When Writing for the Public Is Your Next Wise Action . . .

Think of the last time you created a new tool that worked in a surprising and gratifying way. Or think of your most recent “Eureka!” moment as you resolved a thorny issue. Did you think, “I should share this with colleagues!”? And then, when you made time to sit down to write about it, did the words refuse to come?  If you are like either one of us, it’s not just that words wouldn’t come! You couldn’t figure out how to start, what needed to be said as your core message, or how to bring it to a close!

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. —Henry David Thoreau

A crucial step for leaders in any field is to share insights and wisdom with a larger audience. As HSD professionals, we connect through writing, composing, and designing all kinds of messages for specific audiences, with the hope that they might think and act in new ways.

But images and words do not always come easily. No matter how we excel as practitioners, when the time comes to sit down and write, we often get stuck. We get stuck because writing is a complex, adaptive, nonlinear, and recursive process. Unfortunately, there are no “five easy steps” that automatically produce powerful writing. This messiness, however, is full of possibility. It invites us to play with words and to experiment with unfamiliar genre. It prods us to integrate our theoretical knowledge with our stories of practice. It encourages us to imagine new ways to reach out to the audiences we want to influence.

To navigate this messy work, we have found it useful to consider the process of writing as an Adaptive Action cycle. When we get stuck, we use questions related to Adaptive Action, like those in the following graphic, to move forward.

These questions help us get our first draft on paper. Most of our good ideas are included, but it is not yet ready for readers. At that point, it is time to begin rereading and revising. Over and over again. Remembering the words of a mentor and early writing partner, Royce reminds us that “There is not good writing. There is only good re-writing.” Like Adaptive Action, writing is an iterative cycle of seeing what you have written, making sense of it through the eyes of your audience, and taking wise actions to refine, refresh, and rewrite. But how can we be sure that our revisions actually improve the message, rather than simply re-arrange the mess? 

Again, we have found help in another familiar HSD framework—the Simple Rules. Remember that Simple Rules set the conditions for self-organization. They help to influence emergent patterns as they form and sustain. Authors use Simple Rules to set conditions for emergent meanings, to help readers become aware of new images or insights. Simple Rules help authors speak to the individual reader in recognizable and useful ways. They build a coherent context that holds a piece together. In other words, Simple Rules can guide us as we choose words to build sentences that spark feelings, thoughts, and intentions for our readers.

Simple Rules can sometimes address authors’ craft—decisions about genre, style, organization, sentence structure, and word choice. But the Simple Rules are not just about technique. They also apply to the examples we choose, the arguments we frame, and the structures we build.  Over time, effective writers settle on whatever Simple Rules work for them: A favorite example is Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. For us, an adaptation of the HSD Simple Rules has proven both true and useful.

We think the list below integrates widely-accepted guidelines for writing with true-and-useful HSD principles. They do not address grammatical usage and punctuation because you can easily find resources that are specific to your own language or field.
As authors, we are more interested in more universal guidelines that help us shape a compelling message. Consider which of these Simple Rules resonates with you and your writing challenges.

Of course, we could say much more about each of these rules. But, for now, we invite you to turn each rule into a question to ask yourself the next time you get stuck in your writing.

We also invite you to join us for “Writing as Adaptive Action: An Online Retreat for HSD Writers.” In this retreat, we explore deeply into these Simple Rules and their potential to influence our writing. This is an online space for reflective writing retreats, and we have one scheduled for February. It’s a time for writers—beginners or experienced—to come together in a safe, supportive environment. Some of us need help getting started. Maybe we need help with polishing. Perhaps we just need time to set aside to do some focused writing. We structure this time to help with any of those challenges. We come together as writers, for discussion and planning, then spend time writing on our own, coming back together to close the first day. Then after a couple of days of individual writing time, we come together a second time to hear from each other and close. The next 2-part session is scheduled:

  • Saturday, 11Feb2023, 10a - 4:30p CST, for discussion, writing, and sharing
  • Wednesday, 15Feb2023, 6p - 8p CST for sharing and closure

There is no charge for Associates, and non-Associates pay only $50. Attendance is limited to 8 for each session. We only have a couple of spaces available for this next Retreat but will continue offering them about every 3 months.

Please choose the appropriate link below to register for Adaptive Action Writing Lab: An Online Retreat. People are accepted on a first-come, first-signed-up basis.

HSD Associates
Adaptive Action Writing Lab: An Online Retreat - HSD Associates
(Anyone who has completed the HSDP certification course)

Non-HSD Associates
Adaptive Action Writing Lab: An Online Retreat - Non-Associates

Contact us at info@hsdinstitute.org if you have questions.

Be in touch, and we hope you will join us to do some writing together!

Leslie and Royce

Join a global network of learning about HSD!
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.