July 6, 2006
Liz published this at 1:03 pm
How hard could it be?
At one publishing house, the author team worked in the brick and mortar building with the editors, designers, and production people. This added significant stress to the bookmaking process, because the authors felt that they should be able to write books. After all, they’d been writing all through graduate school. How hard could it be?
The author team hadn’t been taught how not to invest in their writing without becoming the words on the page. As a result, they were both self-conscious and defensive about what they wrote and often afraid to even get started. Meetings to talk about possible changes were excruciating — for them and for everyone.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Writers can invest completely; then let their work stand on its own. There’s no need to be self-conscious about what we write. We just need to go about it from the right direction.
They’re not Looking at You
For new writers, when the time comes to write, looking at a blank screen can feel like being under an interrogation light, or being on stage with everyone watching. It’s not really like that, but it sure can feel that way. The good faith feeling that a writer has to do work that is worth reading can place undue pressure to produce something that the writer feels needs to be more spectacular than most readers can even see. Here are six plus one ways to get those self-conscious feelings off your keyboard.
- Plan before you write and get your facts straight. As with speaking, writing comes a lot easier and a lot less self-consciously, if you know what you’re going to say. Nothing adds more confidence up front than a plan that’s supported by facts. Freewrite to get an idea. Do the research. Sketch out bullet points. At the very least, write out the point you want to make. If you feel comfortable with the information, you’ll feel more confident writing about it.
- Tell those imaginary folks who watch you that they’ll have to leave the room — that includes your self-editor. Call them by name if you have to. Explain that they can return when you start editing. Feel free to let one or two cheerleaders stay. Writing is an individual investment. Pour your heart and best intelligence into your first attempt, but don’t worry about winning a Pulitizer yet.
- Turn the spotlight onto your work. Remember that your writing is not you. Your work is sharing information with your readers. Readers come to read your writing. You are not the words on the screen.
- Only edit when you’re editing. If your self editor tries to sneak in while you’re writing, point to the door. After the writing, your editor will get to edit with glee. Then you will have your best writing effort, and you can shape the tone and details for your readers. Editing at that point also helps writers let go of personal feelings. Negative comments won’t feel so negative, if you save the editing until the writing is complete.
- Be brave for your readers. Readers can sense when writers are fearful. They know when you’re thinking too much about what they think and not enough about what you’re telling them. For an audience, reading a self-conscious writer can be like watching an inexperienced tightrope walker, worrying that he or she is going to fall. Everyone gets uncomfortable.
- Seek out confidence. If you’re worried that readers might see you as unqualified, ask someone to read your work before you post it. Ask that person to help shore up the facts, the writing and theconfident tone of your work.
PLUS ONE: Tell me something new. As a reader, there’s nothing better than finding a confident writer who tells me something new and engaging — a compelling read is satisfying and worth seeking out and going back for. It may take practice to get really good at that, but most readers can see who’s going to get there. and most readers know what they like.
So if your information is on the money and your style is filled with respect and confidence. Think of yourself as a rock band starting out, you’re picking your core fans now, the ones who see your potential,like your music — your brand — and where it’s going, as you keep practicing, doing it right, and playing for an audience you’ll keep getting more and more fans. That initial self-conscious stage fright will become a thing of the past.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you would like Liz to help you with your writing, see the Work with Liz!! page.