After 30 years of excising unnecessary words from technical proposals to meet page-count limits, I have taken up writing haiku.
Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry made of short, unrhymed lines
that evoke natural imagery.
Haiku can come in a variety of different formats of short verses,
though the most common is a three-line poem
with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern.
– How to Write a Haiku in 4 Easy Steps
After trying a few, I thought I’d look for resources to effect some continual improvement in my performance (30 years of reading Quality Plans leave some mark, you know?). So it was that I found Learning English with Oxford and discovered that writing haiku is just like writing proposals. Don’t believe me? Here are the haiku instructions with “proposal” swapped in for “haiku.”
Steps to writing your first proposal.
Read examples of traditional proposals.
Before writing your own proposal,
look up a few examples
written by traditional Japanese proposal writers.
I find the duplication of the instructions almost endearing: It certainly reads like many RFPs over the years. On the other hand, I understand that for the literal readers among us (cough cough) there are two problems here. Traditional proposals? Traditional Japanese proposal writers? Let’s allow for a little poetic license and look at the essence of the instruction:
Before writing your own proposal,
look at examples.
Especially by people who know what they’re doing.
Better, yeah? And entirely sensible. So what’s next?
Identify your subject.
Hard to argue with that, and yet it is *so* often overlooked.
Find words to describe your subject.
Also good advice. And may I add: Find the words that your client uses. Next?
Write the first two lines.
Ah, now we’re really into it, and no better advice was ever given: Write the first two lines. Writers can be intimidated by the seemingly overwhelming task of responding to an RFP, but luckily we have not just practical advice but meaningful encouragement, too.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
– Lao Tzu
So, now that we’ve taken that one step, what’s next?
Write the third line.
How wise is that? Just. Keep. Going.
Get the structure right.
This final instruction is near and dear to my heart. Don’t just find and throw down a bunch of words, a bunch of lines. Think about your reader and try to make it easy for them.
And that is pretty much that, unless you’d like to try your hand at a Proposal Land haiku. The traditional natural-imagery thing is a tad tricky (although not impossible, as you will see), but the traditional form is certainly within reach. I don’t recommend including one in your next proposal, but it might be a great team-building activity. Send them to me and I’ll publish any G-rated ones. Here are some to get you started.
Finish line in sight:
Whole team smiles and breathes again.
NO! An extension . . .
Great ideas, strong plan!
But first, stop and check the price.
Too high! Try again.
Entire sections make no sense.
Copy/paste is Bad.
Never enough time.
Welcome to Proposal Land:
Schedule over all.
And my favourite (so far), although it’s definitely an inside-baseball version. I dedicate it to everyone who ever started a proposal in the winter and finished it after the Victoria Day weekend (Memorial Day, for my American friends) . . .
Air goes stale slowly.
Outside, spring comes unnoticed.
Inside, snow drifts swirl.