I sat there, my hands edging towards the keyboard… but I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. I felt that as soon as I tapped out a few faltering words, any hope of perfection would be gone forever.
Your opening won’t be strong enough. Why would anyone read this anyway? How could you think that THIS was worth writing down?
Being a writer isn’t just about knowing how to construct a great sentence or how to format a blog post so that readers can engage easily. Being a writer is about sharing your thoughts, ideas and experiences with the world.
And that can be a pretty daunting task.
Traditional print markets like magazines and books have a long time lag between initial composition and final publication – the online world moves much faster.
The post you write at 9am might be out there for all to see by 3pm. That ebook you’re frantically finishing off this week could be launched and on sale next Monday.
No wonder you freeze up when you sit down to write.
So what do you do? Give up? Turn to something easier and safer – like writing in your private journal or working on the novel you’ve been fiddling with for a decade?
Or you could take a deep breath and write like no one is watching. Here’s how:
Step #1: Find a Safe Place to Write
Your current writing environment probably isn’t exactly dangerous. I assume you’re not sitting in a tree with your laptop while a pack of hungry wolves snap at your ankles.
But do you feel truly safe where you write?
I can’t bring myself to write if anyone’s looking at my screen. In fact, I can’t even write if there’s a possibility that someone might see the words I’m putting down. If I’m in a room with other people and have to write, I make sure I have my back to a wall.
For you, writing in a safe place might mean:
- Working in a room where you can close the door and keep family/housemates away.
- Working near disinterested strangers like coffee shop patrons rather than nosy colleagues
- Surrounding yourself with other writers (try a meet-up or a library)
- Using a notebook that you can shield with your arm instead of a wide-open laptop
- Switching to a small or hard-to-read font to write (You can change it afterwards)
It doesn’t matter what your writing environment looks like. What’s important is that you feel as safe and secure as possible while you write.
You can’t write well if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder or feeling unsettled.
Step #2: Forget About the Reader
This might sound heretical, but when you’re in the throes of composition, you don’t want to keep thinking about your reader.
Yes, the reader matters. When you’re writing for your blog or your client or a magazine or a book, you need to target your work to a particular audience.
But you don’t need to constantly second-guess every single sentence that you write based on what your readers might think.
When writing, focus on getting the message out. Don’t worry about whether your readers will appreciate that off-colour joke or whether they’ll understand an unfamiliar dialect word – you can make decisions about whether to keep or discard those later on when you’re editing.
Write it the way you want to write. You might even surprise yourself – some of my most popular posts are ones that I thought readers wouldn’t like at all.
Step #3: Get in the Zone
Do you ever have writing sessions where words just flow from your fingers? When writing feels effortless? Most writers experience this from time to time – and it feels great.
If you’re anything like me, though, you’re not always in the writing zone. Often, you’re in the, “Hey, I wonder what’s happening on Twitter?” zone.
Getting in the zone could mean:
- Having music on – or writing in complete silence
- Closing your eyes briefly while you write (this only really works if you can touch-type…)
- Writing as fast as you can, perhaps with a timer running
- Using a writing prompt to warm up at the start of a session
- Burning incense or scented candles
- Wearing a particular t-shirt or hat – or your pyjamas
When you’re in the zone, you don’t feel self-conscious. You stop being so aware of yourself – you lose track of time, and the writing is all that matters.
Today, write like nobody’s watching. Write the piece that you don’t quite dare to start. Pick up a project that you set aside months ago. Find somewhere safe and comfortable, and stop worrying about your readers.
It’s just you and the words.