[Overcoming fear, having a plan and choosing the best topic]
It is scary to put yourself out there – to have an opinion, to share it and then defend it boldly. The truth is that it does not get easier but you do get better at it the more you practise and if you can sit with the discomfort long enough.
How do you identify a good piece of writing?
There is immense value in writing as a way to strengthen your personal brand and to establish your pre-eminence. On many levels, spending the time and effort to create a good piece of writing brings only good things. The process helps you clarify your position and allows you to showcase your expertise. This is not to show off but to create value for what you can do. It enables you to lay a path forward for those who may be new to the area or who are looking for direction and solutions to their problems. It provides an element of education within your industry or among your peers.
How do you identify a good piece of writing? How do you ensure that what you write will make sense, stand out for the right reasons and be worthy of sharing?
At the fundamental level, it requires an ability to communicate your ideas logically and clearly. Readers need to be taken down a path wherein you introduce the ideas briefly, at first. You then focus on expanding on the ideas embodying the use of storytelling to engage your reader and backing your assertions with data. Finally, there is the conclusion wherein you lay down the end results, decisions, outcomes or possibilities that may ensue.
I see this as a three part process :
First, overcome fear.
Second, choose your topic.
Third, have a plan for how to write.
Step 1 – overcome fear
Unlike delivering a presentation which has a shorter shelf life and smaller radius of influence, writing for a publication or digital platform means your work reaches more people and is accessible for far longer.
What shall I write about?
Confronting the blank page requires a focus not on the problems faced. What shall I write about? What will readers think and say? How will I handle critics and trolls? Will what I say even matter? No, what matters is the goal you have about this activity.
All of us, whatever stage of our career or life journey we are on, are able to share ideas, experiences and insights to create a richer life for those around us. We do not need to always be the best or the longest-serving or most decorated in order to provide value. Our insights are rich and complex, driven by a myriad number of experiences, cultures, languages, connections and values that we bring. Each step of that journey is full of any number of possibilities and outcomes – there is no one singular way ahead.
The way to overcome fear is action.
For that reason, each experience and the blended nature of the various elements above create vast opportunities, situations and outcomes. No two experiences are therefore the same, thus ensuring that each experience we go through brings different perspectives.
The way to overcome fear is action. Plain and simple. Too much theorising, working through possible scenarios and just being generally fearful about what may happen will only hold you back. There is no progress with inaction. You try, you learn from what you have done, you become curious about possibilities, you tweak as you go.
Step 2 – choose a topic
Write about what you care about because it is hard to develop a passion for things you don’t care about. This could be something in your line of work or it could be a problem you’d like to show solutions for. It could be you elaborating on things that work and why so. It could be things you’ve built skills and expertise in. Fear will likely set in so you overcome that by seeking to remain authentic in what you are writing about.
You have your own opinions about the things you are working on, ideas about what can help you grow and develop and what can hold you back. Explore that, build on it. It requires clarity of purpose and conviction but practice gets your there. Be focused on giving and sharing what you know.
Step 3 – start with a plan
- A simple format to get organised
The basic premise is that a good article should have an introduction, main idea and a conclusion whether that leads to a statement or a question to ponder on. The best way to start is to figure out what the one idea or message you are trying to get across is. You want to limit yourself to one or a handful of ideas because too many ideas will create distraction and readers lose sight of your main message.
- Do a brain dump
Once you’ve got your main ideas organised, you start writing. Writing is a skill like any other. In other words, while one may see this as a talent, you can work on it to develop and hone it through deliberate practice. Practising writing is about leaving judgement at the door. You write freely and unemcumbered. You work hard to avoid editing, in your mind or on paper, because that is disruptive to the flow of ideas. You just want to do a brain dump, leaving the editing process to be dealt with once all the ideas have been articulated.
- Who is your reader?
It involves understanding who your reader is. If you’re starting out writing, it may be that you are unsure who your reader is – in which case, you ask yourself, who do you want your reader to be? Having them in front of you, being clear of who they are, helps you understand what you want to write about and who it is meant for.
- The supporting elements to engage the reader
The headline is the most important piece – if you don’t hook your reader at the headline, you’ve lost them. The deck is the secondary one liner that appears after the headline that summarises what the story is about. It provides just enough detail without giving away any surprises. Use callouts to pull the reader to the most captivating elements. Employ paragraph headers because readers now tend to consume on the go and on mobile devices, which means they are often time, scanning, not consuming the entire piece. Paragraph headers help with that. Draw reference to third party references – other experts, bloggers or thought leaders, surveys or reports and provide URL links. Utilise images to break the monotony of text and to ramp up the interest level. Support the article with the right choice of meta tags and keywords. Once your article has been published, share the article across your network and invite discussion.
- Edit and tighten your article
If you have a network at your disposal, get someone else to read your piece and provide feedback. Get someone qualified to edit your article. Spend the time needed to tighten your piece which means :-
- find simpler ways to communicate your message;
- remove redundancy;
- remove complexity and group think;
- don’t say what’s already been said unless you have something new and worthwhile to add to the discussion; and
- aim for a clear message which means fewer ideas, more substantive matter.
- Write in the second person
This requires the use of pronouns – you, your, yours. This method addresses the reader directly which is different from the first person which uses “I” and “me”. It is more personal and engaging.
- What not to focus on
Many people discuss the importance of publishing at the right time based on where you are located etc. If you are starting out with writing, this does not matter. What matters more is figuring out your niche, how to make your writing sharp and establishing clear value. Focus on figuring out your space. It’s easy to get distracted trying to benchmark against what others are doing. Sure, you could get some ideas but keep in mind this other-focus takes away from your me-focus. This should be more about what you’re trying to achieve rather than what everyone else is doing. You want to be the best version of you and that is enough. This requires you to look within, not outside.
If you like this post, I hope you will share it. If you need help with your writing, with getting published or with strengthening your brand, feel free to reach out. Let’s have a chat.
#writing #fear #purpose
headline image woman writing in her workspace image courtesy kaboompics.com