Writing is difficult work. But it’s not neuroscience. A lot of people read certain written works and think, “Wow, I could never have written that.” And thankfully, it’s likely that no one is going to ask you to produce the next bestseller or groundbreaking academic paper. But that absolutely does not mean that writing is “not for you.”
I believe quite the opposite. When I began work on my first book, Playing Big, I was mortified to take even the first step. The fear of beginning a project that felt at once massive and new left me feeling physically ill. In the words of one of my favorite contemporary writers and thinkers, Daniel Pink: “Whenever I hear people describe how much they ‘love’ sitting down to write or how easily writing comes to them, I always assume they’re lying or delusional.”
This gut-based fear to put our thoughts down on paper is based on our perception of what the results of our work will be. It is ultimately a fear of failure. And a fear of that most unholy of sins, “wasting time”—to pour our heart and soul into something and then have no one ever actually read it.
We must alter our view of productivity and success so that the process is the end goal, not the result. Time spent acknowledging and articulating your thoughts will bring you closer to your true purpose. And honestly, the more focused you are on being present with each sentence you write, the more cohesive and enjoyable the finished product will be for you.
I recently met with a friend who had begun a daily free-writing practice. She keeps a small notebook with her at all times and frequently jots down thoughts as they come, when time allows. She told me how amazed she was at the ease with which her thoughts started to flow, and how quickly her notebook began to fill after committing to this practice for little more than a week. Here are a couple tips to get you going towards developing your own writing practice:
Commit. Write every day, no matter what you write about. If you have to sit and write about how you have nothing to write about, do it. You will be surprised what else eventually comes out. Hold yourself accountable for a certain amount of writing. If you prefer word processing, write until you hit a certain word count. If you’re a pen and paper type, make sure you write until you have a full page filled.
Eliminate any imagined audience. Judgment should rest only with you, and how true your writing is for you. Have you ever written something and thought, “It’s probably what they want to hear, but I don’t love it”? Thankfully, there is no “they” here.
No-pressure writing opens up space for the “important” thoughts to rise to the top. With practice, the valves loosen and allow thoughts to flow more freely and for you to get more in touch with thoughts as they happen, not in judgment but in awareness.
Write in a new place. Since your mind may still be somewhat uncomfortable with this idea, I advocate putting your body in a new situation as well. Your mind is likely to be more stimulated in a slightly unfamiliar, public place like a coffee house or a museum, than in your favorite chair or your desk at work.
Daniel Pink says he has many of his best ideas and clearest thoughts while running or being otherwise physically active. I think we’re all familiar with the concept of shower thoughts: the once-a-day place where lights just seem to turn on quicker.
So whether you are attempting to write an entire book on a single topic, or want to develop a personal free-writing practice like my friend, writing is for you. It’s for you to get more in touch with your own thoughts and to help alleviate fear from your life. Commit to giving time to your thoughts and you will be more confident in bringing your unique viewpoint to work, and you will also become more assertive and happy in your daily life.