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A passionate and unswerving commitment to improving our skills should always be percolating, underpinning the mechanics of writing precise, clear sentences.

Before the advent of television, the dominant force in mass media was Life magazine, a weekly review of national and world events, illustrated with extraordinary news photography.

One of its finest photographers, Margaret Bourke-White, earned special praise from her editor, who said what made her great was bringing the same level of commitment to every assignment, no matter how small or big.

For many years, I have carried in my wallet a New York Times review of a recital given by the great classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. It reads:

"Mr. Segovia radiates a conviction that what he is doing is supremely important. His listeners cannot help but be warmed by that assurance, which is, or ought to be, the essential element of the performer's art."

Substitute for "performer" any line of work.

Many people shrink from the responsibility of, say, writing a report to a supervisor. They think they have to produce "writing." That concept freezes them, because they believe they lack the necessary skill.

I believe most people do have that skill; they demonstrate it every day when they tell someone a story about what they just experienced.

I encourage people to write the way they tell that story. Forget that bugaboo called "writing." Just say it; it works. Here's proof:

Before classes begin in college courses I teach, I write a personal letter to my students, introducing myself. I ask them to reply and to describe something that has had a significant impact on their life.

Their letters are almost always well written.

But when they tackle a writing assignment in the course, many revert to academic, stilted language: not human, hard to read.

Pour out your words, conversationally. Do not edit as you write. When you finish your draft, read it aloud to detect what needs fixing.

If you have time, walk away for a few minutes. Then, rewrite it, read it aloud again, and polish it.

Now, relax and send it.

Gary Gilson can be reached through