Many of the clients I work with struggle with writing because they buy into a common limiting belief: “No pain, no gain.”
That old saying may be true about body building. A muscle grows when it works so hard that it tears. Then it heals in a way that makes is stronger than it was before.
But the proverb doesn’t apply to the writing muscle. Writing abilities develop best when we turn off the notion that hard work must hurt and instead find gentle ways to build confidence in our own writing voice.
Many clients come to me wounded by years of harsh criticism—from others and from themselves. When they think of producing a piece of writing, they automatically see an image of a printed page covered in red ink. At the same time, they see themselves as someone deserving of reprimand and “correction.” They’ve internalized the condemnation of grade school teachers and bosses who’ve told them they couldn’t express themselves effectively through written language.
What a load of baloney. If you can speak, you can write. It’s almost that simple.
The main reason it’s not completely simple is that we tend to think we must appear as more formal or sophisticated beings when we write. Instead of allowing ourselves to express our thoughts naturally and directly, we feel compelled to use highfalutin word choices and contorted sentence structures that we’d never use in a live conversation.
How do you break out of this false belief that hinders the productivity of so many business people? One word: freewriting.
Freewriting is the intentional practice of tuning out our inner critic. Here’s how you do it:
Set a timer for 10 minutes. With practice, you may be able to sustain freewriting for a longer chunk of time, but this is a reasonable place to start.
Eliminate all distractions. Yes, that includes turning off your phone, email, and any direct messaging apps.
Take out a pen and paper. Many people find the tactile experience of writing by hand liberates their creativity. But if this is physically challenging for you, another way to freewrite is to open up a blank document on your computer and then dim your screen so you can’t see the words you’re typing.
Write for 10 minutes straight—without stopping. The training secret is not stopping. Force yourself to keep your pen moving—no matter what. No matter if you think you’ve misspelled a word or made a punctuation mistake. No matter if you can’t see where your sentence is going or think you’re rambling. Just keep moving.
If you get stuck, keep right on going. You can break through the wall; I promise. To get unstuck, try one of these two methods: (1) repeat the last word you’ve written until a new word comes, or (2) talk to yourself on paper about how you’re feeling about the impasse. This last technique can be revelatory. You may be surprised to discover what new insights arrive when you commit to just letting the words flow.
When the timer rings, stop to congratulate yourself. That’s it. If you want to reread what you’ve written, go ahead. But there’s no need to do that. You’ve achieved your goal simply by writing nonstop for 10 minutes. That’s your writing training for the day. Give yourself a pat on the back and hit the shower or the smoothie bar.
Okay, okay, I hear you skeptics. How can this scribbling possibly make a difference to your ability to create reports, proposals, and emails that are more polished and persuasive?
Let’s revisit the body building analogy. Although writing involves an incredibly complex skill set (including motor skills, reading, creativity, verbal processing, and analytical thinking), we can think of it as a muscle. By regularly exercising it, you develop speed and flexibility, two of the most important qualities business writers need.
Together, these two attributes will enable you to:
Conquer writer’s block
Write in a more natural, relatable style
Produce writing more quickly
Increase your creativity and problem-solving skills
Untangle confused thoughts
Grow confidence in your ability to communicate clearly and precisely
What do you have to lose? Why not try freewriting today? Or give yourself a streak challenge and aim to freewrite for 10 minutes a day over the next week, 10 days, or 30 days. You’ll be surprised at what a big difference such a small, pain-free effort can make to your ability and your self-assurance.
Looking for other tips to help you communicate more efficiently and effectively? Sign up for a free coaching session at dawnhenwood.bookafy.com.