News flash: If you’d love to write but find yourself held back by fears that your writing isn’t good enough or that others will laugh at it or criticize it, you’re not alone.
Most people are afraid that their own writing doesn’t measure up. I know this from more than 15 years of leading writing workshops. I also know from reading the work of people who doubt their writing ability that most are better than they think. Could this be you?
You know what really makes me sad? And a little mad? Hearing how often a budding writer has been shot down by some snotty teacher.
It’s apparently rampant, judging from what my students tell me.
When I read their writing and ask them why they think it’s so poor, they say, “That’s what some teacher told me.”
I sometimes wonder what these negative assessments are based on other than the fact that the teachers are probably failed writers themselves. Why would anyone discourage someone who’s trying to write other than to mollify their own bruised ego?
Yes, writing is a mysterious process. No one can tell you exactly how an idea gets from your head, down through your arm, and out your fingers onto the page. If someone says they can, they’re lying.
But although writing is mysterious, it also has it practical side, and most writing problems can be easily solved.
Let’s look at the two simplest ways to strengthen your writing and boost your confidence: reading and writing.
Woohoo! Would you believe it?
1) Read. We could call this the lazy way, but who cares? It works! One of the best ways to become a better writer is to read — a lot. It will make you a stronger writer almost by osmosis, because you’ll see the writing rules in action, and they will become embedded in your consciousness.
For a fascinating example of how it works, read Malcolm X’s essay, “Prison Studies” excerpted from Autobiography of Malcolm X.
OK, if you want to master writing then a book on basic grammar and punctuation is good to have on hand. And while this may not sound so sexy, as you start to fall in love with the writing process, it will be!
2) Write. Wow, what a concept! Writing itself makes you a better writer.
What would make you write more? Maybe deciding to keep a journal or write a blog or start writing about your life. What would inspire you? It all works your writing muscle.
Taking a writing class or workshop is really valuable, especially if it involves sharing your work with others. If this idea makes your skin crawl, just know that writers of every level from beginners to professionals often feel the same.
And yet, the feedback I have gotten from hundreds of even the most resistant students is that sharing their writing ends up being an uplifting and validating experience.
Now of course this depends on the teacher and writers in your group. I do not allow “criticism” in my workshops. I think it’s tacky and damaging. We only allow “feedback,” starting with what we like best and then letting the writer know what changes they might consider to make their writing stronger. Both writers and feedback givers are asked to leave their egos at the door to prevent competitiveness and hurt feelings.
Now, will your feelings get hurt as a writer outside of the classroom? Yes, ultimately you’ll have to develop a thicker skin. Some people may laugh at you or criticize. We call them critics. Writers write and those who can’t, criticize.
And who cares?
As Jack Canfield says, “Some will, some won’t, so what? Someone’s waiting.”
Someone out there is waiting to hear your words. Even if there’s nothing new under the sun, someone needs to hear about it your way, from you.
So read a lot and write a lot. Reading is the more passive of the two and for most people, therefore, is easier.
How do you make yourself do the writing?
As my crusty old journalism teacher Mr. Hayes once told me: “Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Get to it.”