Write Already: Five Tips to End Your Fear of Writing

At the age of four, my daughter has a mantra.  It is “Try Not Shy.”

My husband and I decided early on that there were some things that were absolutely essential that had to be drilled into her small head, but we knew we couldn’t fit in everything that we think is important.  So we settled on the simple but timeless statement of “Try Not Shy.”  What this means is that you cannot be afraid to try, and you must try everything to find out what you can do.

I think these three words are powerful, and I think they apply to something that many adults are afraid to do.  That thing is writing.

For some, this word is scarier than the Brides of Frankenstien, Dracula and Chucky combined.  Sheer terror grips many reasonable humans when they find out, “I have to write something?!?!?!”

Then, they go for the cop out: “I’m just not a writer.”

To that, I say Bullpucky.

I believe that everyone is capable of writing, but that many are afraid of failure or being judged.  I can understand that fear.  As someone who has had her writing criticized and mocked over the years, I can attest–it sucks. You feel terrible, like you are practically illiterate.  But, like anything else, you can’t just stop.  You have to keeping trying and try harder.

So, I want to help all those people who are afraid.  Here are some ways I overcame my fear of writing.

1) Write something – When you have 30 minutes, just write something.  Anything.  It can be whatever is on your mind.  Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar or all those other things that inhibit you.  Just put down a total stream of consciousness.  Then, don’t show it to anyone, just yourself.

2) Write for a forgiving audience – Write something special to someone who is going to love it for what it is.  That could be a love letter to your significant other, a message to your parents to tell them you love them, or a note to your best friend that recounts a favorite memory.  This is the best kind of writing because it is instantly gratifying to you and your audience.  Everyone is happy and you get a boost of self-esteem.  Do it!

3) Read – Maybe you already love books–great!  Start noticing what you like about the writing.  Okay, you don’t have time to read a whole book because you’re swamped.  Start reading major newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post. Read columnists. Read strong articles online at websites like Salon, Slate, The Daily Beast and others.  Read the work of people who’s opinions you agree with, and then read people who are at the polar opposite of your belief system–those folks are good writers too.  Read your favorite magazines, and take note of style and tone.  The bottom line is, become aware of what you read, and why you like or dislike it.

4) Read the great writers of UM-Flint – We are so lucky to have so many incredible writers right here on campus.  I love reading anything by Jan Worth, Mary Jo Finney, Teddy Robertson, Bob Mabbitt, Bob Barnett, DJ Trela, Tom Foster, and so many other faculty and staff members. Some of what I love reading from these folks are simple emails, and some longer form.  Read the works created by these people and ask them about how they approach writing.

5) Put Yourself Out There – Force yourself to write something that will go public.  Maybe it’s a business letter or email.  Maybe it’s a report or summary.  No matter what it is, force yourself to do it, and then give it to someone who’s advice you trust to proof it. And force them to tell you the truth–the good, the bad and the ugly.  Once you make the corrections and changes, send it to your audience and ask for feedback. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I always admire anyone who puts themselves out there creatively.  You open yourself up for the potential of ridicule, but you also open yourself up to the opportunity of learning.  Whenever I send something out to be critiqued, the best feedback I get is from the people who add more information, more insight to what I have done.  Ultimately, it’s the critical stuff that makes the stuff better.  Embrace the brutal truth for what it is–the truth.  Go on, be fearless. No one is perfect, but don’t let the useless pursuit of  perfection stand in the way of trying.

Jen Hogan