Ten Tips for Growing Writing Confidence Without Using Magic
Even though I have a magic and more magic button on my computer, I never use them. I’m not trying to get you ready to publish pieces in The Atlantic Monthly (at least not this week). Here at Lorriet.com, I focus on another goal that must come first.
I want you to love writing. I want your voice to soar. I want you to use writing as a tool to make sense of life.
And that means I gotta teach you how to enter into the writing process with the kind of bold confidence that inspires you to take risks and grow your craft. Without doing this step first, you can kiss that Pulitzer good bye.
Whenever I put a writing recipe on this site, it’s with these ten tips in mind because I know they encourage writing confidence.
1. Have no fear.
Many of us suffer from PTSWS (Post Traumatic School Writing Syndrome). Wipe any bad writing experiences out of your mind. Expressing your ideas that help you discover meaning is more important than perfect grammar and punctuation. Take risks. Try new sentence structures. Make mistakes. This is the only way you grow. You are not getting graded.
2. Choose your own topics.
Not getting graded is cool, but choosing your own topics is even cooler. You have ownership. You care. People who care about their topics writer better than those who don’t.
3. Begin with personal topics.
When you’re choosing a topic, I suggest that you first begin with personal content. For example, if I want to write about birds, I might start out with a personal story about watching a hawk hunt a bird who was on a feeder in my backyard instead of an essay about hawk mating rituals.
The personal story is less abstract since I will rely on my memory.
The hawk mating rituals will require research and reading which makes it more abstract. I will have to rely on learned information and that makes it a more challenging writing piece.
You may feel like you’re stuck and have writer’s block with the mating rituals piece, but it might actually be that you just don’t know enough. It has nothing to do with your writing ability.
I’m not saying never write about the abstract topics, but I am saying warm up with the personal topics that are related to your chosen topic.
4. Borrow from mentor authors.
I wrote a post about writing under the influence of great writers here. In a nutshell, if you see an awesome sentence or a structure you like, borrow it (aka copy!), but insert your own story. This is the best kind of writing practice since it gets you going just a wee bit faster because some of the work has been done for you.
For example, many teachers use Cynthia Rylant’s book When I Was Young in the Mountains as a writing invitation for their students. Rylant writes about growing up in the Appalachian Mountains with her grandparents. It’s a series of memories and many of the vignettes begin with the repeated line, “When I was young in the mountains, …” Your version might be something like when I was young at the beach or when I was young at Mammoth Mountain…
5. Write fast.
Set a timer and write fast without stopping. Don’t worry about spelling. Just let your pen rip. The goal is to outrun your internal censor. That’s the voice inside your head saying, “You can’t write. You suck at this writing thing.” Ignore that voice.
Yes, there is a time and place for slow, laborious writing, but when you’re drafting something, when you’re trying to discover meaning, let your hands fly across the keyboard. Write your early drafts in a flash.
The cool thing about writing is that you can always come back and change stuff. You can always fix whatever mess you’ve made. I wish all of life was like writing.
6. Read your writing out loud.
Don’t freak out. You don’t need a huge audience. You can do this to your bathroom mirror. You can read your piece to your dog. Hearing words out loud is the fastest way to know what’s working and what isn’t. Celebrate the parts that sound awesome. For the parts that make you stumble, pause and ask yourself, “What’s not quite right here? What can I do to make it sound better?”
7. Find your golden lines.
Every time you write something, search for your favorite sentence. And don’t even think about saying, “I don’t have any favorite lines.” Nope. Find one. I’ve never read a piece of writing that didn’t have one. I always look for something good and you should, too. Ask yourself, “What did I do to make this sentence stand out?” Then, say to yourself, “Hey, I can do that in my next piece, too.”
7.5 (Bonus tip) Find mentor author’s golden lines, too.
When you read, find golden lines you love and tell yourself, “Hey, I can try that in my writing, too.” I wrote about this idea here.
8. Focus on ideas and meaning before grammar and punctuation.
If you get all caught up in trying to figure out how to use colons correctly while you’re also trying to compose meaningful content, your brain is going to explode. Revise and edit when your draft has had a chance to breathe. If you’re just writing for yourself, don’t worry about it. Just write.
9. Have faith that bad writing will lead to good writing.
In most cases, your first drafts aren’t that great. Don’t be frightened by cross-outs that make the page look like a toddler’s scribbles. Don’t be frustrated when you can’t follow all the lines and arrows leading to added details that twist and turn around the edges of your paper. Don’t automatically assume you’re a bad writer because you’ve created an incomprehensible mess. These are the diamond in the rough ideas that will eventually grow into something worth reading. The mess is part of the process. Expect it. Embrace it.
10. Write as often as you can.
Practice won’t make you perfect, but it might be the beginning of something special - like a love affair with writing!
So there you have it. Ten tips for growing writing love. Yes, I want to know when you win a Pulitzer or get published in The Atlantic Monthly, but I really want to read a story about the day you fell in love with writing! That, Dear Writers, would be ever so golden. With these tips, there’s never a need for a magic button on your computer. Go forth and write with confidence.