long windups.
2. Sound like a human.
When you write, "Attached, please find the attached attachment," you sound like a machine. Always sound like a human being.
3. Sound like you.
Your writing shouldn't just sound like a human; it should also sound like you. Some people might actually say the words, "Thank you very much for considering my proposal." If you'd be more likely to say the words, "Thanks so much for considering me," why not just write that?
4. Don't write a page when you only need a paragraph.
Brevity is a mark of good writing. The proposals required that I describe my offering in 50 words or less. That's a brilliant requirement, because for just about everybody, limiting something to 50 words is much harder than coming up with 200 words of description. You've got to get rid of everything that's not absolutely necessary and get right to the point. You have to constantly ask yourself, "What's really important?", which is the most important question you can ask about anything.
5. Editing is harder than writing.
Getting it down on the page isn't the hard part. The editing–the rewritting, whittling down, refining and compressing–that's the hard part. It's important to remember that when you've been working on the same sentence for 30-minutes or the same paragraph for an hour. You're not lagging; you're editing.