Welcome to “Writing in the Workplace.” This biweekly series will focus on how professionals-in any field of work- use writing. If there are industries you’d like us to spotlight or you’re interested in being featured, we’re only a tweet away!
Ben Engle is an Urban Planner in the Leadership Fellow Program at the Port Authority of NY & NJ, a 2-year rotational program . His first rotation was in the Storm Mitigation and Resilience Office – working on advancing SuperStorm Sandy recovery and resiliency projects. Ben received his Masters of Science in Urban Planning from Columbia University and his B.S. in Environmental Science from Union.
What mediums do you rely on for your writing?
Since writing is a process, I tend to use different techniques at different stages. Writing for me starts and ends with paper and pen. Outlining, which I do with a piece of paper, is really helpful for me – it gives me an opportunity to see where my thoughts and ideas may take me. The real meat and potatoes of my writing at work takes place on the computer, but I print my work out to do edits. Hopefully I don’t have too many errors for this piece!
Describe your writing process.
Ah! Looks like I started to answer this under the previous question! The foundation of my writing process is a constant, despite having to adjust to deadlines, types of writing, or whom I’m writing for.
I’m an outliner- I need to scribble notes on a page, cross things out, draw arrows to this or that, and oftentimes I’m un-crossing things out by the end. Sometimes I’ll write the first paragraph by hand (I did that for both my undergrad and graduate theses and most academic papers), but when you are under tight deadlines, you don’t always have the benefit of writing by hand.
Using my outline, I type up a draft (and when I have time, I put the draft to the side and come back to it later) and print it out to edit. I use my colleagues as other pairs of eyes, which is especially helpful when you are new to an office. I’m an advocate for the environment and saving paper, but I print a lot when editing and finishing up a project.
What kind of feedback do you seek out for your writing?
Critical feedback is the most helpful. It’s nice to know that someone likes my writing style, but it’s even more helpful for someone to say honestly what bothers them. I’m willing to make edits or move paragraphs – as long as the reader makes a good argument. Hey, but who doesn’t like a compliment?
What has been your most challenging writing experience?
The academic and business worlds are so different in how writing is used and evaluated. That transition is challenging in itself. I enjoy writing for both forums and each is difficult in their own ways. My theses were stressful – most people’s are, but I always knew there was a light at the end of all the research and writing. The business world requires me to think on my feet and get creative quickly to solve problems, which can be challenging (and at the end of the day very rewarding!). As writers, we always need to be aware of our audiences, and in both cases, writing in a way that makes sense can often be the most challenging obstacle to overcome.
What has been your most meaningful writing experience?
I once wrote a speech for a significant college event, but was not chosen to give it. While nobody ever heard me present the speech nor was it ever presented to a large audience, it was a writing experience that gave me the opportunity to 1) build a theme 2) challenge my theme and 3) execute a theme. I was excited to write it, happy with the end product, and bummed that it wasn’t chosen – but that’s life! I’m just as proud of that speech now as the day that I submitted it.
What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?
I can only pick one favorite way to procrastinate!?! There are so many that I enjoy (in no particular order): Watching the Mets, playing SimCity 2000 (I’m an urban planner, can you blame me?), watching The West Wing for the 18,000th time, and Twitter. All dangerous ways to procrastinate.
Do you listen to music while writing? What kind?
I listen to way too much Dave Matthews Band, but when I really need to focus, the music goes off. When I make maps or presentations (remember, I’m a planner!), I try to find fast pump up music – for whatever reason, I make my best maps while having Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” playing on repeat.
Most important book you’ve read?
Easy question – The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro. All planners and lovers of cities, parks, and roads should read Caro’s biography of Robert Moses. It’s a huge book but it’s worth it. It makes me think about the built environment and how quick decisions can impact generations decades down the road (no pun intended).