I don't know Greek or Hebrew translations of Bible texts to get their full meaning. Bible is left on shelf. Taking care of two young kids keeps me from volunteering at the homeless shelter. Love hoarded. God feels distant. Prayer put off until later. Sacrifice doesn't feel good. Comfy life continued.
It's the same with writing. Whether we're called to write, we simply enjoy it, or we find ourselves writing for work or other reasons, the details are overwhelming.
I don't know all the grammar rules. Pen is set down. I don't know how to communicate this thought. Paper wadded up and thrown in trash. Emily Freeman's writing is so much more evocative than mine (insert your own writing comparison). Notebook closed and put away. Writing is hard. Idea and inspiration quieted and forgotten.
It happens to all of us. Some call it writer's block. I consider it more of a paralysis. The excuses build until we believe that we're unqualified, uncalled, and no good.
For those on the journey to embracing the term writer, there are lots of resources to get over this hurdle. For the non writers finding yourselves in a writing pickle, I have good news for you: You don't have to be a writer to write good. (Complete with a little intentional grammatical error for you.)
What?! Don't tell the writers in the group. There will be all sorts of weeping and gnashing of teeth as we think of our writing struggles. But it's true. We're not all called to be writers. We all find ourselves needing to write, and we all can do so well.
Maybe you won't publish a best-seller (or maybe you will), but you, my non writer friend, are capable of producing engaging, coherent and even evocative words. Here's how...
1 | Brainstorm, get inspired, prepare.It helps to get the creativity flowing and have a few ideas before you sit at the computer to write. Know why you're writing. (Guest post, work e-mail, letter to the editor?) Know the general message you're hoping to convey. (Sharing an idea, telling a story, encouraging action?)
Once you know this, and maybe have even jotted it down, take a break. Is it obvious I'm a major procrastinator? It helps for me to do something not related to writing to allow the words come to me. That happens most often for me when I'm doing the dishes, showering, or having quiet time to journal and read. For others, a bike ride or workout, time with the guitar, or sewing might be quality breaks to get your thoughts rolling.
Do something that makes you feel alive. What words come to mind while you're doing this other task? What are you thinking about, and how do you feel? This, my friends, is your voice. These thoughts and these words are the starting point for your best writing.
2 | Write and rewrite.The absolute non-negotiable to writing is that you must sit your butt in the chair and write. Even if the procrastination I encouraged in step 1 doesn't inspire anything. My favorite writing "mentors" have all said it over and over and over in a variety of ways: In order to have written, you have to write. And now is the time.
At first, don't worry about the specifics, just start wherever you feel most inspired. (Even if you don't feel inspired, there is an area of more inspired.) Whatever words or phrases or experiences are most alive in your mind, write them down and build on that. Do you have an idea for how to close? Go for it. Or maybe you know the bullet points you want to cover--type 'em out.
Start with the part that flows and flesh it out. Even if it's short, choppy phrases. You'll feel more inspired to keep writing, if you start with what inspires you. Those uninspired fragments will morph into a final draft--only if you keep writing.
And rewriting, until you have...
An intro. Introducing yourself and/or your idea, depending on what you're writing. How did you come up with the idea? Is there a memory or experience that relates? What thought process led you to share this writing?
A body. Sharing the details and "meat" of your content. What story or information do you want to pass along? Is there a list, a sequence of events, or a step-by-step how-to?
A conclusion. Closing your post with a question or thought or call to action. What action should readers take? Is there a question they should consider and answer, a change they should make, or an activity they should try?
3 | Make it good.Once you've gotten past that hurdle of making yourself write and have formulated a draft, it's time to make it good. What makes for good writing? You. Which should be great news, because who has better access to you than you?!
Good writing is personal. It showcases your personality through your choice of words, unique perspective and experiences. Infuse your voice into your writing, and it will be good. Go back to step 1 if you need to discover your voice.
Good writing worth reading is...
Unique. What is your message or how do you present it? Are you just saying what everyone else is already saying? Or can you find a new angle or a new topic? Our writing must stand apart in some way and add to the conversation, otherwise we have no business adding to the noise.
Personal. Are you--your words, your stories, your feelings--in your writing, or have you distanced yourself from it? Remove yourself from you writing, and you remove yourself from your audience. We have to be available and vulnerable through our words if we want them to impact others.
Focused. How few words can you use to make your point? Are there filler words or irrelevant stories that can be eliminated? Make the best use of other's time--make your words condensed and to the point.
Life-giving. What is the overall tone of your writing? If not directly, do you at least subtly offer support, encouragement, and the gift of life? As Christians, we must find how to make all our writing (and life) point to Christ. Otherwise we're babbling without love.
4 | Edit.Our writing must be edited, and this is where the non writers start feeling unqualified. But it's not what you think. There is plenty you can do to improve your writing if you would give it a few minutes. It's worth it, because edited writing makes you a credible and educated source.
Read it out loud, and, if you can, have someone else read or listen to it. Then...
Correct. I'm not talking the overwhelming grammar that we spent four hours a week hashing out in my college Grammar and Linguistics course. I'm talking about basic and obvious errors. Are there missing words, or a bunch of notes you forgot to delete? Do you need to look up grammar rules for a sentence that just doesn't sound right?
Condense. Even a long post like this one is so much longer before editing--and that's just plain overwhelming. Cut out unnecessary or filler sentences, leaving the most powerful. (The most tweetable?) If it's still long, break it up with headers and other formatting to guide the reader. Can someone read or scan the writing and get the main idea within a minute?
Otherwise modify. If you get bored reading it, it's almost guaranteed your audience will too. Take a break from it (step 1), rewrite a weak or dull sentence or paragraph (step 2), and make it good (step 3).
5 | Share.Now the fun and scary part: Share your words with the world. Or with your small readership. Or send it in to be published. Or share it with friends and family. In the beginning was the word, and the word was Christ. And the words we share are sharing Christ.
Even if you're not a writer, you have a Gospel to write. Do so carefully, and share it openly.
Bonus | Learn and do it again.That wasn't so bad was it? Okay, so it's a lot of work. But it's doable. And it's fulfilling. And it's worth doing well. Your readers will thank you.
It doesn't necessarily get easier, but the process becomes more familiar: Getting inspired and writing even when you're not, editing your words to make them good, and sharing them.
If you find yourself writing pretty regularly (for a blog or for work), go ahead and call yourself a writer, and learn from writing resources like Writing Tips to Make You Better by Jeff Goins and Emily Freeman's writing archive.
Finally . . .This is just the message I feel God speaking to me...
The paralysis will end when you do something. Not just with your writing, but with our relationship. Read my word--it will transform your life. Share your heart with me in prayer. Follow where I lead you to love today. Don't get so comfy in this life that you forget I have a bigger plan. And you are a part of it.
It doesn't necessarily get easier, but the process becomes more familiar: Surrender to Him even when it's uncomfortable, allow Him to prune and make something good, and share it.
He promises we'll be glad we did.