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Why Writing Scares You & How To Stomp Out That Fear
The light flashed across the lens as I shifted the tripod to find the right frame.
I set the camera on “timer,” went to stand directly in the firing line, and waited. Then rushed back to look at the LCD screen, then set it up again, and waited.
Again. And again.
At first, every click of the shutter was like a rubber stamp falling hard on an official sentence. The sound of judgment, of permanence. Of everything that’s imperfect and wrong about my appearance being transfixed in history for people to look up and reference later. Maybe to laugh and to point, like it was a celebrity mugshot.
Usually, we’re pretty good at keeping our insecurity at a low, even simmer.
But if you’ve ever tried to take a self portrait, you know that it’s like someone grabbed the knob and sent blue flames shooting up, bringing every worry about your appearance to a rolling boil. Suddenly, anything and everything comes to the surface, spills over and hisses, condenses on the ceiling and drips back down.
Self portraits make you confront every self-perceived weakness in both appearance and photographic skill. You have to deal with the fact that now (you assume, at least) everyone else can see those ‘flaws’ too.
And you know what? Writing is also a self-portrait.
With words rather than pixels, but a self-portrait nonetheless.
This is why it freaks you out. This is why you feel compelled to spend hours tweaking and fixing, and feel so bad when it doesn’t look the way you hoped.
Writing is putting yourself down on paper, for all to see and judge. Transfixing any errors or shortcomings in a public medium where they can’t be hidden or denied.
While reading the following passage from Donald M. Murray recently, I felt a knife-twist of self-recognition with every word:
“Writing strips away our intellectual clothes and shows the world what we know and what we don’t know; it reveals what we think and feel; it documents how well we write – from our ability to use language, following or not following the traditions of usage, mechanics, spelling, to our ability to write with clarity and grace.
And what makes it worse is the fact that the only reason most of us write is to be tested…our intelligence (or perhaps lack of it) documented.”
Having our intelligence graded? Documenting our use of language – for better or worse? Yowch.
Photographs record our outsides, but writing lays bare our insides –
– and for that reason, to some, it can be infinitely more terrifying.
No wonder we shove it to the bottom of our priority list, pretending it isn’t central to what we do in business (marketing, facebooking, blogging, web copy, etc).
We cope, of course, we get it done. But it takes far longer than it should.
Just like you probably spend far longer than you should applying makeup, trying on eight million outfits, and fussing with your hair before a self-portrait.
In fact, the #1 complaint I hear about writing is that it takes too long. And that’s probably because on some level, you are preparing for it like a picture.
You want everything to be perfect, but each further examination of yourself seems to reveal more flaws. You spend weeks shopping, days trying on, hours spritzing and powdering.
That’s all fine for a once-a-year portrait event. But when it comes to blogging, facebooking, and copywriting – which you do weekly? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially when you throw “the rest of business” in the mix.
There is a message, though, that bounces around the photography community like an echo chamber: That every woman (and man) deserves to have an incredible portrait of themselves.
One that shows who they really are – and therefore shows how beautiful they are.
I feel the same way about writing.
You are beautiful. Just as you are. And you deserve to have that recorded.
Every person deserves to be able to express themselves through words. To savor the satisfaction of quickly and easily getting your message across, and feeling like a dang good shot while you’re at it.
To set aside all the baggage of commas and semicolons, and get over any sweaty memories of 9th grade English class. To silence the horrible red-pen-wielding teacher in your head, the way you’d throw a blanket over the cage of a chirping canary.
The way to overcome fear with the pen is the same way to overcome fear in front of the camera.
Stop writing for your English teacher. Stop writing for the photographer down the street. In fact, for the next few blog posts, stop writing even for a client. Just get a keyboard under your hands and write.
Stop thinking that imperfection means you aren’t smart enough or educated enough or anything-else-enough. Relish your own words.
You even have permission – gasp! – to stop worrying about grammar if doing so keeps you from writing.
Someone else can go through your post and fix your grammar in five minutes – BUT NO ONE BESIDES YOU CAN TELL US WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.
I’m sorry to use all caps and everything, but my goodness. You’re irreplaceable.
If you’re truly self-conscious about grammar, go spend ten minutes with Google – or maybe Purdue’s Online Writing Lab – and start fixing that. Then stop using grammar as an excuse.
If you’re truly stuck and don’t know where to start or what to say, go get Irresistible Words and you’ll be off and running.
Some business folks I trust tell me I’m foolish for not charging at least $1k for this information, and maybe they’re right. But I don’t care. I don’t even care if you buy this particular course or not.
What I do care about is you getting your words out.
When I talk to photographers about writing, I think of what Van Gogh said:
“Does what happens inside show on the outside? There is such a great fire in one’s soul, and yet nobody ever comes to warm themselves there, and passersby see nothing but a little smoke coming from the top of the chimney, and go on their way.”
Too many people only display a few tendrils of smoke, when your audience deserves to see every spark of your blazing, beautiful light.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been getting dozens of emails, messages, and comments like this:
It brings tears to my eyes when I think that I was almost too afraid to write this course, but I did, and it’s helping people. And they, in turn, will help other people.
That is what I care about.
What YOU have to say is important. It matters. It’s interesting. It can uplift and help someone else.
YOUR experience can set someone else free, can give them permission to do something they’ve been terrified to do.
You have been given gifts that can help others express their gifts. Please don’t let doubt and a racing heart stand in your way. Fear ends when you learn you’re not actually in danger of anything – and you’re not.
Write. Shine. Now.
Whether you grab Irresistible Words or just pick up a pen and start, please begin.
Don’t leave the fire inside.