While living on my farm, I learned many things about business writing by observing nature. I learned that there is a season for everything: a time to plan, a time to work, a time to rest, and a time to reap the rewards of all that effort. Sounds like the writing process to me.
And I discovered that business writing is more like picking blackberries than huckleberries. Huckleberries, heavy bunches hanging low in August, fall into your bucket with the slightest nudge. Every now and then that happens with writing—the words just tumble out. But more often, writing is like picking blackberries—thorny patches keeping your ideas just out of reach. But keep stretching, and you’ll get to the good stuff. Like that cobbler cooling on the windowsill.
Those rough patches, what some people call writing blocks, usually boil down to fear. Fear of getting it “wrong.” Fear of not finishing. Fear of finishing. And there’s nothing unusual about that. Everyone feels (some more often than others) that fear of a blank screen or empty pad of paper.
Fear makes us think we have no interest in writing. Coaching clients tell me they hate to write, but later I find that they’re afraid to write because someone—their boss, client, or even that ornery editor in their own head—is standing by to criticize. This makes them freeze, procrastinate, even clean their offices before they write. But when that fear is lifted, when people understand how important writing is to their careers and that everyone can learn to write, incredible things happen.
Acknowledging this fear of writing is one of the fastest ways to overcome it. (Once people realize they’re not alone, I see them change in as little as one hour.) Become aware of the critics inside and out. Stop fretting that people might pick your writing apart. Sure, some may do that. Those same people can also find fault with a warm, sunny day in December. Ignore them. Non carborundum illegitimus. Don’t let the bastards wear you down.
There are lots of ways to overcome your fear of business writing. For starters, recognize the following three myths as just that—false ideas that hold you back.
Myth No. 1: Good writers are fast writers.
Ask some of the best writers in the world—writers you know and love—and they’ll tell you this just isn’t true. Don’t judge yourself by how fast—or slowly—you write. Focus instead on your perseverance and results. That’s all that matters.
Myth No. 2: Good writers write great first drafts.
Ditto above. Oh sure, every now and then someone comes along who’s a Mozart with words, but most of us need time. I spent years ashamed of my first drafts. Then I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She set me straight.
Myth No. 3: Good writers don’t need to edit.
No, just the opposite. Bad writers stopped too soon—in other words, they didn’t edit enough. This is key to overcoming any lingering fears of writing. Good writing is really good editing. Just get it down—you can always make it better later. And the need to edit does not mean you didn’t get it right. I know hundreds of professional writers who edit 10, 20, even 30 times before they’re ready to share their work with the world.
Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough—or that you don’t have what it takes. Everyone can be a good writer with a little practice. Like I just said, “Bad writers just stopped too soon!”
What writing hang-ups still hold you back? Once you recognize them, you’re ready to work on them or even ignore them.
Let me help you overcome any lingering fears of business writing. My books Words at Work and Overcome Your Fear of Writing are good places to start. Or one-on-one business writing coaching—just a session or two can put your fears to rest.