Fear of writing

Fear of writing

by David Patterson

A lot of people have a fear of writing. They almost always fall into one of two groups. There are those who know they would be a great writer if they could just find the time to start something, or finish what they've started. And then there are the people who claim they couldn't write if their life depended on it.

As an editor and a ghostwriter I've seen a lot of bad writing. Almost all of it is a result of someone trying too hard to be a writer. For some reason people seem to think that the written word needs to be dramatically different from the spoken. They try to impress everyone with how smart and well educated they are. They fall in love with big words. They seem compelled to write long convoluted sentences.

If I sat down at my keyboard with all that swimming around in my head, I'd be too scared to write my first sentence too.

When asked in a social situation what I do, I would rarely if ever own up to being a writer. When pressed I,d say, "Mostly I write for a living." Then comes the invariable follow up of, "What do you write?" I usually deflected the question with the smart-mouth answer, "Anything anybody will pay me for."

Why I found it so uncomfortable to call myself a writer is a conundrum I avoided exploring for many years? In the end, the answer was simple. Writer just seemed too highfalutin, too much like a big deal. And that's what I think a lot of fear of writing is about. It just seems like such a big deal. Too many people see writing as something out of the realm of their everyday existence. They can't see themselves as writers.

People who have a fear of writing I've noticed usually don't seem to have a fear of talking. They'd be a lot better off at writing if they remembered that writing is done with the same language, words, and intent as talking. The easiest way to overcome a fear of writing is to not try and write like a writer. When you write all you're doing is sharing a thought, idea, or story. It's just like when you're in a conversation.

When writing, don't try to be a showoff. Use your vocabulary—the one that comes out of your mouth every day. Put the dictionary away. Stop looking for the perfect word. If you have to work to find it, your reader probably won't understand its finely nuanced meaning. Don't try to impress people with how smart you are. Don't string clauses and phrases together in an attempt to get your entire meaning in one sentence.

What should you do? Write like you talk.

Your first draft will be something of a mess—every first draft is. But it'll be your mess, and you'll figure out how to fix it. Just read it out loud and listen to what it's saying. Your message will be there. And when you go to clean up that messy first draft, remember not to try and fix it by writing like a writer.

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