I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.’
‘No one cares about what I have to say… ‘I’m simply not sure if I have anything to share.’ … ‘My writing ideas are not interesting; I’m not saying anything new.’
The first quote was American novelist John Steinbeck – winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and author of classics such as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.
The others are from a Linked In group where I’d asked if people were achieving their writing goals in 2019.
A few were kicking goals but self-doubt put the brakes on the aspirations of others.
One response, from Tom in California, stuck with me and ended up prompting the topic for this blog post.
‘I need to write but about what? Most of the time I have no topics in mind or topics that I believe will be useful to anyone. How do I most easily handle this frame of mind?’
Tom’s last question is gold because he can see that what’s holding him back is his mindset. And that’s one of the few things we can change.
It’s up to us whether we allow self-doubt to paralyse us or we can acknowledge it and still keep moving forward, as John Steinbeck obviously did.
We have to give our mind something else to think about.
I think of self-doubt as being our mind’s way of protecting us from discomfort or failure. Our unconscious mind develops habits to fit with its perception of our self-identity. We can interrupt those habits by becoming more intentional about that self-identity, by constructing one that matches our aspirations.
Cultivate an acute sense of self. What is your vision for your life that writing could help you achieve? Remind yourself (or maybe consider for the first time) why you need or want to write. What do you want writing to lead to? The answer to this lies in your heart: the dreams and big goals you have.
The work you want to do.
The successes you want to have.
The contribution you want to make.
It’s really important that you can picture what life would look and feel like if (when) your vision becomes reality. It’s also important that you don’t feel anchored to this version of your vision because things will change and that needs to be ok too.
Define your big idea – one clear message. Success in writing, for me, is about one thing – knowing what I need to write about. I can’t control how readers will respond but I can set my intention, a thread that runs through all my writing. At the start of this year, I finally worked out what drives me to think and write, what greater purpose I can serve:
I want to help people get their real voice heard.
Once I decided on that, I was a lot clearer on what to write about. It’s taken me a while time to be able to articulate my purpose so succinctly. You may not be able to come up with something so brief straight away. But just the act of thinking about what you offer to your audience will help bring you to an understanding of your message or theme. And if you write for different audiences, you will most likely have different themes for each.
Do you know your unifying theme?
Set productive constraints. Too much freedom is paralysing. We can have too many ideas and find it hard to settle on the ‘right’ topic when really the only right one is the one we actually write about.
It’s the same with having too much time – deadlines really are my favourite writing tool.
Narrowing our choices can actually lead to greater creative flow. There’s science behind that concept – one which would once have been thought ridiculous, in a time when creative ‘freedom’ was exalted. But now it’s known it can be freeing to set parameters (‘How constraints force your brain to be more productive’), settling on such ordinary things as when and where to write, and how often helps us to our cup of creativity into the bowl that’s just right.
Value yourself, your stories and your life
As part of a speaking course I’m doing, we were asked to name what we most fear onstage.
Mine was easy – not being interesting.
It means that more often than not, I have played for laughs or novelty rather than trust the stories I have to tell.
Yet, as the speaking coach pointed out, people are naturally interested in others and if we have been out there, living and experiencing, we have stories to tell.
Trust your stories and your life, your insights and your experience.
And then, write.
‘If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.’ Vincent Van Gogh
When you trust your voice and get clear on your message, you can make a difference for yourself and for the world.